Byrne hits right notes

It’s always encouraging when a minister turns up at a conference and actually has something to say. Care services minister Liam Byrne did not disappoint this week when he spoke at the Skills for Care event in Manchester. In a wide-ranging address, which he claimed was free from his speechwriter’s “dull hand”, he pledged to “professionalise social care” and start a “quiet cultural revolution” to drive up standards.

It was a bit galling that he didn’t mention that the General Social Care Council already has 80,000 social workers on the register. And his suggestion that staying on the register should be linked to keeping your practice up to date is of course exactly what the current system is meant to be all about.

But a few niggles aside, it’s good to have such an energetic champion for social care at this level. Byrne’s claim that the current social care workforce is not yet “world class” was highlighted only too sharply on the same day as his speech by the publication of a damning Commission for Social Care Inspection report showing poor practice over administering medicines in care homes.

The minister is right that social care still has a long way to go to provide clients with the quality of service they deserve. His drive to get more staff onto the register is one way of driving up standards. But another lies within his power and is achievable in a shorter time-span and that is ensuring that the service has adequate resources so staff can do their job properly.

He noted in his speech that social care staff took the most sick leave of all workers in the public sector.

One of the main reasons for that is high stress levels brought about by overwork caused by staff shortages and budget cuts. Byrne’s rallying cry “No more Cinderella. The social care workforce is going to the ball” will only ring true in the post-white paper world if he backs it up by putting his money where his mouth is.

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