The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the invaluable role social care professionals play in Wales, every day in every community.
In normal times, social care workers’ focus is on improving people’s well-being and helping them live the life that matters to them. And that has been no different during the pandemic, with workers going that extra mile to provide the necessary level of care and support despite the many challenges posed by the virus.
In several care homes across Wales, frontline social care workers have been living on the premises to shield and support residents, and to prevent the virus spreading. We all need to recognise and celebrate their compassion and commitment.
Social care workers have also been using creative ways to enable family members to virtually visit their loved ones, where face-to-face contact is not currently possible. This is particularly important for end of life care, when family members need support to say goodbye.
Essential support for families caring for children and adults with complex needs has been particularly difficult to provide during the pandemic. Many services have been reduced, due to staffing pressures and social distancing, so practitioners have responded by using digital technology and new ways of working to provide virtual support.
There have also been examples of effective joint-working across health and social care, which has enabled people leaving hospital after being treated for coronavirus to recover at home with support from voluntary and council services. When we get it right, seamless responses are possible.
Given how many social care workers have been on the frontline, battling against the worst effects of the virus to keep the people they care for safe, it’s no surprise that social care is one of the five occupations with the highest rates of coronavirus-related deaths in England and Wales.
Yet social care workers are, on average, paid much less than other key workers. In April this year, the Resolution Foundation highlighted that 56 per cent of frontline care workers in Wales earn below the voluntary living wage.
Their skill and dedication, in a crisis and at any other time, deserves fair reward that reflects the crucial part they play in the well-being of people and our communities. This is something recognised by the Welsh Government, which has signed up to the recommendations of the Fair Work Commission.
As well as revisiting the issue of fair reward for social care workers, it will be important, as we emerge from the pandemic, to consider investment in new ways of providing care and support.
We will need modern, efficient ways of supporting people. In a profession where human contact is so important, the pandemic has reinforced how important it is to be able to work and communicate as effectively virtually, as it is face-to-face.
To make this possible, we need a joined-up approach to transformation across health, social care and other person-centred public services that harnesses the potential of digital technology.