I work in social care and this is why I'm so fed up with the job I love

‘Yahoo News - Insights’ is a series in which we hear directly from people with an inside track of the big issues. Here, care worker Catharine Bell explains why social care needs more funding.

Catharine Bell, 57, is a support worker for people with learning disabilities.
Catharine Bell is a support worker for people with learning disabilities.
  • Catharine Bell, 57, is a support worker for people with a learning disability, helping them to stay healthy, get out into the community and fulfil their ambitions

  • She is supporting Mencap’s Why We Care campaign, which is shining a light on the vital role support workers play and calling for all political parties to better fund social care

I have worked in social care for over 30 years in a range of settings – nurseries, colleges and now within the community – juggling it alongside being a mum-of-two.

When you think of people working in social care, what springs to mind? Maybe you imagine someone helping an elderly lady to wash or dress, or you think of someone having a fun day out, supporting a person with a disability to go to a concert or the cinema.

What you might not realise is how much skill is needed to work in social care. We’re not just providing personal care. We might have to administer medication or tube-feed, coach people through job interviews, help with their finances and offer emotional support through illness or bereavement.

You might not realise that social care is for everyone, not just for older people. More than a third of people needing social care are of working age.

And you might not know that many of us working in social care are passionate about our jobs but worry it isn’t sustainable to continue in our roles unless things change. Many of us are struggling to make ends meet, and have to work long hours because the social care system is so underfunded.

The problems with social care are constantly hitting the headlines. Latest figures show that more than 205,000 adults aged 18 to 64 in England were not provided with adult social care support when they requested it. There simply aren’t enough staff in the sector to meet demand.

But despite the huge challenges, many of us find it incredibly rewarding. Like a third of frontline staff recently surveyed by learning disability charity Mencap, I'm motivated by my role because I want to give back to society and improve the lives of people with a learning disability.

When you have a learning disability it can make it harder to do everyday activities. Some people might need a few hours of support each week, others need round-the-clock care. I help people achieve milestones such as getting their first job, getting married, or doing tasks many of us take for granted – like making a cup of tea or going to a doctor’s appointment.

Sometimes it’s the ‘little things’ that make the biggest difference. I help one lady dye her hair every Wednesday night, a different colour each time – blue, pink or purple – so she can feel ‘like herself’. I made a cookbook for another so she could cook her favourite meals. Helping one of the ladies I support get married and seeing the happiness on her face was job satisfaction at its finest.

But it is a worrying time to work in social care. There aren’t enough staff to meet demand and this has a knock-on effect on existing staff as we work longer hours to fill the gaps. I have heard of some support workers who have done a 12-hour day shift and then gone straight into a night shift because there aren’t enough staff to cover if colleagues fall sick.

More people are leaving the sector because of pay and conditions, says Catharine Bell.
More people are leaving the sector because of pay and conditions, says Catharine Bell.

I know of one support worker, Nick, who cared deeply about Jon*, the man he supported, who didn’t deal well with change or disruption to his care. So when one of Nick’s colleagues fell ill, he covered many extra shifts to ensure the man had consistent care. Otherwise, he said the man wouldn’t want to do anything and would sit in his chair staring at the wall all day. This is the kind of dedication that I hear from colleagues all the time – putting the people they support first.

Like so many people, frontline workers in social care are being hit by the cost of living, too. We are all cutting back, whether that’s walking to work or skipping lunch. There are two issues at play – one is a lack of recognition from government about how skilled and important our role is and the other is a lack of government funding.

There are more than 150,000 vacancies unfilled in social care every day and a third of people are leaving the sector for good. Experts believe that new immigration laws will deter overseas workers from taking roles in social care, even though 70,000 roles were filled in this way last year. And unless central government funding increases, the situation is likely to worsen, with around one in five local councils – which issue contracts to deliver social care – at risk of going into administration.

We are often carrying out complex medical tasks and can be solely responsible for someone’s physical and mental well-being - and we should be paid to reflect that. Without us, some people will be unable to shower, go to the shops or get their medicine from the cupboard.

Some people you see working in shops and cafes with a learning disability wouldn’t be able to have those jobs and be such a valued part of the community without us. There needs to be more central government funding too as local councils are limited on what they give to providers, who in turn cannot pay social care workers more.

Sadly, it’s people with a learning disability and their families who suffer if social care isn’t reformed. Seven in 10 people with a learning disability are having their hours of social care cut, which is leading to families plugging the gaps. Some people with a learning disability won’t get the help they need, leaving them isolated and unable to get to medical appointments. It’s sad when I hear about families whose support worker has left to get another job. That person they have built a relationship with has just gone from their life.

I know of one family who used an agency after their son’s support worker left the sector. On one occasion the agency didn’t have enough support workers so they sent a member of office staff. This was to support someone with complex needs who was non-verbal and needed personal care.

So what does the government need to do? The short answer is to better fund social care. Experts say more than £8.3bn needs to be injected into social care by 2032/3 just to meet current demand. If the government pays local authorities more then they can pay providers more who can then pay staff better, retaining more people.

Learning disability charity Mencap, in its new campaign Why We Care, is shining a spotlight on the important role of social care workers and is urging the government to put in a similar pay scale to the NHS. At the moment, people working at Band 3 in the NHS doing similar duties to social care workers can be paid thousands of pounds more each year.

I hope I have changed your perceptions of social care, that you realise it is a skilled profession and how vital it is that it’s reformed for people with a learning disability and the millions of others who rely on it. I’d encourage you to show carers and support workers that you care by signing the Why We Care petition so people with a learning disability are supported and people in social care get the recognition we deserve.

As told to Catherine Jones.

Show your support for people working in social care and sign Mencap’s Why We Care petition at mencap.org.uk/whywecare

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