A shortage of home care workers is a global problem and one the UK is already feeling the implications of. With an ageing society and health policies that aim to move the pressure way from hospital care, the situation is only going to become more problematic.
Part of the solution to shortages has been the use of immigrant workers from within the EU. But this approach has only exacerbated the central issue: the low status, low skills and low standards of home care work. There’s no EU-wide standard or regulation for these workers and recruiters have no benchmark for good quality.
Care work needs professionalisation and we’re hoping to kick-start this with the HELPcare project (Healthcare Workers Employability Learning and Professionalisation). This is an EU-wide scheme funded by Erasmus and led by Lancaster University Management school, with partners in Greece, Poland, Italy and Bulgaria.
We’ll be reaching out to those involved in home care and health care for older people, as well as family members providing care for relatives, to learn more about their experiences. We’ll do this through participatory action research, where ‘co-researchers’ are recruited from among these groups to approach their peers and carry out the interviews.
Care workers often don’t feel comfortable talking to researchers because of language barriers, confidence or willingness to be open about their situation – so this research method will help us to develop a strong network and consult with a range of people.
The first task will be setting up a professionalisation and regulation framework for care work that can be adapted and adopted across the EU. The Care Certificate, which will be introduced in the UK next month, will provide a useful starting point. But we need an EU-wide standard to make it easier for care workers to develop a portfolio of training.
A training portfolio could be used to develop a career pathway in caring or as an entry qualification for other aspects of health and social care such as nursing, or social work. Recruiters will also have a clear idea of what benchmarks good quality.
‘Breaking the cycle’
By working alongside existing services, commissioners and providers, we’ll develop the right model of continuing professional development and training that works on a practical level. That means capturing best practice, as well as looking at co-operative approaches to support voluntary carers and low-wage employees band together to access training.
Employees will be able to see a genuine career ahead of them and a professional future that’s worth working towards. At the same time, employers will get more applicants and more motivated staff and the standard of care for older people will improve.
Professionalisation will get to the heart of the home care issue – but it’ll take concerted action from everyone involved to break the cycle of low status and worker shortages.
By Dr Carolyn Downs, Lancaster University Management School