A special case for affordable homes

Keyworkers’ housing needs have rightly been made a priority by the
government. No one would argue with the claims of nurses and
teachers to benefit from the extra funding for affordable homes in
the South East, announced in the comprehensive spending

However, the scope of the initiative is nowhere near broad enough.
The independent care sector has a vital role to play in delivering
improvements in delayed hospital discharge, preventing unnecessary
admissions and providing integrated care solutions for older
people. But while the significance of the sector’s work in meeting
these challenges has been recognised, its need for support in
recruiting and retaining the front-line staff who actually deliver
the care has not.

Under the current proposals, care workers in residential and
nursing homes will not be eligible for new homes in the South East,
where soaring property prices and high rents have put acute
pressure on the affordable housing stock. For care providers, this
poses a recruitment headache. Workers on shift rotas and low
salaries want to live near the home. They want to avoid long
journeys at unsociable hours and the cost of public transport or
having to run a car. So in areas of high demand and high-cost
housing, there is a dwindling pool of potential recruits.

Often the people who deliver the care simply cannot afford to live
in the areas where they work. At the same time, increases in pay
for public sector workers are creating labour markets where salary
expectations are getting higher, but the fee levels for independent
care providers are too low to finance comparable pay rises.

Older people have a right to expect the highest levels of care, and
quality providers with good recruitment procedures and high
training standards do find the staff committed to delivering it,
even in areas where the cost of living is high. But including care
home workers in the categories of those eligible for subsidised
housing would act as a strong incentive for more people to work in
the sector and for experienced staff to stay. It would also provide
recognition of the value of care assistants in improving the
quality of life for older people.

Because most staff who deliver public services in the South East
have strong claims for more government support, arguing the case
for care workers can sound like special pleading. But their role is
crucial and should not be overlooked.

Julie Birtwistle is head of human resources at Anchor
Homes, part of the Anchor Trust.

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