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New horizons: what can England learn from the professionalisation of care workers in other countries?

Health services planning Workforce planning Licensing Caregivers Community-based social services Social services United Kingdom

There is growing public recognition that care workers have long faced a formidable number of challenges. These include low pay, poor terms and conditions, hugely variable access to training, and limited opportunities for career development. These have been exacerbated in recent years by increased rates of sickness and burnout during the pandemic and changes to immigration rules following Brexit, which have led to intensified recruitment and retention challenges.

Perceptions of care work as ‘low skilled’ continue to persist, despite the pandemic highlighting just how vital care workers are. In recent years there has been increased debate around the ‘professionalisation’ of this staff group. This generally refers to the creation of a statutory register of staff and their professional regulation, and can involve improvements to pay, training and career development, and terms and conditions.

This report reviews what the evidence shows about the professionalisation of care workers in other countries. It draws on the experiences of those other countries to inform policy reforms that England may wish to consider as part of a longer-term strategy for the adult social care workforce in this country.

Key messages:

  • Evidence from the other UK countries shows that registration and professional regulation can reduce risk to the public, improve outcomes for people drawing on social care services, improve confidence in the workforce, and can drive up workforce standards through mandatory minimum training.
  • Care workers who receive relevant, high-quality training are more likely to stay in their role and be equipped with the skills and confidence to deliver better care.
  • Evidence demonstrates that increasing pay to competitive wages would reduce staff turnover, particularly for staff paid at lower wage levels.
  • International experiences suggest that measures must be designed and implemented together rather than introduced in isolation.
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