Globally, the care economy is growing as the demand for care for children and the elderly increases. We are all likely to need, provide, and/or receive some form of care in our lives but adult social care and childcare and early education 1 in England are in crisis, with many people unable to access the care services they need for themselves and their families.
Representing different parts of England’s care system, the underlying challenges facing the childcare and social care sectors are almost identical: government inaction, chronic underinvestment, a fragmented and largely privatised provider landscape, and widespread exploitation of care workers by employers enabled by weak accountability and labour market enforcement mechanisms.
However, the single greatest challenge affecting our care system is staffing - with both sectors experiencing acute recruitment and retention issues. Care work remains stubbornly low paid, with workers overwhelmingly facing poor working conditions, limited development and progression opportunities, and poor support for their health, safety and wellbeing. The workforce, overwhelmingly female, are often marginalised and silenced in issues affecting their day-to-day working lives, including the level of care, support and education they can provide.
“We’re chronically short staffed despite recruitment efforts. We don’t have the resources and materials we would like to enhance the children’s learning and development.” Nursery worker
“There are unsafe staffing levels on both the day and night shifts. Care is depressingly rushed and residents long for just those few extra minutes of social contact. But we simply don’t have the time. Staff are on their knees. Many are taking jobs in supermarkets for the same pay but far less stress.” Social care worker
New TUC analysis shows that across the UK care workers are earning below the real living wage and are significantly underpaid relative to pay across the rest of the economy.
This leaves many care workers and their families struggling to survive - more than one in four (28 per cent) children with a social care worker parent are growing up in poverty.4
“I had to use savings and cut back on spending to make sure had enough for a household shop and pay bills like rent, electric and gas. In the past l have gone without to make sure my children don't go without.” Social care worker
While central government is the predominant source of public funding for care the organisation of care is devolved to the four nations, which has led to significant divergence in how care services are run and funded. Local authorities are responsible for ensuring sufficient provision of social care and childcare in their area.
Currently, there is no overarching national workforce strategic framework and associated funding in England. The failure of successive governments to engage in strategic workforce planning has meant staff numbers have failed to keep pace with the increased demand for social care and childcare – a challenge that will only grow in the future.
To help fill this gap, the TUC is proposing a new care workforce strategy for England, developed with trade unions and informed by the voice and experiences of care workers. We set out the critical building blocks to ensure care workers are valued and supported, as a key means of addressing the current staffing crisis and improving access to and quality of social and childcare services.6
Therefore, the core elements as set out in this workforce strategy should be integrated into government policy at the highest levels and led by relevant departments overseeing childcare and social care in England – currently the Department for Education and the Department for Health and Social Care respectively in England. We propose that the final strategy is agreed through National Partnership Forums in social care and childcare, with full participation of workers and their unions.
We propose four key focus areas for the national care workforce strategy:
To deliver this strategy the TUC is calling for government to take the following enabling actions:
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