Why are social care staff undervalued and misunderstood?

Research by the national learning disability charity FitzRoy has found that families of people with learning disabilities would get better services if social care staff were better recognised and appreciated

There is a baffling gulf between the status given to healthcare workers such as nurses, and the status given to care professionals at the front line of social care.

This disparity is having a direct impact on recruitment and retention of staff across social care, and creating big problems for those relying on our services.

Research by national learning disability charity FitzRoy into the problems facing families of people with learning disabilities (Who will care after I’m gone?) reveals the damaging impact a high turnover of staff has. It is killing trust in the system, while costing money and wasting resources.

A revolving door is leaving families deeply frustrated. Parents are worn down by a lack of continuity in care for their sons and daughters. Many report they’re meeting new carers, sometimes on a weekly basis, and having to retell their story and build a connection with someone new.

This lack of continuity feeds their fears that if they are not around to fight for the support their children need, no one else will. This is such a huge fear that many said they hope their son or daughter dies before they do. Put simply they don’t trust the system to provide the long-term planning and continuity that means they understand the needs of their loved ones.

Funding cuts

Care professionals said that they are very aware of the problems families are facing and are frustrated they can’t do more. FitzRoy's research uncovered some of the reasons for this frustration.

There is a lot of pressure on people working in social care, with many care professionals reporting that they are worried about the impact squeezed local authority budgets are having. In fact more than a third of the care professionals spoken to said that their biggest concern is the spending cuts and how this will affect their role and the support they give.

They also reported that their jobs would be more attractive if they were given higher social status, with 80% of the care professionals who responded reporting that their job would be more appealing if it was better recognised.

Parents acknowledged this as an issue, with two thirds of the parents interviewed reporting that increasing the value and status of people working in care roles would make the most difference to their lives and alleviate their concerns.

Continuity of care

Parents also feel low pay is detrimental to the quality and continuity of care. One said: 'If quality people were paid a decent wage then money would be saved in the long run because recruitment and agency fees would be avoided. If the wages were increased you’d get a higher quality of staff.'

Care professionals provide a safety net to families and people with learning disabilities. One who has a positive experience of long-term care provision said: 'They are like an extended family who I can trust to enable my sister to have a joyful life, creating opportunities and experiences for her while still ensuring my mother’s wishes for her are kept.'

It is imperative we recognise the valuable role care professionals play in looking after some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Living wage

The recent legislation on a living wage is good news and a welcome step in improving conditions for care professionals.

However, care providers are going to seriously struggle with the increase in costs unless local authorities protect spending on learning disability services. If they don’t, we face a race to the bottom, and will end up exacerbating the problems that we see arising from high turnover of staff and lack of continuity of care.

FitzRoy has long championed the view that it must consider the lifetime needs of a person with learning disabilities. This is why, in light of our findings and the challenges ahead, we are calling for the government to address this issue and campaign to raise the status of care work so that it accurately reflects how skilled care professionals are. If we don’t, we risk losing valuable staff and letting more families down.

It is deeply frustrating to all of us who know what a skilled and vital role care professionals provide. We see, day in day out, dedicated people committed to providing a lifeline and transforming lives. We need people outside our sector to understand the value they bring if we are to improve conditions for care workers, attract more people to our sector, and go some way to alleviating the awful pressures many families are under. 

About the author

Anna GallifordAnna Galliford, chief executive officer of FitzRoy, a national charity transforming the lives of people with learning disabilities.

Read more about FitzRoy by visiting their website.

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