‘Don’t ever call us unskilled again!’

Workers have battled, often unrecognised, to get the best for those they supported during the pandemic. A hidden workforce speaks out in a report by Sally Warren and Jo Giles

"Don't ever call us unskilled again" report cover

For many years, social care has lacked investment, and been undervalued and invisible to many. People are often unaware of the importance of social care and how it is a lifeline to millions of people across the UK from the moment of birth to the moment of death.

This invisibility of social care to the general public has meant that horrific cuts to services and budgets have gone largely unnoticed and unchallenged. During the pandemic, most media and news coverage focused on the NHS and care workers supporting older people in care homes – support workers in the community remained a hidden workforce.

In August, Paradigm published a report, Don’t Ever Call Us Unskilled Again! The title is a direct quote from one support worker in response to home secretary Priti Patel MP calling care workers “unskilled” in February this year. The report brings out the voices, experiences, ideas and learning of 118 support workers (who work with people with a learning disability and/or autism) from across the UK during the early days of the pandemic.

The publication has been well received.

“It is really refreshing to read something that actually reflects how I feel. The fact it is being published gives me a small amount of hope that someone may take notice of us.” Sam Harrison, support worker, Integrate Preston

“A visceral report which doesn’t pull any punches. A hidden workforce speaks out. Support workers, we salute you.” Sue Livett, chief executive, Aldingbourne Trust

“This report highlights the values and humanity that are at the core of the support worker role. Without fuss or fanfare, support workers carried on with their jobs to ensure people’s lives were protected. I am humbled by their resilience and commitment and outraged that anyone could describe their work as ‘unskilled’.” Sarah Maguire, chief executive, Choice Support

The voices in the report highlight:

● How workers responded during the pandemic with thoughtfulness, creativity and dedication

● Key messages and “must haves” for moving forward beyond the pandemic (see box)

● Their plea to be valued and recognised as essential and highly skilled members of the social care workforce, not just now but as society moves forward.

The voices and stories in the report are a moving expression of what good support should always look and feel like.

We have learnt extensively from engaging with and listening to these support workers. We are holding up their words as a powerful testament to what is possible and should be done as we emerge from the world’s first major pandemic for a century.

With severe cuts to funding for more than a decade, social care is on its knees. Many families who are supporting their loved ones are exhausted. At its worst, social care has become little more than a threadbare safety net. It is time to reframe the image of social care to value its importance. Millions of citizens in the UK need support to live their lives.

Most of these support workers quoted in the report are members of The Gr8 Support Movement, which was founded by Paradigm three years ago to raise the voice of support workers across the UK and share, learn, grow, debate and celebrate the work they do. It recognises the essential characteristics of a great worker: adventurous; friendly; encouraging; supportive of “my loving”; connecting; advocating; respectful; and resourceful.

We have hope, we have each other, we have skilled people working in social care – let us build on this together to keep doing what works, embed the newly discovered ways of working and getting rid of what doesn’t work.

● Read or listen to the narrated version of the report on Paradigm’s website at https://tinyurl.com/y4p42qwj

Sally Warren is managing director of Paradigm; Jo Giles is a Paradigm associate