A panel of experts have come together to discuss the findings of a new report published by The Open University. The report, The path forward for social care in England, is based on a survey of 500 leaders from across adult social care and social work, and culminates in five recommendations for the future of the sector in England.
David Brindle, former Public Services Editor for The Guardian who is also the chair of a non-profit care provider employing over 1,400 individuals, leads the discussion into the report findings, the recommendations, and what the future holds for the sector. “It will come as no surprise to hear that there is little confidence that the sector has all the workers and skills it thinks it needs in coming months and years. On the other hand, the COVID crisis has forced many in the sector to think very differently about how they work – to adapt and innovate – as teams have responded so magnificently to ensure the safety and wellbeing of vulnerable people over the tumultuous past 12 months,” comments David.
Introducing the report findings, Professor Samantha Baron, Head of School – Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University, states, “What we found overall is that actually the pandemic has tested the sector, and it’s tested the sector but actually exposed quite a lot of the key issues that were already evident. Those largely fall within two areas. One is around inequality of funding and secondly is about the lack of a coherent plan for social care and social work, about the future for social work and social care, and in particular workforce needs.”
This relates to findings in the report that more than two thirds (67%) of employers surveyed believe different skills are required to those they were prioritising before the pandemic. A key area of concern cited was digital skills (36%), as highlighted by Becky Squires, Principal Social Worker at Cumbria County Council. “I think in many ways working over the last year has been incredibly challenging for our staff. We’ve really been thrown into using technology in ways that we’d hardly considered before the pandemic. We’ve been trying to find new and creative ways to fulfil our statutory responsibilities.”
Exacerbating some of these issues is the underfunding of the sector and the lack of a clear career framework. Amongst adult social care employers, more than two in five (42%) agreed that a career framework, with recognised qualifications, would go some way to addressing the sector’s recruitment and retention challenges. A further 34% cited the increased availability of pathways, such as those provided by the recently created degree apprenticeships, between social care and qualified social work roles as a possible solution.
Simon Blackburn, CEO of the Registered Care Providers Association, comments “I think the findings are timely. I would agree there are no surprises, but I think what it does is to reiterate the ongoing crisis that we’re facing through years of underinvestment. Ultimately that hits the front line, which is why we’re talking about workforce, because I think ultimately that is where it hits hardest. I do really think that COVID-19 has sped up the journey we were on. We need to be looking towards a new workforce looking towards care as a career.”
It’s clear that COVID-19 has exposed some long-standing challenges within the sector. Going forwards, “The report really gave five clear recommendations – some of which are new, some which are a little bit more specific to this report,” says Professor Baron. “Public services have been at the frontline of the response to COVID-19, and it’s no secret that the severity of the pandemic has tested the preparedness and resilience of adult social care. What’s also clear is that the pandemic has exacerbated longer-standing pressures. We simply cannot afford to see these vital sectors further weakened, and for that reason The Open University is calling for a number of significant reforms to address skills needs and priorities for the future.”