Fair Care Work: A Post COVID-19 Agenda for Employment Relations in Health and Social Care

Ian Kessler, Stephen Bach, Richard Griffin and Damian Grimshaw introduce their new paper, Fair care work. A post Covid-19 agenda for integrated employment relations in health and social care, published yesterday by King’s Business School. Lead author, Professor Kessler, is Deputy Director of the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce. (908 words)

The courage and sacrifice of the health and social care workforce have emblazoned themselves on the national consciousness as the challenge of COVID-19 continues. While classified as ‘key workers’, along with other occupations essential to the community in times of crisis, the distinctive contribution of frontline care workers, reflected in their direct and relentless engagement with the virus, has until recently been reflected in the Thursday night applause reserved for them. This public applause sits uneasily, however, with the treatment of over two million health and social care employees, mostly women, often from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, typically in undervalued, relatively low paid and insecure employment. In a new paper, we seek to kick start a policy debate on the development of fair care work, to stimulate discussion on a refreshed employment relations (ER) agenda which acknowledges and reflects the worth of care workers to our individual and communal well-being. Continue reading

View from the Frozen North

Last July we heard from the Cumbria Registered Social Care Managers’ Network (What can the city banks learn from social care?). At their most recent meeting, Network members discussed issues associated with providing care closer to home. (732 words)

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, braved icy conditions to attend the Cumbria Registered Social Care Managers’ Network on Friday 16 January 2015. The aim of the meeting was to explore from social care mangers’ perspectives some of the challenges of delivering care closer to home. Given the pressures currently facing the hospital acute sector and especially Accident and Emergency Departments, discussions of care closer to home are especially topical as it explores how community health and social care staff can work together to keep people out of hospital where appropriate or to help them come home earlier. Continue reading

What do we know about managers of care homes?

Katharine OrellanaKatharine Orellana is a Research Training Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit in the Policy Institute at King’s. Katharine’s Care Home Managers: a scoping review of evidence is published today by NIHR School for Social Care Research. (589 words)

We have a tendency to put care home managers at the back of our minds until a crisis hits the headlines. On such sad occasions, there is suddenly a lot of interest in them.

In England, around 460,000 adults live in 17,350 care homes that have a staff body of around 560,000. Care homes are hugely varied in many ways. They range from small, family businesses to large national and multinational chains offering anything from 1 – 215 beds. Homes may cater for more than one group of people, but they all provide accommodation and personal care. Just over a quarter of them also offer nursing, and these account for about half of all places in care homes as they tend to be larger operations. Staff must support residents with increasingly complex needs. Continue reading

Shifting policy attention to the social care workforce

Dr Shereen HusseinDr Shereen Hussein is Principal Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit in the Policy Institute at King’s. (956 words)

The year 2014 has seen growing attention given to the social care workforce, with a number of high profile reviews being published, including the Kingsmill Review ‘Taking Care’, the Unison report into home care ‘Time to care’, the Demos review of residential care and, launched today, the Burstow Commission review on the future of the home care workforce, ‘Key to care’.

The question of how to maintain a high quality social care workforce has received academic scrutiny for many years, with research highlighting the lack of career progression, low pay and status, and the inability of the sector to attract young and diverse groups of workers as some of the key issues. There are many reasons why we are in this state of ‘crisis’ but at the core is the assumption that care work is something that can be performed by ‘anyone’—it does not require a vast amount of skills and we can always find a willing worker to do it. While these assumptions go unspoken, they underline how the sector operates and derive from the perception of care work as ‘women’s’ work that comes ‘naturally’; if the family can do it why do we need a skilled professional to do it? Continue reading

What can the city banks learn from social care?

The Registered Managers’ Programme from The National Skills Academy for Social Care aims to better equip Registered Social Care Managers to meet the challenges they face, to reduce their isolation by networking them at local and national level, and to enable them to recognise their leadership role. As part of the Programme, they are funding Local Networks to support Registered Managers on the ground, either where demand has been identified but no Network exists, or to strengthen and expand existing ones.

One such network has recently been established in Cumbria with support from the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London, and it builds on earlier work around communities of practice. For more information contact michelle.cornes@kcl.ac.uk

This post was written by the members of the Cumbria Registered Social Care Managers’ Network following their meeting last month.

The focus of this meeting (4 June 2014) was celebrating the work of the huge number of social care workers who do a great job every day and make a really positive difference to the lives of people who need care and support. Inevitably though, the conversation moved to discussing the recent Panorama programme (Behind Closed Doors, 30 April 2014) on abusive care, and the impact programmes like this have on staff in the sector. That led to us thinking about what registered social care managers can do to raise the profile of care that is caring and compassionate?

Cumbria Registered Social Care Managers’ Network

The Cumbria Registered Social Care Managers’ Network at the June 2014 meeting

For the front-line care workers in attendance at this meeting, programmes like Behind Closed Doors are far removed from their day-to-day experiences of delivering care. A good day for some starts with crumpets, toast and jam and a chance to catch up with each other (called a ‘hand over’ in the jargon). There are enormous challenges in delivering good quality carefor example how to be personalised, compassionate and ‘quick’ (in your 15 minute time slot with each resident). Work is often stressful, physically demanding (12 hour shifts) and emotionally draining. Needless to say, the situation is not helped by the current climate of austerity and chronic underfunding. However, the job brings with it enormous rewards and a great sense of personal satisfaction. At the heart of the work is your team, like a family almost, and all the emotional benefits which flow from being collegiate.

