Education is the long-term solution to the crisis in care - Kirsty Page
As the cost-of-living crisis also now takes its toll, and with recruitment issues still a challenge for the hospitality industry too, the care industry is crying out for help and support, yet to date none is forthcoming.
This has been a spiralling crisis since we lost overseas workers through Brexit, the pandemic and now the rocketing price of fuel, food and energy. However with an ageing population it isn’t a problem that is going away anytime soon, if anything it will only escalate.
What form does this support need to take? We need immediate and proactive financial relief for key roles in care, reducing both National Insurance and tax. This is to help the people already working in care, so they can stay within the industry, and still afford to travel to work and support their families.
We also need to attract people to work in the care industry and start recruiting from a much earlier age.
It isn’t enough anymore, even having the highest standards and levels of service, to always stand out from the other care providers. At West Park Care (WPC) we have no zero-hour contracts and pay the best rates in the area, we agree shifts with our employees that also work around their lives and families. We prioritise the mental health of both our clients and employees with open working relationships. We also rise above the key misconception surrounding care, that it is a dead-end job with no career progression.
My own career is a classic example of this, starting off in a care role, progressing to social work, then safeguarding for NYCC, and finally Head of Service with WPC. We support this philosophy as employers and actively encourage staff to grow and develop through education, and learning. Worth stating not everyone wants this, but there are opportunities for those that do.
This approach needs taking back to its grass roots, at the point in education when people chose a career path. Not everyone is suited to A levels, but since the changes to staying in education until you are 18, more and more teenagers are going down this route and not into vocational or practical careers. Care is seen as ‘dead-end’, the positives are not relayed in schools and expectations for a wanting ‘everything now’ culture has evolved.
Fundamentally you can’t have everything now, but you can develop a career in care and learn important skills alongside it. These include negotiation; management; decision making; communication; analysis and understanding. Which careers would this open up to you? Our carers have continued training to become nurses, done NVQ’s, taken management responsibilities. The world is your oyster, continue training to be a doctor or a physio, a speech and language therapist.
Care opens a world of possibilities, whilst also providing elderly and younger people needing care with company and genuine support. It is also educational giving people the chance to learn about difficult health conditions and upskill your knowledge seeing first-hand how they impact individuals.
At West Park Care companionship is as important as the care package we make bespoke for all our clients. With local authorities prioritising keeping the elderly at home and not in care homes we often give people a new lease of life. It enables couples to stay together in their own homes, people with pets to keep them by their side - all life changing for many individuals.
My role is also quite unique as very few care companies employ a fully qualified social worker full time. My background and how I have built my career in care, has given me the knowledge to help clients with their funding, and support them in applications for health issues. None of this would have been possible had I not done the groundwork as a carer.
We need schools and the Department for Education to prioritise not just care, but all vocational subjects again. Actively encourage work experience, so young people get to see first-hand how rewarding a career in care can be - and it is rewarding. You are improving and changing people’s lives literally every day, with many giving them a better standard of living and reason for living. So many old people give up when they go into care – we see the opposite. Our carers don’t just perform basic duties, they bake with our clients, help them make meals, support their independence and encourage them to stay active, enjoying life and mobility for as long as possible. Which other careers provide these kind of opportunities and career progression?
Change is needed and urgently to get back to basics, to encourage people that there is a career and a very rewarding one in care. We are now working with Harrogate College to help start this movement, but it needs national support and government backing.
Kirsty Page is head of service at West Park Care.