Solving the Care Workforce Crisis

Published on in Alcove Business, News, Technology section

Care is a growth industry – more of us living longer means greater care needs. Another million paid care workers will be required in the next decade assuming current trends continue. Which might be considered good news for the market. Only care in its current guise tends not to be a career of choice. Why?

Pay for care workers is low, really low. It is often at or even below (taking into account unpaid travelling time between 15/30minute visits) minimum wage. And it has been decreasing in real terms year or year as budgets are squeezed…

On top of just poor pay, there are other potentially undesirable aspects of the job:

  • antisocial hours
  • lone working
  • lots of responsibility (lives are in your hands)
  • physically demanding
  • basic or infrequent training (leaving workers ill equipped to deal with often challenging conditions like dementia)
  • zero hours contracts (although this is actually attractive to some people)

Simply recruiting more low skilled, poorly paid, unmotivated workers into care is not going to benefit them or the people they are meant to care for. Care workers often end up only equipped to do things unto their charges – washing them, feeding them, moving them etc. rather than doing things WITH their charges. Teaching them to adapt to their changing conditions and help them help themselves. Reablement is a nice idea but it rarely takes place in practice, and only after a hospitalisation event has already happened.

Investing in your workforce has time and again been shown to have a cost benefit reward. So why isn’t it done more often in care? We can only assume that the buyer’s focus lies all on cost and not on benefit – a skewed cost quality ratio, with an initial uplift in costs just unthinkable in a landscape of slashed budgets, regardless of the positive longer term impact it could have. This is a very short term outlook leaving providers unable to balance budgets for much beyond the next 2-3 year horizon without cutting services in an environment of increased demand (and wait till the impact of The Care Act is really felt).

Some organizations are now realizing that what you put in affects what you get out. We are working with East Thames Group that has recently agreed to pay all its workers the London Living Wage (an increase of 15% in take home pay for some). But many employers or commissioners will balk at such increases. We need to find a way of creating other savings so that investment can be made in the workforce, creating a better life at work for millions of care workers and a better life at home for the millions they care for.

We think technology is the layer that can achieve this –that can enhance safeguarding and quality of life; that can up-skill workers and improve training; that can drive better service and staff retention; and that crucially can reduce costs by better deployment of labour. Care is one of the few industries that will never be fully automated but technology has a very important role to play in making sure all those that work in care are optimised, monitored, protected and trained. It’s time for a change not a race to the bottom.