Kevan Christie: Dog-walkers can be paid more than much-needed care workers

The First Minister's move to encourage 11,000 Scots to join the childcare profession by 2020 is to be welcomed. However, the care worker recruitment crisis, in which 57 per cent of care homes for older people have difficulty recruiting workers, is a major problem.

However, while it is admirable that the Scottish Government is bidding to deliver on its promise of 30 hours of free childcare each week, with estimates it could save families over £4,500 – it begs the question is this achievable?

The ongoing care worker recruitment crisis, in which 64 per cent of at-home services and 57 per cent of care homes for older people have difficulty recruiting workers, highlights the need to do something to get people to do these jobs.

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I very much doubt there’s a veritable army of potential childcare workers out there rushing to collect the real living wage. Add in problems around Brexit and the concerns of EU nationals and it looks unlikely that the quota of 11,000 will be met. There is real competition to find staff who are prepared to do low-paid jobs, with thousands of vacancies out there.

In the big cities the hotel market, retail and call centres have proved to be far more attractive and have little problem recruiting staff. In some areas, you can even get paid more for walking a dog than caring for an older person or a child.

The likes of childcare and social care for older people have for too long relied on the sense of vocation that often accompanies someone’s willingness to do these jobs.

They’re certainly not in it for the money.

The Scottish Government announced earlier this month that spending on childcare will double to £840 million by 2021-22 in a bid to transform the life chances of children in Scotland.

The move is designed to provide high-quality learning and care for all three- and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds.

This ties in with Nicola Sturgeon’s education priority and will play well with parents but why doesn’t the Scottish Government launch a similar campaign to attract much-needed staff into the social care sector?

There’s no doubt that a move to attract more workers from the same pool into childcare has the potential to hinder efforts to solve the care recruitment crisis. Basically, they’re going to be competing for the same staff.

With predictions that Scotland will need an extra 90,000 social care workers over the next two decades to deal with the extra demand from an ageing population, the SNP have to take measures to deal with this problem. Surely, a national campaign to promote social care jobs and the take-up of care training places is worthwhile if we are to address the problem of hospital bed blocking because adequate care packages are not in place.

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Other ideas, like a drive to attract people who have already retired, into caring for their peers should be pursued.

Charities for older people are quite rightly calling for greater urgency in tackling the national shortage of care workers. The announcement by the Scottish Government last week that social care staff are to be paid the “living wage” for sleepover shifts is a step in the right direction but much more needs to be done and questions remain about how much this will cost. On the back of the damning report on the NHS by Audit Scotland, developing a workforce plan for health and social care at present has to be a top priority.

Age Scotland are banging the drum loudly for this but it’s not being heard.

It’s all very well believing the children are our future but getting old is something we’re all, hopefully, going to face.