Adult social care budgets have been cut by over £7 billion since 2010. With headlines dominated by negative news surrounding social care work, could changing our perceptions around social care help give a much-needed boost?
When it comes to talking about social care work, we can see a pretty bleak picture painted in the media. Headlines focusing on instances where a mistake has been made, funding has fallen through, or individuals have been failed by the system seem to dominate what we see and hear about the profession.
Yet it’s thanks to social care workers that ill or disabled people are able to gain help and support in their day-to-day lives, providing ongoing or temporary care for those who need it most.
Recent figures have highlighted the thousands of elderly and disabled people who could be impacted by social care cuts. Long-term funding for adult social care has been overlooked for some time. Over £7.7 billion has been cut from adult social care budgets since 2010, with a further £700m expected to be saved in 2019-20. Just one third of directors of adult social care were fully confident that their budgets would sufficiently meet the needs of their statutory duties, one survey reported.
Could our lack of knowledge and understanding of the systems supporting some of the most vulnerable members of our society be partially responsible for the current state of things? Many of us are quick to protest cuts to NHS budgets, increases in transport costs, decreases in spending on police, teaching, and child-related services. Are we just confused about social care, or unaware of the wide variety of services social care and support really provides?
We spoke with Shannon Summerfield, a support worker for the not-for-profit Dimensions in Cardiff, to discover more about what her role entails and how we need to change the national perception of social care.
What inspired you to go into social care?
“I always knew I wanted to work in social care, and I count myself lucky that my experiences led me to this career path. I grew up surrounded by family members who had jobs in care and I could see how much they valued their work.
“My sister has cerebral palsy and my brother is on the autism spectrum and has learning disabilities, too. Growing up, I saw first-hand the difference that support work could make to their lives. This was a huge inspiration to me, and I was determined to have the same positive impact on others, to help them live their lives to the full.
Consistency is one of the most rewarding things about support work – it’s so important to them and to me
“In my current role, I support four ladies who have a range of learning disabilities and complex needs. I’ve been supporting them all since my first day with Dimensions. This consistency is one of the most rewarding things about support work – it’s so important to them and to me. It allows you to build a relationship with them, and support them to try new activities and experiences that stay with them for such a long time.
“For example, one lady I support had never been on holiday and really wanted to experience one. I was able to take her on a city break to London. That was over a year ago and she still talks about it today!”
What misconceptions do you feel are most common around what you do?
“Social care is definitely undervalued and misunderstood, and that’s really frustrating. I think a lot of misconceptions come from outdated perceptions, and from negative stories that only tell one side of the story.
“Support work as a career has moved on a lot in recent years, but the perception of it hasn’t. This really needs to change. If I hadn’t grown up the way I had, and with the unfairly poor perception of social care, I may never have discovered it.
“A lot of people don’t realise that support work is a career with real development opportunities, it’s not just a job with no progression. 88% of Dimensions’ support workers have said that support work is more skilled than people realise, and I couldn’t agree more.
“I’ve learnt so much more than I first thought I would in just the past year and a half. I’ve done all sorts of varied training including CPR, manual handling, dementia and epilepsy training. I’ve also learnt so much about myself – including how to be resilient, flexible and patient.
“I was lucky to be supported in my career choice by my family, who already knew how important social care is. But lots of people don’t understand – they’ll tell me ‘I could never do what you do’ or ‘rather you than me’. This is such a shame. Yes, it can be tough – but those are also some of the most rewarding moments.
“I think there’s also a lack of awareness. Lots of people don’t notice you’re a support worker, or assume you’re a family member or friend.
“A lot of people also assume that support work is just about passive care. But the most important thing – and what makes support work so special – is that you support people to be independent and live life to the full, in their own way. It’s not passive, it’s real support.”
What do you find most challenging about social care work?
“I’m dyslexic and found school challenging – so I was worried about how I’d cope with aspects of support work where I’d need to write. But I was supported to develop a range of skills, from paperwork to management skills.
“Every day definitely brings its own set of challenges, and a lot of them can be unexpected. You learn to expect the unexpected and adapt the support you provide each day. I love this part of the job – it really allows you to be there for someone in the way that they need, that given day. There’s no strict plan and you can choose how best to support them each day.
“As an example, once I had to take someone I support to hospital at short notice, and stay with them for longer than planned. This was challenging but made a huge difference to her – hospital staff can find it difficult to communicate with people with learning disabilities, and it’s really stressful for people I support because in that situation they’re especially vulnerable. Being there to support and reassure them means so much.”
Does the uncertainty around the future of the adult social care budget impact your day-to-day work?
“The future of adult social care is definitely uncertain, and the government is letting the sector down. I think it’s been ignored for far too long. While it doesn’t impact the support I give on a daily basis, it does weigh on my mind and I worry what the future will look like for social care.
“Support workers, and the people we support, are undervalued. This is unacceptable and needs to urgently be addressed.
“I’d like policymakers to consider this – if you knew someone who needed support, what would you wish for them? Without good support, they couldn’t live a fulfilling life.
“We all have a life, we just help people to live it. Having any kind of disability makes you no less of a person.”
If you could change the public perception around just one aspect of social care, what would it be?
“Social care definitely has an undeserved bad reputation, and 61% of Dimensions support workers agree. If I could change perceptions of just one aspect, it would be how life-changing support work can be, when it’s done right, by building a relationship with the people you support.
“Growing up I saw how my sister struggled to go out on her own. Being stuck in a house all day is no way to live. Social care can change lives – you’re helping people get out of the house and make the most of the day, in their own way.
“I think there are very few jobs where you can really say you’re directly supporting someone to live a fulfilling life. I think that’s incredibly special.”
With an expected shortfall of over one million social care workers by 2037, there is an urgent need to change perceptions around social care to ensure vulnerable people continue to get the support that they need.
Discover more about Dimensions, how they’re helping change people’s lives, and how you can get involved. To find out more about social care and how you can access support locally, check out the NHS support guide.