It’s likely that we’ll all know at least one of the estimated 416,000 older people living in care homes in the four nations of the UK.
They account for four per cent of people aged over 65 and 16 per cent of over 85s. As we continue to await the UK Government’s Green Paper on social care, hoping that it provides real commitment and resources to meet the challenges and needs of our ageing population, it is time to take stock of the huge pressures facing the social care workforce and consider the role of counselling in providing strength and support.
In the last issue of BACP Workplace, Sass Boucher explored the enormous strain being placed on the social work profession and shared her five ‘Pillars of protection’ for workers in challenging frontline roles. The context of Sass’s article was the ongoing impact of austerity and the funding cuts on the social care sector. Continually, doing more with less, with little sign of increased investment or reduced need, wrings the compassion, energy and hope from workers who entered their profession with deeply held commitments.
Last November, at an event organised by The Institute of Public Policy Research, the Assistant Secretary General of Unison warned that the biggest fear for care home managers is the arrival nearby of a new supermarket. Enticing staff away from their caring roles to scan groceries at tills, the supermarkets offer better pay and conditions than the care providers. Somehow, as a society, we’ve arrived at a point where (in monetary terms, at least), we value the care and wellbeing of our oldest and most vulnerable citizens less than the administration of our weekly shop.
The UK Parliament’s Communities and Local Government Committee’s Social Care Report in 2017 gave us a worrying insight into social care work. On top of the physical and emotional demands of the job, almost three-quarters of care staff are paid below the national minimum wage, with 49 per cent employed on zero-hours contracts (compared with three per cent of the workforce nationally).
But of course, it’s not just about the money. Workers in care homes are driven by the motivation to help. Alleviating distress, providing comfort, boosting wellbeing and maintaining hope for people in later life is immensely rewarding work. But it can also be physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually draining, leaving many workers unable to maintain their roles for long.
Almost 50 per cent of care staff leave their jobs within one year of beginning employment. Some care homes are faced with staff turnover exceeding 100 per cent, inevitably impacting on the continuity and quality of care for residents.
A 2017 report on the experiences of care staff in Scotland shares insights from care staff, balancing the satisfaction and sense of value in their work with the demands placed on their mental health. One care worker admits, ‘I eat, drink and sleep my job and give no consideration to my own mental health. I see the signs, but I ignore them.’ A recurring theme in the report is the prioritisation of the needs of those they care for over their own.
Counselling in care homes is an area of interest in BACP’s older people strategy. With the support of My Home Life, (an organisation dedicated to supporting quality and challenging negative stereotypes of care homes), we are gathering insights into the role that counselling can offer. An emerging theme from discussion with care home managers is the need for support and supervision for staff as part of a ‘whole-system’ approach.
We are keen to hear from BACP members working in care homes, either with residents or supporting staff, who are willing to share their reflections of this work, helping BACP to both understand and articulate the role that counselling can offer in supporting a fragile but vitally important care system.
Jeremy Bacon is BACP’s lead on developing a strategy for older people.
1 Boucher S. Pillars of Protection. BACP Workplace 2019; 99: 8–15.
2 House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee. Adult Social Care. House of Commons Library; 2017.
3 https://www.nurses.co.uk/nursing/blog/ the-cost-of-high-staff-turnover/
4 http://www.scottishcare.org/wp-content/ uploads/2017/11/Mental-Health-Report-November-2017-.pdf.
5 https://www.bacp.co.uk/news/news-from-bacp/2019/6-february-help-us-explore-counselling-provision-in-care-homes/ (https://bit.ly/2UPU79o)