What does it mean to care?

The ramifications of a shrinking and ageing care workforce, the need for cross sector collaboration, the fallout from society not recognising the importance of care… CEO of Methodists Homes (MHA) Sam Monaghan looks back at some of the highlights of this year’s Walter Hall seminar.

Our annual Walter Hall seminar is an opportunity to bring together leading voices, to reflect on where we’re at as a sector. This year’s seminar, which took place on Wednesday 26th April 2023, examined some of the current challenges we face in social care, as well as celebrating the huge contribution that staff make in the lives of the people they care for.

The seminar began with a short film, featuring our MHA Claybourne care home and MHA Communities North Staffordshire. Both clearly demonstrate the impact that care can have on people’s lives.

Madeleine Bunting, an award-winning author and journalist, joined us as the keynote speaker and led our discussion on what it means to ‘care’. Madeleine was joined by Georgina Turner, Director at Skills For Care, and Tracy Campbell, Housing with Care Manager at MHA.

As Georgina Turner outlined through Skills for Care data, recruitment and retention is currently the biggest challenge facing the social care sector: “Last year, for the first time since we’ve been collecting data, the workforce has shrunk,” she said. “There are 50,000 fewer filled posts in the sector than there were last year.”

At MHA we’re acutely aware of this and of the consequences that it can have. With demand for care growing, the existing workforce will become even more stretched and care providers will struggle to deliver high levels of care for those who need it most.

The ramifications of an ageing care workforce

Georgina also highlighted the current under-representation of younger people in the workforce – and how this could affect the sector in years to come: “Almost one third of our workforce are over 55 and they might start thinking about retiring in the next 10 years. When we do attract younger workers, we often struggle to keep them – worryingly, we lose half of staff under the age of 20 in their first year in post.”

There’s a clear need to change how young people view a career in care, to encourage more of them to enter the workforce and ensure they are being given opportunities to develop and progress in their roles. Beyond offering better pay and demonstrating they are valued, we discussed solutions to close the existing age gap.

Madeleine Bunting suggested we change how care is viewed from a young age: “We talk a lot about a work-ethic. If we could just re-orient our education system to ensure that our children are developing a care ethic alongside a work ethic, we may begin to tackle what I describe as a cultural blindness to the importance of care.”

Georgina also offered up a solution which was tied into education: “On a practical point, it is about developing relationships with schools and colleges. We know that it makes a massive difference if a young person can hear directly from somebody who works in the sector. It changes perceptions significantly.”

Cross-sector collaboration

There was also an acknowledgement among all participants of the need for stronger cross-sector collaboration. I floated the idea of a Royal College of Social Care, to help give the sector a unified and stronger voice. Trade unions were given as an example of how professional bodies have been able to champion and advocate for better pay and working conditions in nursing.

“Everything that can help to build networks across our workforce and instil recognition, is incredibly important,” added Georgina. “We should do all we can to develop that.”

Tracy Campbell shared her thoughts on what it means to be a good carer and what she believes needs to happen to make a positive change:

“To be a carer, and to be good at it, requires an untold amount of patience – as well as emotional, physical and mental health resilience. We’re losing experienced staff and I think that’s also because the pay doesn’t reflect the role that people do. As a society, we just don’t acknowledge how important care is.”

It is something MHA has been pointing out to government for some time – the sector needs additional funding to help us recognise, support and retain the fantastic people that work in it.

Thanks to our speakers and attendees for making this year’s seminar such a lively and thought-provoking discussion.

You can watch it back in full here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLo7wU4_8lo

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