In the two weeks since the Independent Review of Adult Social Care in Scotland report and recommendations were published I have had time to reflect on what I heard from people who work in social care, and how their experience shaped the fifty three recommendations made, seven of which are Fair Work specific.
There were issues I was already clear about when I began this process: that the social care workforce is highly gendered at around 83% female; that it is marginalised and undervalued with a critically low investment in training and development. The experiences of Covid 19 brought some of this to the attention of the wider public, spotlighting the commitment of staff in care homes and in supporting our most vulnerable citizens in their own homes, as they endured through the early part of the pandemic.
What really struck home as I listened to those accessing social care support was their concern for the workforce. Of course you want the same people to consistently deliver your care, and you want them to be confident in their skills to deliver that care, but I heard time and time again from service users about how the level of skill brought to their work every day was vastly undercompensated. They spoke about how the excessive hours worked by carers across multiple jobs in order to take home a fair wage impacted not just the quality of care, but trust in how that care could be delivered. They explained how better pay, conditions and training for the workforce would improve not just the continuity and quality of support they deserved but present their carers with the autonomy to work with them in partnership, instead of being stuck and frustrated following a rigid set of time and task rules.
The report distilled what I heard of the frustrations and aspirations of the workforce into a set of fair work recommendations with the very first of these being the “Rapid delivery of all of the recommendations of the Fair Work Convention”. I drew heavily from the findings of the Convention’s work. It reinforced for me that a human rights based approach, encompassing dignity, equality and autonomy, should apply equally across people who access, unpaid carers, and people who work in social care support.
“A springboard, not a safety net” is something I heard in an early meeting with people with learning disabilities about what they thought social care should be, and it became the core of what I wanted this review to deliver. It applies equally well for the workforce; make a career in social care something to aspire to. If we offer work that is fairly recompensed, where individuals actively chose to work and remain in the sector, are supported in training and personal development and can be partners in designing the services they provide, perhaps they will finally be afforded the respect they deserve.