Added to this, is the sense that you are making a very real and positive difference to people’s lives. In this business it is the ‘smiles and the thank yous’  that count for most… The six figure bonuses, pay rises, company cars and expenses said to be absolutely essential to recruit and retain the ‘best’ staff in the more compassionate(less) industries are seemingly not so important in social care. Maybe the city banks have something to learn from social care managers in this respect?

Cumbria Registered Social Care Managers’ Network

The Cumbria Registered Social Care Managers’ Network at the June 2014 meeting

Where programmes like Panorama can have a particularly detrimental impact is that they can work to undermine the confidence and integrity of some social care managers. The desire to ‘protect’ the public from abusive care often sees the inspectorates and commissioners of services imposing further layers of monitoring and regulation. However, unless carefully implemented as part of a wider culture of learning and improvement, this can quickly lead to a ‘them’ and ‘us’ scenario in which there is a lack of trust and authentic partnership working. While the ‘best managers’ will follow the rules and regulations, reporting ‘poor practices’ or any ‘safeguarding’ incidents as they are required to do, they can be left feeling demoralised and ‘brow beaten’ by the response. ‘Poor managers’ meanwhile will keep their heads down; they will not engage externally and will remain largely hidden from view, that is, until the television cameras go in.

How to engender trust and authentic relationships (the ‘smiles and the thank yous’) between commissioners and providers of social care services is a question we shall return to in future meetings. Celebrating the role of the social care worker and raising the profile of ‘good care’ has just been a first step.

For more information about this post please contact Michelle Cornes, Senior Research Fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London. The Unit is part of The Policy Institute @ King’s.

Recognising the value of people who are paid to care

Katie Graham, Research Associate at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, reports on care workers taking strike action in Doncaster.

During the last few months many care workers in Doncaster have been on strike. A three day strike ended on 22 April and union members have now started a further two weeks of action. UNISON members are taking action against changes to pay (including reducing weekend enhancements), sick pay and holiday entitlement. These planned changes are being implemented following the NHS loss of its contract to provide supported living services in the area. Given the rarity of unionisation and action within care work and the precedent that the proposed contract working terms and conditions would set (as more and more previously public sector services are transferred to the for-profit sector), it is curious that there has been such limited national coverage of the ongoing strike action.

In other parts of England social care providers and local authorities (the commissioners or funders of much social care) are subject to sharp criticism over the poor contractual conditions of care workers within commissioned services. Some home care workers have to endure zero hours contracts (Joseph Rowntree Foundation report) and non-payment of travelling time leading to below minimum wage payment. It has been confirmed by Care Minister, Norman Lamb, that there are 307,000 care workers on zero hour contracts (Community Care, 2013); work by this Unit has indicated that at least 150,000 workers in the social care sector may be getting paid less than the minimum wage (Hussein, 2011). And in 2013 the Low Pay Commission expressed its concern that social care workers are particularly vulnerable to poor pay and conditions of employment. The situation has been highlighted in the press and the House of Commons in part due to a recent court verdict in late 2013 (Whittlestone v BJP Home Support Limited) which ruled on the illegality of the non-payment of travelling time.

A recent review of the implications of adult social care budget cuts by Community Care (McNicoll & Stobart, 2014) illustrated the strategies councils are using to manage their limited budgets.  These included increasing the eligibility criteria (threshold for public funding entitlement), strict limits on care packages (e.g. no overnight care and reduction in the length of calls), increasing charges to service users, a ‘cap’ (upper limit) on council expenditure on social care, with budgets allocated to care managers to ensure they ‘understand fully the implications of their decisions’ on finances.  In spite of the government promising guidance for local authorities to address these concerns within the commissioning process another strategy seems to be the outsourcing of previously public run services and the re-negotiation of existing contractual arrangements with voluntary and for profit organisations. These may potentially reproduce the very conditions that have lead the care workers in Doncaster to take decisive action and the difficult decision to strike.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (Carr, 2014) recently released a summary of three major research projects looking at care work and low pay. These suggest that the evidence that connects low pay and poor quality of service is inconclusive.  However, it is emphasised that a combination of pay and working conditions including supervision, training, appropriate amount of time to fulfil tasks, need to be considered to ensure ‘job quality’ for the care worker and a quality service.

Historically there has been limited unionisation of care workers working in residential and community services, therefore there has been limited collective response to poor working terms and conditions. The policy of personalisation is leading to the development of a more dispersed and fragmented workforce. This makes the struggle, by those in a position to organise and collectively campaign, particularly difficult and important. By whatever means, there needs to be a wider recognition that ‘care work’ in its multiplicity of forms including practical tasks, assisting, prompting, skill development as well as relationship building, emotional support and developing trust in often intimate domestic situations, should be valued both financially and socially.

Care workers have always experienced low pay for demanding work so little has changed. In recent years we have seen undercover reporters exposing shocking images of abusive practices in residential settings and recently the BBC televised further instances of abuse and neglect of older people in residential care homes by care workers. Many such instances have been rightly responded to both by the criminal justice system as well as the regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC). However, there is a problem in individualising the blame (on a ‘bad apple’) rather than seeking to understand and address the systemic failings in how we organise and value front line social care. The combination of dismay at the regular practice of organisations creating savings by non-payment of care workers’ travel time and the ongoing strike action by UNISON members in Doncaster for commensurable terms and conditions of employment in an outsourced service, highlights the need for research and policy to take a holistic view of our care industry, recognising how the material and working conditions of the workforce must be directly connected to the quality of our care services.

Dr Katie Graham joined SCWRU in early 2013 and is working on a NIHR School for Social Care Research funded project comparing the costs and benefits of different models of adult safeguarding.