Sep 20

'Oh, I'm only a social care worker.'

Posted: 29 September 2020

In the latest of his blogs our Head of Workforce Innovation Jim Thomas argues the adult social care sector needs to learn to value itself and what it contributes.

‘Oh, I’m only a social care worker.’ I’ve heard many people who work in different parts of social care say this over the years and have often wondered what this means. Is it that people working in social care find it hard to value themselves? If so, why?

I’ve often thought that many of the people that social care workers support aren’t valued by society. If society does not value people who need social care support, why would they value someone who chooses to work in social care? I’ve also heard people talking to social care workers, asking, ‘How can you do that? Wouldn’t you be better off as a cashier in (insert your own local supermarket brand here)? Whilst this might have changed slightly during the pandemic, I’m not convinced that it’s a long-term shift to a society that values and celebrates those who may need social care support and the people who support them.

Social care workers often live in the shadow of the NHS. Health and care is common phraseology that tends to suggest that social care isn’t that important. Professionals tend to work in health and non-professionals tend to work in social care. When this kind of language is used it can leave workers wondering if they are an afterthought, an addendum, an uncomfortable truth. Add to this recent research that suggests that nearly half of all social care workers feel they are disrespected by health colleagues on a weekly basis and I think I’d find it hard to value what I did if those I worked alongside didn’t see what I did as important or valuable.

Being lumped in with ‘unskilled workers’ is unlikely to make a social care worker value themselves or the work they are doing. To start with there is no such thing as an unskilled worker or unskilled work. Whatever the job the person doing that job will have needed a particular set of knowledge and skills and experience to do that job well.

For social care workers, the unskilled label ignores the raft of skills and knowledge to empower, enable and support people with care and support needs. Patience, tenacity, passion, insight and humility are skills that can take many years to master. Yet these are not skills that are seen as being important and thus another reason why it’s hard for social care workers to value themselves when others don’t value the skill set they have.

‘Perception is projection’ is one way of thinking about how to change the way people think about themselves and the way we think about ourselves. If you perceive that someone is going to be angry with you, they will be angry. If you perceive that people don’t trust you, they won’t trust you. If you perceive that you are not important, the people won’t think you are.

To break this cycle we need to start by believing in ourselves. If we believe we are doing an important and valuable job, then others will believe we are doing important and valuable jobs. If we value ourselves, then others will value us and what we do. Maybe if we can all do this then we’d see society start to value and reward the social care workforce properly.