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Carers and Care Workers

Volume 731: debated on Wednesday 26 April 2023

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to publish and implement a Care Workers Employment Strategy, with the aim of improving the recruitment and retention of care workers; to establish an independent National Care Workers Council with responsibility for setting professional standards for care workers, for establishing a system of professional qualifications and accreditation for care workers, and for advising the Government on those matters; to require the Secretary of State to commission an independent assessment of the support available to unpaid carers, including financial support and employment rights; and for connected purposes.

All of us will have had experience of the importance of care, whether we have had to care for a loved one ourselves or whether outside care has been provided to a relative or friend. I am sure that colleagues on both sides of the House will agree that caring is not only a skilled job but one in which compassion, respect, friendship and companionship are also hugely important. Before I dive into the detail of the Bill, I want to provide a small example of how important those elements can be.

Recently I was speaking to residents in North Shropshire and I came to a bungalow whose door was answered by a care worker. She explained that the lady who lived there was having her lunch but that she would help her to fill in my survey about local issues. A few minutes later I turned to see the care worker running up the street after me. “Joan would love to see you herself,” she said. I gladly went back to talk to Joan, who did not get many visitors and was grateful for the interaction. There was no need for that care worker to have literally gone the extra mile when she was doubtless under time pressure to get to the next resident, but it made all the difference to Joan’s day. Care is hugely important to the most vulnerable individuals in our society, yet there is consensus that the care sector is in need of urgent attention.

The Government have promised to sort out social care on numerous occasions, but we have seen little in the way of a coherent strategy to tackle the multiple issues faced by the sector. At the top of the list of issues is the workforce shortage. In only the last few years, the number of vacancies has skyrocketed to 165,000. Not only is this a vast number but the situation is getting worse. More than one in 10 posts are now empty, with the vacancy rate having risen from 7% to 10.7% between 2021 and 2022. Furthermore, the Health and Social Care Committee anticipates that a further 490,000 care workers will be needed by the early part of the next decade. To make matters worse, the Care Quality Commission has reported that over 87% of care providers responding to its latest “State of Care” report in 2022 said that they were experiencing recruitment challenges.

This workforce shortage is one of the factors driving the crisis engulfing A&E departments and ambulance services. The inability of hospitals to discharge patients into care, whether at home or in a care home, is preventing the critically ill from being admitted to hospital or handed over from their ambulance, with truly disastrous consequences for those in immediate and urgent need. But the Government have still not brought forward their NHS workforce plan and there is little chance that it will include details for the care workforce, despite the sector being critical to the healthy functioning of the NHS. On three occasions during the passage of the Health and Care Act 2022 the Government voted against amendments that would have required the Secretary of State to publish independently verified assessments of current and future workforce numbers every two years. They have not even engaged with the scale of the problem.

A care workers employment strategy should be the top priority of the Government—and not just any strategy but a workable one that is fit for the future and can be appropriately adapted as circumstances change, not just press-released and shelved with little impact. That means it has to identify where and why shortages exist as well as the areas of greatest need, and how to resolve those shortages. It needs to identify the causes of poor retention and slow recruitment, and it needs to be brave enough to tackle the importance of pay in a sector that is currently fishing in the same pool as retail and hospitality for new recruits. Caring is a skilled job and it should be paid appropriately. That is why the Liberal Democrats have suggested the introduction of a carers’ minimum wage. By increasing the minimum wage by £2 for care workers and introducing a care workers employment strategy, we can take a bold and realistic step to deal with the chronic staffing shortages that we face.

My Bill goes on to recommend the implementation of an independent national care workers council, free from political interference, which would establish not only minimum professional standards of care throughout the country but a system for the professional qualification and accreditation of care workers. This would provide public recognition of the importance of the care worker’s role and provide career development as skill and experience increases. I hope that by advising on minimum professional standards and the training needed to achieve them, such a council would provide the leadership needed to improve the varying standards of care we see across the country.

Back in the autumn of 2022, I observed a 12-hour ambulance shift with a crew in Shropshire, and I was struck by the variation in the circumstances of the patients we visited. One elderly gentleman was able to remain at home despite having been struck by covid. The ambulance crew were confident that his needs would be taken care of and that the carer would ring back if his condition deteriorated. However, a second gentleman’s carers had done everything required of them and taken the time to call an ambulance because he was poorly, but they were so short of time that they were unable to stay. This immense time pressure on care workers, and the fact that they are often not paid for driving between clients, means that some residents are living poorer quality lives than they otherwise might. Minimum professional standards would help to alleviate the time pressures on carers. It would also reduce the burnout and frustration that care workers must feel when they are forced to rush through their work faster than they would like.

It is also important to recognise that care is not a one-size-fits-all profession and that different skills and experience can have huge value in the sector. Recently I met the chief executive officer of a not-for-profit organisation providing care for adults with learning disabilities. The care workers in that organisation often provide lifelong care to individuals with high levels of need, and their excellent skills are in ever-decreasing supply. Reward and recognition for the people who provide this care are critical to ensuring that such organisations can continue to provide their unique service.

I cannot express enough the importance of dealing with the crisis in the care sector. The Care Quality Commission’s report shows that more than a quarter of care homes reporting workforce pressures say that they are no longer actively admitting new residents. Local care providers in my constituency have indicated that cost and retention pressures could force them to hand back care packages to the council, which would then have to find alternatives in an emergency. This would be costly, inefficient and have the potential to compromise the quality of care provided. As our population ages, this is an unacceptable state. A strategy is needed to resolve it right now.

The army of unpaid carers often slip under the radar. These people have often had to scale back or give up their paid employment, in many cases because there is not another available or affordable service. High-quality care is valuable, and unpaid carers contribute a huge amount to the economy, which is unrecognised. Carers UK’s latest estimate is that carers save the economy nearly £193 billion a year, which is a huge amount that should not go unrecognised.

My Bill would require the Secretary of State to commission an independent assessment of the support available to all unpaid carers, including financial support, as well as the employment rights needed to enable them to care. It is essential that the Government receive the best possible information and advice to ensure that those who care in our society are not forced to suffer themselves, and an independent assessment would provide this.

It is essential to remember why this matters. At the heart of the care system are people in need of assistance. Whether they are elderly, in poor health or have lifelong disabilities, those requiring care should have the right to live in dignity, knowing that their needs will be met sensitively, either by a loved one or by a caring professional. We can no longer ignore the crisis engulfing the care sector and the impact that a shortage of care workers and well-supported unpaid carers will have on those most in need.

As our care needs increase by the year, we must act now to ensure that we continue to be able to provide the high-quality care that everyone in our society deserves.

Question put and agreed to.


That Helen Morgan, Ed Davey, Tim Farron, Sarah Olney, Sarah Green, Wera Hobhouse, Richard Foord, Layla Moran, Daisy Cooper, Jamie Stone, Christine Jardine and Munira Wilson present the Bill.

Helen Morgan accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 298).