Sector leaders have hit out at the government’s “pointless” proposal for a voluntary licensing system covering England’s 1.5 million adult social care staff.
Gary Fitzgerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said the quality of the adult social care workforce would not improve if the system was voluntary.
“A voluntary system is pointless, we might as well not have it,” he said. “There has to be an incentive for people to do it.”
He added that there needed to be more joined-up planning with the rest of the UK, where devolved administrations were considering mandatory registration of certain parts of the social care workforce.
“It doesn’t seem sensible that we don’t have a UK-wide approach,” said Fitzgerald. “What about the big employers that cross the borders? I would not like to be a provider dealing with these different expectations – it doesn’t feel holistic or long term.”
Under the government’s proposals, the General Social Care Council’s responsibilities outside of social work, encompassing residential care workers, home care workers and personal assistants, would be transferred to the Health Professions Council, which would be renamed the Care Professions Council.
Under the plans, social care workers who could demonstrate they meet specified training requirements and who committed themselves to a code of conduct would be given the option of being licensed.
At the launch of the White Paper, care services minister Phil Hope said: “It’s vital to us that we both raise the quality of the workforce and indeed the numbers of people employing that workforce to deliver this expanded system.”
But public sector union Unison has warned that the scheme was not likely to take off unless there were mandatory requirements for employers on pay, conditions and training levels.
Unison’s national officer for social care, Helga Pile, said its members had been gearing up to compulsory registration for five years, adding that the union had concerns over how voluntary licensing would work.
“Many private sector contractors treat their staff appallingly; making them pay for uniform, not paying them for travelling time between shifts,” said Pile. “There are doubts that these employers will support their staff to get licensed.”
The Department of Health confirmed in October last year that a plan to introduce a national registration system for home care workers, which was due to start in 2010 on a voluntary basis after repeated delays, had been suspended while the GSCC strengthened its social work conduct function.
The DH’s adult social care workforce strategy, published in April 2009, suggested the government had already begun considering a voluntary scheme because “initial consideration of the risks, costs and benefits of the case for registering home care workers suggests that conventional models of statutory regulation may be disproportionate”.
A spokesperson for the DH said: “The commitment to a regional demonstration site for a voluntary licensing scheme for all social care workers, whether in residential care, homecare or as personal assistants, is as a direct result of a more sophisticated approach than a simple regulate/don’t regulate model.
“The demonstration site will be evaluated to establish whether any particular groups of workers might need compulsory statutory regulation.”