Why are essential social care workers so undervalued?

Social care work is demanding and often undervalued, says John Kennedy, ahead of BBC 2's Protecting Our Parents programme.

Ahead of BBC’s ‘Protecting Our Parents’ series, John Kennedy highlights the demanding and often undervalued nature of social care work.

Tonight BBC 2 will be showing Protecting Our Parents, the first of three programmes highlighting the challenges we face in caring for our parents and grandparents. The programme will look at the perspectives of older people, relatives and those working in health and social care.

I will be watching, and hoping that the programme gives a fair and honest description of what is wrong and what needs to change. There is no doubt that the pressure on our health and social care systems will continue to grow. We need a plan or we risk increasing misery and harm. One thing is clear: we’re all getting older. The misery may be someone else’s today but it will be you and me tomorrow.

One of the key factors in the crisis is not just our societal indifference to the needs of our frail older citizens but also the incredibly low value we put on the work done by the more than two million people who work in health and social care – particularly social care. Whilst we will all sit and watch BBC2 full of righteous indignation at the plight of the most vulnerable, we should also reflect on the fact that our social care workforce is the least well paid of almost every other sector of the labour market. We seem to value everyone else more than these essential workers.

A new JRF report highlights the physically and emotionally demanding nature of the work and the importance of valuing people for what they do. It explains some of the other things besides pay that can help staff to feel valued (below):

"Working conditions and organisational culture are essential parts of the overall approach to ensuring low-paid staff feel valued and satisfied, recruitment and retention of talented staff is maximised, and the continuity of care associated with quality is maintained."

It seems utter common sense to me but how can we expect our care workers to value and respect us if we show such little regard for them?

As part of my year-long Care home inquiry I have commissioned a number of pieces of work – some already published and some in due out in the coming weeks. I would be very grateful for comments and views. 

Protecting Our Parents airs tonight on BBC 2 at 9pm.

Read more about my care home inquiry.