By Sam Monaghan, Chief Executive of MHA
The Prime Minister recently confirmed that we will see a General Election in the UK, at some point in 2024. What an opportunity that is to shine a spotlight on social care – but will the sector get the attention it so desperately needs and deserves? Regardless of the colour of the next government, now is the time for all parties to prioritise social care and build a more coherent and sustainable plan for its future.
Our sector continued to face significant challenges in 2023, including higher operational costs due to inflationary increases and high energy prices. We are also still seeing unacceptably long waiting list times for social care assessments.
On top of this, there are ongoing issues around staffing, and an estimated 150,000 vacancies remain across the sector. Care providers are struggling to both recruit and retain staff – and the latest rulings on overseas care worker visas will do nothing to alleviate these problems.
We have long called for professionals working in our sector to be better valued and recognised. This would help us find, train, and retain the best people. Better pay and working hours, alongside access to relevant training and qualifications were also identified by Skills for Care as critical factors that would help to retain staff in future.
Unless we see significant investment from the Government in 2024 and beyond, these workforce pressures will continue to mount. The UK has an increasingly ageing population, so more and more people will rely on support in their homes or in permanent care settings, to avoid hospital admissions.
Aside from these ongoing issues, it’s important to recognise that the sector has made plenty of progress. Social care organisations have rallied to share experiences, discuss their collective needs -and collaboratively we have put forward some great ideas for change.
I heard many of these ideas exchanged first-hand during party conference season, as we joined social care fringe events for all three of the major political parties. I had the opportunity to sit on panels at both the Labour and Liberal Democrat conferences, where valuable and hugely positive conversations were had around what the future of the sector could look like.
We’ve also seen encouraging support for our own concept of a Social Care Council, which we’re proposing that the Government funds and enables as part of our
Fix Care For All campaign. This would act as an independent body, representing the 1.5 million skilled, professional people working in social care.
It would examine issues such as pay scales, accreditation, training, and recruitment – and would invest more into changing public perceptions around what it means to choose care as a profession.
Working together as a sector gives us a much stronger voice as we push for social care reform to be a key focus in the manifestos of all the major political parties.
But we want to see commitment, not rhetoric, from policy makers in return. This means a vision, a strategy, and a properly costed plan to build real and lasting change for the most vulnerable people in our society and those who care for them.
We want young people to see social care as a rewarding career path, with potential for development and progression; flexibility that accommodates the various patterns of peoples’ working and family lives; fair pay – in line with other healthcare providers. And we want everybody who needs it to have access to good quality care.
In the build up to an election, like many other social care organisations, we will continue to push for the reform and investment that the sector deserves and requires – and we are committed to working with our peers and partners to ensure this is made a reality.