A blog entry by Dr Kelly Davidge,
Sustainable Care Programme Manager
Since I started working on the Sustainable Care Programme as Programme Manager in November 2017, I’ve realised that everyone has a story about an experience with the social care system: a grandparent coming to stay in the spare room; neighbours receiving daily visits from care workers; making the decision to move Mum or Dad into a care home. Social care is a responsibility devolved to the four nations of the UK, and so the system and our experiences of it are different in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But until we need to deal with the system, how many of us understand how it works?
Dr Kelly Davidge
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into stark relief the invisibility of the UK’s unpaid carers and care workforce. There are an estimated 8.8 million unpaid carers in the UK; the care they provide to a family member, friend or neighbour who might be older, disabled or seriously ill has an economic value of £132 billion per year. According to research by Carers UK, Caring behind closed doors, conducted in April 2020, 70% of unpaid carers are providing more care due to the coronavirus pandemic; 55% of them feel overwhelmed and worry about burnout. An unpaid carer, Shereen (who, with her brother, cares for her mum) writing in The Guardian on 12 May 2020, worries that: “the care crisis is real and will only get worse”.
There are also 1.6 million care workers in the UK, who work in care homes and in domiciliary care, in the community as personal assistants and as live-in care workers. These care workers are paid less than shopworkers, cleaners and health care assistants who work in the NHS; they work in a fragile system with 24% of jobs on zero hours contracts and an average turnover rate of 30.8%. Yet we often read inspiring stories about them in the media, such as the care workers who left their families and moved into a Sheffield care home in order to shield residents from the coronavirus (The Guardian, 25 Mar 2020).
Once this pandemic is over and society recalibrates itself, we must not forget those who became visible to us during the crisis – those providing care to family, friends and neighbours and those working on the front line of social care. In the coming months and years, let’s do more than just clap for our carers and the care workforce; let’s provide them with the support, career progression and visibility they deserve. Let’s turn our care crisis into a care community we can be proud of.