On Tuesday 21st September, along with friends from Autism at Kingwood and other supporters of the BetterPay4SocialCare campaign, I stood just below the steps to the entrance to the Treasury. We were told that due to the risk of infection, we couldn’t hand in our petition which contains close to the requisite 10,000 signatures necessary to require Parliament to respond.
The staff coming in and out of the building were friendly enough and once they had had a chance to read our banners and to understand why we were there, some passers-by wished us luck in our efforts to secure decent pay for care and support workers.
Since that morning, I have been reflecting on the BetterPay4SocialCare campaign which has been run by the incredibly committed Kate and Philippa at Autism at Kingwood and the reasons they, and the various other service providers who have supported it, feel so strongly about this issue.
Of course, it is about justice – workers who provide care and support to people with a learning disability, autism or both deserve to be paid properly for the work that they do but there are other reasons.
In all my recent conversations with representatives of the members of ARC, the challenges retaining, attracting, and engaging staff with the right skills and personal attributes is harder now than it has ever been. These challenges are often the root cause of the leadership stressors that lead to talented people choosing not to make their careers in social care and with 178,000 vacancies and stretched beyond breaking point whilst carrying the responsibility of vulnerable people’s lives, who would choose the accountability of social care?
I was reminded of this when an issue from my past life when I was responsible for a large region in which about 160 people with a learning disability, autism or both were being supported resurfaced recently.
In a service that had stagnated in historical cultures, I worked with committed colleagues and highly-engaged families to improve safety and shift thinking and practices.
It took 26 safeguarding concerns to be notified to the local authority before we were able to develop a culture of transparency and openness and as part of the journey the service and everyone who worked there went on, a management situation with a worker created a counteraccusation that the service had failed in its duty to report a concern and it was alleged that subsequently, the worker was mismanaged.
Although fully supported by my colleagues, partners, and experts (including external employment law specialists in knowing that the situation was at best misunderstood and at worst misrepresented, the feeling of injustice of the employment tribunal result has weighed heavily.
This experience was part of the decision-making that led to me moving away from operational service leadership to lead ARC England – a position of influence, lobbying, and supporting others to deliver real change.
I feel lucky to be able to use the experience I gained in the delivery of social care services to make a difference at ARC but many other workers and leaders in our sector feel they have two choices – abandon ship or sink with it.
I hope for a third choice. I will continue to support the BetterPay4SocialCare campaign because it is clearer to me now than it has ever previously been that if people being supported safely, professionally, with compassion and commitment is important to us as a society, we need to treat the people who are providing that care and support as professionals, and that means paying them properly.
As I chatted with Kate, Philippa and the rest of the staff, family members and other supporters, we talked about this being the beginning and not the end of the campaign because we can’t stop until we get what we are asking for.
Director, ARC England