NI social care system ‘collapsing in slow motion’

John Kennedy, a member of the expert advisory panel on adult care and support, with a copy of its report
John Kennedy, a member of the expert advisory panel on adult care and support, with a copy of its report

A living wage should be adopted to raise the pay of social care workers, an expert report has said.

Staff receive among the lowest rates in the labour market and that produces an undervalued workforce and high turnover, an expert advisory panel review for the Department of Health said.

The report said Northern Ireland’s social care system was “collapsing in slow motion” as it made a series of radical proposals for improvements.

“Care work is highly skilled. To be good at it you need a high degree of emotional intelligence, negotiating skills, and kindness in spades.

“Yet we surround care workers in a mire of paperwork and suspicion.

“Care workers receive amongst the lowest wages in the labour market: in short, a low-paid, high-turnover and undervalued workforce is a poor way to ensure the quality of care we demand.”

It said a living wage should be paid as a first step to recognising it as a professional workforce. The government’s hourly living wage for those aged over 25 is set at £7.50.

In the longer term the report said the vision should be to equalise pay and conditions across the social care workforce.

It added: “We need a new model, one which recognises and builds on the skills and experience of staff by empowering them to make decisions and create a more human and relationship-centred ethos into social care.

“Crucially, within that new model, the care sector should be raised above the bottom of the pay market to enhance its ability to attract the best people.”

It recommended improvements in the status of care work within society.

“The national registration of care workers in Northern Ireland gives an opportunity to do that, acting as a vital connector of the workforce, improving the professional regard for care workers and communications and information around training and development.”

Every year health and social care trusts spend more than £900 million on adult social care including services like day care, domiciliary care, residential care and nursing home care.

The report noted growing demand and a limited menu of support which fails to recognise changing needs and expectations means there will be an ever widening gap between what is available and what is needed.

It said: “In our view, the system is collapsing in slow motion. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. Nor is a piecemeal approach to reform.

“The agenda we have set is ambitious, and we do not underestimate the challenge of delivering it, but it is a challenge which must be tackled if a total collapse of the system is to be avoided.”

The report made 16 proposals, including putting the rights of family carers on a legal footing and devising a strategy to bring them into the heart of the transformation of adult care and support.