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Care Workers: Professional Register

Volume 817: debated on Monday 10 January 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce a professional register for care workers.

We will invest at least £500 million in the social care workforce over the next three years. The major investment includes the introduction of a digital care workforce hub. This hub will help identify people working in social care and provide them with access to resources to help them in their careers. It will also include a skills passport to provide staff with a permanent record of their training and development over their career.

My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. In his letter to us today on NHS resilience, the Secretary of State says:

“Social care is vital for our success in managing Covid-19, working as part of a single system with the NHS.”

We all agree that we need to integrate the NHS and social care and provide a high-quality, seamless service to users, but as long as those in the social care profession are seen as the undervalued poor relations of those in the health sector, such integration is going to be very difficult. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have already introduced a registration scheme, offering professional skills and better working conditions for those in social care and making it a more attractive career profession. When will England do the same?

As my noble friend rightly points out, the devolved Administrations have registers in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and they have taken a phased approach over the years to registers of staff working in a variety of roles across social care, because of the complexity of the sector. This is why our first priority is to embed a knowledge and skills framework to clearly understand the current layout of the workforce and the skills required in their roles and to look at potential pathways before we consider mandatory regulation.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that if the pandemic has taught us anything, it has confirmed that those in need of social care are much more dependent now and much more vulnerable. They require very intensive personal care. That being so, is it not time that we recognised carers for what they are, because apart from their commitment, they display enormous skills, day in and day out, and people at the end of their life are dependent upon them?

I am sure all noble Lords will agree with those sentiments, and that is why we have published the White Paper on social care. We are investing an additional £5.4 billion over three years and we want to make sure it is a career that people feel valued in. We also have £3.6 billion to reform the social care charging system, to make sure that all local authorities can move towards paying care providers a fair rate for their care, and a further £1.7 billion to begin major improvements across the whole social care system in England.

My Lords, I suggest that the Minister introduces a national pay system that reflects the work that these people do and rewards them for their efforts. Unless he addresses the issue of pay, the rest will not make any difference.

As the noble Lord says, pay is one of the important issues when people consider what career to take, but also how much that career is valued. One of the reasons we are looking at this voluntary register, but also the skills passport, is to understand the current layout of the sector. There are a number of different qualifications at the moment and before we consider what should be mandatory and make sure that everybody is aligned in terms of qualifications, we want to understand the care force out there. Some 56% of those in the care sector, for example, do not have any qualifications and we want to make sure that we address that.

My Lords, the Economic Affairs Committee report of some two years ago estimated that £8.6 billion was needed just to get back to where we were 10 years ago. This money, which the Government are promising, is not available now. The need is now and the Government themselves have said that they want to deal with the problem of beds that are blocked in the NHS. That can happen only if the care workers are there and encouraged to be so, and that is about training and pay. At the moment, really good, wonderful people get paid more for stacking shelves in Tesco than they get for carrying out this work. Will my noble friend persuade the Treasury that this money needs to be made available now?

My noble friend makes a very important point that we need to make sure that this is an attractive career and that people feel valued. One of the reasons we launched the Made with Care campaign in November, which is running over five months, is to attract more people to the sector. Some of the money we have made available is to make sure that the sector is more attractive to people who want to work in it and that people in local authorities push the care home owners to pay their staff more.

When providing care for some of the most vulnerable in our communities, staff such as art therapists and occupational therapists have to have mandatory registration to practise. What is so different for social care staff who provide professional care as part of a multi-disciplinary team to such vulnerable people?

Only last week we opened a consultation on whether or not to make registration mandatory and to move towards it. When I spoke to people in the department about why it is currently voluntary and not mandatory, they said it was because they did not want to inadvertently put people off registering. They were worried that some people might leave the sector if registration was mandatory now. The noble Lord can shake his head, but this is a very real concern. We want to make sure it is voluntary first and we are consulting on the steps towards mandatory registration.

My Lords, the noble Lord’s Question is timely, with the Government’s consultation on future statutory regulation and the criteria that could form the basis of assessing whether regulation is appropriate. We all want to see care workers given the professional status that they deserve, but, as has been said, this needs a whole suite of key improvements on pay, training, career structure and development. Does the Minister agree that paying staff a wage that truly reflects the importance and value of their work is an essential first step and what action are the Government taking to ensure this?

As the noble Baroness will appreciate, many people who work in social care are employed by private care home owners and other bits of the sector. If she looks at the minimum wage, there has been an announcement of 6.6%, effective from 1 April, which means that workers will be paid more, but one of the bases of some of the additional funding that we have announced is to convince local authorities to put pressure on private care home owners and others to make sure that they pay staff more.

Given that the Government have clearly expressed the view that social care must be adequately valued, which is to be welcomed, and the comments about pay scales, what is the Government’s attitude to those employers in the private sector who do not hand on pay at time-and-a-half on bank holidays and so on, to their front-line staff? These front-line staff feel exploited and do not receive any pay or reimbursement for travel time between clients, even though they may spend quite a lot of time on the road. They are paid only while they are actually in somebody’s home in the community.

Issues such as the way private care home owners treat their staff are all part of the consultation that we launched on 6 January. We are working across government and with the devolved Administrations to seek views on the proposed criteria on which the profession should be regulated, whether there are regulated professions that no longer require statutory regulation, and whether there are unregulated professions that should be brought into statutory regulation. The consultation will run for 12 weeks until 31 March, when we will look at the results before taking further action.

My Lords, was the Spectator right when it said that 25% of people over 65 were worth more than £1 million, and is it right that these people should have capped care costs of £86,000, which means that taxpayers on much lower incomes have to pitch in and support them?

As my noble friend will appreciate and probably anticipate, there will be debate on the Health and Care Bill for the next few weeks. I am sure that that is one of the issues that will come up.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many care workers there are at work on a given day? Does he agree that it would be a good idea to have a considered, perpetual publicity campaign persuading those in the care service of the importance of gaining qualifications?

To ensure that the profession is attractive, we want to focus not only on making sure that social care staff are paid a decent wage but that they are recognised. The idea behind the skills passport is, first, that we want to understand all the different qualifications that there are with regard to the social care sector; and, secondly, we want to make sure that they can transport that when they move from one employer to another. That is the important thing that we want to look at.