Why North Yorkshire social care needs your support as carers campaign is launched – Michael Harrison

AS the councillor responsible for adult social care in North Yorkshire, I am used to reading about the challenges nationally, and relating that to our local pressures.

North Yorkshire County Council has launched a new campaign to persuade more people to join the care sector.
North Yorkshire County Council has launched a new campaign to persuade more people to join the care sector.

Social care has been in distress for many years but the current challenges feel different. Exacerbated by post-Brexit and then post-lockdown workforce availability, we find ourselves in fierce competition with other sectors for labour.

The Omicron variant pressures have finally tipped us over the edge. Much of the normal available workforce has simply evaporated.

North Yorkshire County Council has launched a new campaign to persuade more people to join the care sector.

Are we surprised? For years care workers have had to accept minimum wage salaries for roles that involve caring for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Many frontline care workers who remain in the sector do so because they make a difference. In our social care recruitment campaign, launched this week, we are using the voices of care workers, and people who use services, across the county to attract more people into what we believe is a profession, not just a job.

Successive governments have failed to recognise the contribution care workers provide, with much of the focus on salaries, working conditions and funding traditionally directed towards the NHS.

However, the current challenges are manifesting themselves as problems in the wider health sector.

Just consider this example, replicated across the country: a patient in hospital ready for discharge can’t be safely discharged without providing some form of social care, but the lack of available care prevents the discharge.

So an acute hospital bed is occupied needlessly; an A&E treatment bay can’t be freed up for a hospital admission; the ambulance waiting to transfer a patient to A&E is stuck on the hospital forecourt; and someone who has dialled 999 has an unacceptable (and often scary, and potentially dangerous) wait for help.

So what can be done to fix this?

Well in the short to medium term, councils, care providers, families and charities are doing the best that they can.

However, the whole sector needs reform, and the funding to enable that reform. We need a national approach to pay competitiveness and professional recognition. If we aspire to a high-wage economy, then that needs to include a growing social care sector, which is both privately and publicly funded, and delivered in a sustainable manner.

The county council has called on Government to reform the sector for years, and I was really encouraged when they published the White Paper. I truly believe this Government is serious about reforming the sector, and they have already made the difficult decision to increase national insurance to fund reforms – but frustratingly the first recipient for the money is the NHS. That isn’t going to help with the hospital discharges.

The announcements so far on caps on costs of care may give people certainty on what they might pay throughout their lifetime; but I am unclear on what this means for councils, care providers and the workforce.

I urge the Government to provide more detail on its plans for achieving a fair price for care – and specifically the resource implications for local authorities – to ensure stability and investment in the care market.

Put bluntly, we need a higher share of the Health & Social Care Levy, and not in three years’ time.

The care sector is a mixture of small and medium-sized enterprises, charities and larger companies, sitting alongside local authorities – all providing different levels and types of care.

As local authorities commission most of the care provided in the sector, we are in a good position to implement any reforms – ensuring a fair rate for care is paid, and to ensure entry-level salaries properly reflect the status of the role.

There are some great careers in care, but we have to compete for staff at all salary levels, and we can only do this if we are provided with the funds to do so. We can’t do this simply by raising council tax, or fixing fewer potholes!

Government must grasp this opportunity to reform social care so it can be a full and effective partner in the wider health and social care sector.

But let’s make sure we have an honest conversation about how much money is needed, and how we will achieve this breakthrough.

Current recruitment opportunities can be found at www.makecarematter.co.uk

Michael Harrison is North Yorkshire Council’s executive member for adult social care, chair of North Yorkshire Health & Wellbeing Board.

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