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Society gets a skewed view of social care - Steve James

It’s widely understood that our social care system is in ‘crisis’, particularly in terms of its workforce. But many people don’t really know what social care is or, more accurately, they just think it’s about helping older people. 

Important though this is, it’s not the whole picture. There is so much more to it than the common media portrayal of helping people out of bed and cooking them breakfast; not that this isn’t important too.

The charity I work for, Avenues, works with people who have a learning disability and challenging behaviour, or long-term health needs.

We support them to leave psychiatric hospital, often after years of secure care, and set up a new life.

It’s a complicated, skilled job where having the right values and approach is important - but so is skill, experience and training.

Support workers assess people’s behaviour using sophisticated methods of psychological interpretation.

Then they work out tailored strategies to help people manage their behaviour, have a good time, make friends, go the pub, go on holiday, stay safe.

Basically, to have a good life.

Yet despite all their considerable skills and training, support workers are commonly described as “unqualified”, leading to the common perception that anyone can do it, or that it’s a job of last resort. This of course leads to the low esteem in which society holds social care, with the inevitable consequence of low wages.

Slowly, because of the numerous pressures on the NHS and the charity sector’s role in reducing them, the profile of social care is rising.  But for many members of the public, the sector is still out of sight and out of mind.  Most people have not yet come into contact with it, so it’s not a priority. Most people has been to school and visit their GP, so education and health feel more relevant and are therefore the issues prioritised by politicians and the media.

Social care does far more than its most visible function of caring for older people – it supports people of all ages according to their changing needs, in many cases from birth.

This commitment to supporting all our citizens, throughout their lives, is one of the things that makes society civilised. We should hold all those who make this their work in the highest regard.