Heather Harris from Spark of Genius, a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition.
Social care in Scotland continues to face severe pressure in terms of both staffing levels and relevant skills. Urgent measures are required in order to address the current and seemingly endless recruitment crisis within the sector, which supports some of our most vulnerable people.
It can be argued that both Brexit and the recent Covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated an already long-standing issue, with those staff working within the social care sector feeling increasingly pressured and at times undervalued for the essential work that they undertake. In addition, those people purchasing support services can feel disempowered and that they are not receiving added value from providers.
Currently, the largest challenges within social care from an HR leader’s perspective are shortage of available labour and skilled talent; managing and supporting staff ill health, in particular mental health; employee turnover, and staff training and development.
More recently we have witnessed a significant reduction of skilled staffing, with employee turnover numbers increasing. Many leavers have advised that due to the post pandemic cost of living crisis they find themselves in a position whereby they need to seek alternative employment with employers who are offering higher pay and benefits packages alongside an increased work life balance. Many social care providers are unable to provide that at this time.
The effects of the UK having left the EU and the associated restrictions on freedom of movement have significantly reduced the pool of available talent, making the recruitment and retention of relevantly skilled staff even more difficult.
Despite social care workers often being viewed as low skilled, care work particularly within a residential setting is not a role that anyone can do. It takes a particular type of person, with many people who secure entry level positions quickly realising that they are not suited to such a role and quickly moving on.
Working within the social care sector is a profession, with staff expected to either have or gain professional qualifications and registration with a relevant professional body, yet many do not find this reflective within their salary.
Stress, fatigue and burnout are equally having a negative impact on staff retention and contributing to increased levels of sickness and elongated periods of absence.
After two very demanding years we are now beginning to witness a significant rise in employee relations cases, both in terms of disciplinary and grievance. These are likely due to the aforementioned levels of stress and fatigue causing breakdowns in working relationships between colleagues, and/or affecting an individual’s capability around decision making.
Greater financial investment across health and social care, not only within adult residential care, is more critical than ever at this time. The extension of the social care staff support fund to September 2022 simply isn’t enough.
Social care providers must be in a position to not only attract but retain talent by offering staff a salary above minimum or living wage rates, and benefits over and above those provided by statute.
For staff to be engaged, feel valued and provide a quality service to those people being supported, they deserve to be properly recognised and rewarded for the demanding role that they undertake. The future of social care in Scotland relies upon it.
This article first appeared in The Scotsman on 28th July 2022