The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown our caring sectors into new light.
From care home staff to childminders, an army of people look after the dependent and vulnerable in our society, allowing others to carry out their own jobs and keep the wheels of industry turning, safe in the knowledge their loved ones are being looked after.
Economists describe these caring sectors as part of the human foundational economy – foundational, because they provide the basic supports on which other parts of the economy rest. Without them, many people would not be able to enter the workforce because of their caring responsibilities.
During the lockdown, the people who worked in care homes were thrust into prominence because of their role on the front line of the pandemic, caring for people who were often at high risk from the virus. It highlighted the lack of recognition that workers in the sector typically enjoy, all too often being wrongly dismissed as low skilled, low paid and low value.
In fact the care sector is a large and vital part of the Welsh economy. There are 70,000 people working in the sector, spread among 1,500 employers. These include private sector businesses, third sector organisations and public bodies.
The care home staff, childminders, nursery nurses, social workers and others who work in the sector see it as a vocation rather than just a job. Roles in the sector are demanding – staff often have to deal with difficult and challenging situations. But the rewards are also high. Workers may be involved in guiding children through important stages of their development, or helping elderly people cope with the onset of dementia. The human relationships that develop are valued by both parties.
The commonly held belief that work in the caring sector is unskilled is increasingly untrue.
There is a wide range of training and qualifications that people need to work in the sector, and there are ample opportunities for continued professional development throughout your career. People who start out at the ground level often progress to higher levels of management, or transfer sideways into other careers or professions.
The caring sector already employs more people in Wales than the NHS, but the need for care workers is only expected to grow in the years ahead, as the population gets older and demand for care services increases. It is estimated that an additional 2,000 people a year will be needed to work in the sector between now and 2030.
The WeCare Wales campaign exists to fight misconceptions about the sector and encourage more people to consider working in social care, childcare and early years’ roles. Over the next few weeks we will run a series of articles looking at the work people in different parts of the sector do, from a nursery nurse manager to a local authority childcare manager and a team leader at a residential home for children. The people interviewed talk about their experiences working on the frontline of care, how they get to the positions they fill today, the rewards and challenges of their work, and why they wouldn’t do anything else.
The series kicks off this week with Christine Jones, who is an independent social care worker responsible for placing vulnerable children with foster parents.