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What can we learn from our first report on domiciliary care workers in Wales?

27 July 2020
David Pritchard, Director of Regulation

Hi, my name is David Pritchard and I am the Registrar at Social Care Wales. This is the first of a series of short personal blogs that reflect on what we can learn from the Register of social care workers in Wales.

Is anything surprising anymore? If the last months are our guide, then probably not. It seems as if the world has looked at our expectations of normal life and decided to confound them at every turn.

In this piece I hope to make a small contribution to that trend of challenging perceptions. It isn’t going to turn anyone’s world upside down, but it may offer just a small step into a better understanding of those who work on the frontline of our care system.

At Social Care Wales we register all domiciliary care workers in Wales. These are the people who provide care and support in people’s homes. Since this April, it has been the law that anyone who runs a domiciliary care service must only employ people who are registered, unless workers have just started in the sector. We believe this registration can help the workforce gain recognition for their work.

It also means that we have, for the first time, a detailed understanding of our frontline home care staff. Today we’ve published a statistical snapshot of that workforce. And some of that report really does surprise.

Let’s start with the basics. There are nearly 20,000 people whose role it is to provide social care services to people in their own homes. That is a sizeable number. In fact, it is more than double all the health care assistants and ambulance staff working in the NHS right now. It is 4,000 more than we forecast at the start of the process.

These numbers again show how the role of social care can be underplayed, how important home care is in our society and how critical it is to get these services right.

Like many others in the sector I have often heard arguments that care jobs are done by people with few skills. This report shows this is plain wrong.

In fact, 64 per cent of workers have an appropriate qualification, and most of the remainder are currently working to match them. This report shows a trained workforce with skills specifically developed for the roles they hold.

This is important to me because it shows there is a strong foundation of professional development in our workforce. Through registration we can put together training that will support these workers to go to the next level with confidence.

The second perception to be challenged by the data is that people in these roles just do them for a short time before moving on. That a job in social care is just a brief stepping-stone to something else. This is also false.

Two-thirds of workers have been in their current role for more than two years, and one in five is still doing the same job after 10 years. These are slightly above the UK OECD equivalent figures for all jobs. Again, this should give us confidence in investing in this workforce. Putting resources into the sector to support individual learning and development is not going to be wasted.

Of course, there are some things we thought we knew that have been confirmed by this report. Home care workers are predominately women, 84 per cent in fact. We do need to encourage men to consider a career in social care, too.

These figures give us the incentive to think carefully about how we put together our recruitment campaigns, such as WeCare Wales, to attract a more diverse workforce into the social care sector (and perhaps they also make us think again about the fact this is another women-led role in our society that is chronically under-paid).

Ultimately, this report is not the answer to the challenges facing social care. It can, however, provide a more informed context for how we might meet them. And if it also overturns some of our perceptions about those who come into our homes to care for us and our loved ones, then that can’t be a bad thing.

Read our report about the domiciliary care workers on our Register