July 18, 2019, by lqxkt9
Winner of the 3rd Prize of the Enquire Blog Post Competition 2019: Duncan Fisher-Recruiting for Care during Times of Austerity
From January to April 2019 the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) ran a media campaign aimed at increasing recruitment and retention levels in adult social care (ASC) employment in England. Action is undoubtedly necessary: with over 110,000 vacancies and staff turnover at 30% (DHSC, 2019: 4) the sector urgently needs a boost to employee numbers. This blog offers a critical take on the campaign set against the recent policy context.
The campaign’s attempt to increase the visibility of ASC employment is welcome, and raising awareness of the work’s variety – exemplified by the “Every day is different when you care” campaign slogan – is important in shaping perceptions. This could assist with attracting under-represented groups, such as men and young people. Using images of a diverse range of workers in campaign materials guards against normalised projections of who does and can do care work. Regarding men, there is a broader picture in terms of encouraging them into work traditionally performed by women. Cordelia Fine (2018: 190) shows women’s moves into male-dominated fields has not been matched by men moving the other way. As well as challenging essentialist gender assumptions, Fine makes a convincing argument about variation within all jobs:
Job performance, paid or unpaid, depends on a suite of different skills, traits, interests, and values. People simply don’t develop a career doing one thing really well…What’s more, for most jobs, there isn’t one, single ideal combination of characteristics, skills, and motivations, but a range that could all fit the bill equally nicely. (Fine, 2018: 106)
The lesson from Fine is that the roles and skills involved and required of ASC workers (as in other jobs) is varied, and essentialising it as feminine hinders equalisation of the sector’s marked gender imbalance. This matters because the horizontal occupational segregation of men and women contributes to the gender pay gap and feminisation of poverty.
Fine’s argument about narrow conceptualisations is pertinent to the campaign’s drive to attract people with the right values. Values-based recruitment is an approach favoured by Skills for Care (SfC, the charitable organisation with responsibility for workforce development) and in ASC recruitment literature (Eastwood, 2017). I wonder, however, if this can be overplayed, for example when attempting to recruit young people. How easy it is for a recruiter to recognise the “correct” values? This quote is from Rose, a 26-year-old care worker I interviewed for my PhD research on ASC work:
I identify as a support worker, I think sort of partially ‘cos I enjoy caring and obviously ‘cos I spend so many hours supporting individuals as well, that it does kind of become part of your identity.
Rose sees supporting and caring as part of her identity, and a crucial aspect is that it has become so over time in the role. Might young people be put off if they feel they don’t necessarily have the correct values prior to entering the sector? What about the time and space for those values to be nurtured, to “unleash the latent potential” as trade unionist Jimmy Reid (1976: 104) so eloquently calls for?
The campaign provokes numerous questions of government. It follows a decade of austerity during which ASC has been the principle casualty of swingeing local government cuts (Hayes, 2017b: 4). Growing numbers require care due to demographic change, but approximately a third of those who formerly qualified for state-funded care no longer do so (Age UK, 2015 cited in Hayes, 2017b: 4). This unmet need exists alongside uneven care quality in what is a fragmented, complex sector.
What awaits those drawn to work in ASC? It is interesting to note that the campaign features scant reference to working conditions. ASC workers are among the lowest paid of any employment sector. Lydia Hayes (2017a) describes the failure of equal pay and minimum wage legislation to protect the rights of domiciliary care workers – a group of predominantly female, working-class employees – as “institutionalised humiliation”. ASC average pay is closer, and becoming increasingly so, to the legal minimum than in employment more generally (Low Pay Commission, 2014 cited in Gardiner and Hussein, 2015: 15). Studies show evidence of significant underpayment of the National Living Wage (Gardiner, 2015), and challenges to such practices are ongoing. Hayes (2017a) identifies privatisation as crucial to the sector’s fragmentation and working condition degradation. 67% of recruitment comes from within the sector (SfC, 2018: 5): this flux impedes care continuity and worker stability, and is a structural consequence of market forces leading to competition between providers. The NHS is a common destination for care workers (Beech, et al., 2019), and while they understandably pursue new challenges and, frankly better conditions of employment, more needs to be done to raise ASC’s comparative status.
ASC is a barometer of the welfare state, and legislation and commissioning are key to defining working conditions. However, privatisation and austerity symbolise state neglect of the sector. The recruitment campaign ran alongside continuing delays to an ASC funding Green Paper, which was originally due in summer 2017. Where is the joined-up thinking? Why not run the campaign once funding plans have been announced? The campaign belies recent government policy: come and work in a sector that we are incrementally dismantling. As Thomas Montgomery and colleagues (2017) ask (regarding young people), are initiatives encouraging them into ASC work – minus a funding boost and raising of the sector’s status – merely setting them up for precarious work?
Duncan Fisher (PhD Candidate, Teeside University)
Beech, J., Bottery, S., Charlesworth, A., Evans, H., Gershlick, B., Hemmings, N.,
Imison, C., Kahtan, P., McKenna, H., Murray, R. and Palmer. B., 2019. Closing the Gap: Key areas for action on the health and social care workforce. [pdf] London: The King’s Fund. Available at: <https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/default/files/2019-03/closing-the-gap-health-care-workforce-full-report.pdf> [Accessed 02/04/2019].
DHSC, 2019. Adult Social Care Recruitment Campaign Workshop for Care Providers. [pdf] London: DHSC. Available at: <https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/Documents/Recruitment-and-retention/National-recruitment-campaign/DHSC-recruitment-campaign-workshop-for-care-providers.pdf> [Accessed 02/04/2019].
Eastwood, N., 2017. Saving Social Care. Great Britain: Rethink Press.
Fine, C., 2018. Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of our Gendered Minds. London: Icon Books.
Gardiner, L., 2015. The scale of minimum wage underpayment in social care. [pdf] London: Resolution Foundation. Available at: <http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/app/uploads/2015/02/NMW-social-care-note1.pdf> [Accessed 02/04/2019].
Gardiner, L. and Hussein, S., 2015. As if we cared: the costs and benefits of a living wage for social care workers. [pdf] London: Resolution Foundation. Available at: <http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/as-if-we-cared-the-costs-and-benefits-of-a-living-wage-for-social-care-workers/> [Accessed 02/04/2019].
Hayes, L. J. B., 2017a. Stories of Care: A Labour of Law. London: Palgrave.
Haes, L. J. B., 2017b. Paid Care Work, Gendered Labour Law and the Vulnerability of Community. In: M.A. Fineman and J.W. Fineman, eds. 2017. Vulnerability and the Legal Organization of Work. Abingdon and New York: Routledge. pp.91-105.
Montgomery, T., Mazzei, M., Baglioni, S. and Sinclair, S., 2017. Who cares? The social care sector and the future of youth employment. Policy and Politics, 45(3), pp.413-429.
Reid, J., 1976. Reflections of a Clyde-built Man. London: Souvenir Press.
SfC, 2018. The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England. [pdf] Leeds: SfC. Available at: < https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/NMDS-SC-intelligence/Workforce-intelligence/documents/State-of-the-adult-social-care-sector/The-state-of-the-adult-social-care-sector-and-workforce-2018.pdf> [Accessed 01/04/2019].