Section 1: The social care sector

Section 1:
The social care sector

The global population is ageing, thanks to a reduction in birth and mortality rates, as well as advances in health care.
That success story means there will be many more people with care and support needs. There is increased demand for social care among older people, with greater challenges from a mixture of physical and mental health long-term conditions such as dementia and frailty.
We need health and social care to maintain older people’s independence, control, and dignity. The adult social care is a rapidly growing sector – now, we need to the right people into the right jobs, improving quality of care and life for those using care services.

By the age of 65, most people will have at least one long-term condition and by the age of 75 most will have at least two.

What is the role of social care workers?

The social care sector offers shelter, help and support for older people with a wide range of needs arising from disability, illness or other life situations.

It aims to help them to live happy, healthy lives with their disabilities, whatever they are. It helps them to live as independently as possible and can be offered at their own homes (domiciliary care), residential and nursing homes or other community settings.
Working with individuals, families and communities, social care workers help to protect and promote people’s well-being so that they can enjoy a better quality of life.

A job in the social care sector means that you provide support for non-clinical needs, although there is an important crossover between working in health and working in social care.

A social care worker works under supervision of a qualified social worker or case manager, often in partnership with other health or social care professionals. Many of those who join the social care sector do so because they want to serve and support others.

Access to care depends increasingly on what people can afford and where they live, rather than on what they need.

Question: Does this statement fit with your own experience? What can we do to change this?
Case study: The experience of Malaysian care workers
Most of the Malaysian social care workers perceived social care work as a ‘noble job’, which requires high level of patience, physical and mental resilience.

Question: Do you agree with this statement? What personal qualities does it take to deliver effective care?
“To me, this is an important and good post. An opportunity for you to help other people, to be rewarded in the later days, but also a way to do sin when you do your work insincerely. It requires a lot of patience dealing with the elderly…” (Malaysian Care Worker)

To many, being a social care worker has given them greater awareness of what awaits them in later life. Meanwhile, younger workers saw it more as a valuable experience, that gives them skills to deal with their ageing parents.

Question: Is there a difference between how older social carers in your own setting experience the work you all do? What is that distinction?
“Looking after the elderly people in this institute is like looking after our own old parents. Things that we do at home, we also do it here. Hence it is a big challenge to us, because it is like performing duty and responsibility to our own parents.” (Malaysian Care Worker)

The changing role of care workers

The role of care workers has changed over time. It used to be focused on home care, providing help to those who need extra help, like cooking a meal or tidying up.
Today, many care workers have responsibilities for providing support that in the past would have been provided for by health care professionals. These new responsibilities include:

    • Helping clients organise their medicines
    • Changing a stoma bag
    • Helping with simple blood tests
    • Ensuring elderly people are in good health, are connected to the community and can stay independent.

There are many reasons why this has happened. Care workers are, after all, the health and social care professionals who usually see their clients most frequently and often they are the ones who know first when something is wrong.

As populations age, health and social care institutions need to find ways to better manage resources. One way to do this is to help elderly people stay in their own homes and out of hospitals. Care workers are crucial to making this happen.

In many parts of the world, the expansion of care workers’ responsibilities and skills needs have outpaced the professionalization of the role.

Case study: The Northern Irish experience
In Northern Ireland care workers report that they are not always able to get the training they need to take on new tasks. Many say that their career progression routes don’t provide opportunities to mobilise their skills, in order to move on to better paid and higher status jobs.

As importantly, many feel that they are undervalued by society and the important contribution that they make to both the people and communities they serve. As one care worker told us,

“Someone says, ‘What do you do?’ And you go, ‘I’m a home-care worker.’ And they go, ‘Oh, right, so you’re home now?’ And I go, ‘No. I’m a home worker. I’m actually a qualified person. It’s not just a question of popping in two rounds of toast.” (Northern Ireland Care Worker)

Question: Do you feel valued by society in your role? What can be done to change this?

This course should help employers, trade unions, families, community groups, government, and most importantly care workers themselves to perform higher quality work, which makes best use of care workers skills, motivations and knowledge.

An important starting point in this process is simply recognising and respecting the professional work that care workers deliver.

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