This previously unsung army of workers have gained our respect and admiration – and even been called heroes and put on an equal footing to NHS staff. It’s a new-found reputation that has to stick.
But this should not just be so that individuals in this 200,000-strong core workforce can start to feel proud of themselves.
Instead, as well as planning for a potential new National Care Service, we should be positioning the social care sector to be engine room to support the nation’s post-Covid economic recovery.
Consider this, we have large numbers of people in retail, hospitality and travel who have lost, or could be set to lose, their jobs.
Contrast that with the social care sector: it’s been estimated that the care workforce in Scotland must grow by 2.2 per cent a year to keep up with the ageing population. However, with 14,000 vacancies and growth at just 1.2 per cent added to staff turnover rates as high as 44 per cent versus 15 per cent in other sectors, care provision has reached crisis point.
Care UK estimates over 1.4 million people currently have unmet care needs, with delayed discharges due to the lack of social care costing the NHS more than £500 every minute.
Faced with this challenge, it calls for a sensible, joined-up strategy that has the potential for two outstanding results: we find work, and work that is now highly valued, for the thousands of people made jobless; and we ramp up staffing levels to ensure we provide the care for those people most in need, and for whom change needs to happen if we are to learn any lessons from the pandemic.
Of course, it can’t happen overnight and different parts of the country will change at different speeds.
But by adopting new technology – as other sectors have done – to better track, plot and plan workforce data, these changes can happen. It is vital to put technology at the heart of this planned transformation.
Enhancing social care as an exciting, rewarding and now well-remunerated career choice should act as a trigger to encourage people who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, to take up these new roles in social care.
So when the UK opens up post-Covid, social care can be that key sector to support the economic recovery of the nation.
A new National Care Service should not be seen as a revenue cost but rather as an investment that encourages job creation and provides economic stimulus. For every £1 spent on social care, more than £2 is generated in other sectors. It’s estimated that an increase in social care expenditure of one per cent of GDP would create three times as many jobs in the UK economy than it would if spent in the construction industry.
So, as we look to our pathway out of Covid, let’s seize the opportunity to make dynamic change that can transform our care for our most needy citizens.
Stephen Wilson is chief executive of care industry workforce specialist Netli