Social care is a sector worth £1bn a year to the local economy yet is undervalued an in urgent need of a long term vision for sustainability.
The claim comes from the Northern Ireland Social Care Council which is calling for the sector to be recognised as one of national strategic importance following the publication of two major reports examining the challenges and opportunities in the province.
For the first time, service providers and key employers have come together with the council to produce two new reports and contribute to a conversation about how a more collective vision in social care might be achieved.
Speaking at the launch of the reports; ‘Social Care Matters’ and ‘Assessing The Economic Value of the Adult Social Care Sector’, NISCC CEO Colum Conway said: “The social care workforce is our most valuable asset. To underestimate its value to society and its contribution to the transformation of our services will be to our detriment.
“Supporting employment for over 100,000 people, the Social Care Sector makes a vital contribution to the citizens of Northern Ireland.”
As well as helping people live as independently as possible, protecting the vulnerable and offering help at times of crisis, he said it was also vital in rducing delayed discharge, avoidable admissions and inappropriate long stays in hospital.
“However, the contribution it makes to the economic growth in Northern Ireland – through jobs, through business, through skills development and through community cohesion is often overlooked.
“As the largest part of the health and social care workforce, with 34,000 registered staff (4% of NI workforce), it is estimated that a further 9,000 jobs through more than 500 employers are supported here.
“With the local economy benefiting by £821 million per annum, the sector is therefore integral to both the social and economic wellbeing of Northern Ireland.
“As pressures and demands increase; with an aging population, a rise in complex and long term conditions and a reduction in public sector resources, the time is now for local and central government, providers of social care and those engaged in supporting business development, to take collective leadership and work in partnership to invest in a sustainable social care workforce for the future.”