Social care is more than just a sector of the economy. It’s central to life and underpins how people live and work across the country. The importance of the social care sector and ‘soft’ caring skills to the future of work is growing fast.
Demand for social care is increasing across demographics - including now from working-age adults - and delivery requires human skills which are insulated from technological disruption. Social and emotional skills are also a form of human capital that is becoming more valuable to the economy as a whole. This is a key feature of the skills shift which accompanies economic restructuring – giving a sense of urgency and new perspective to an old problem.
Where women account for 70% of employees in jobs at ‘high risk’ of automation across sectors, it may be tempting to propose that displaced female workers should simply transition to working in the social are sector, where the majority of the workforce are female. To pre-empt this – and avoid compounding gender inequalities – we need to shine a spotlight on the value of good work for a workforce whose skills are critical for the future.
Our workshop on ‘revaluing social care’ in July piloted our social policy innovation accelerator to think about how – as a society – we can revalue social care work. We drew on design-thinking principles to facilitate a safe space for communication, collaboration and fresh ideas.
The accelerator has been developed to address problems where multiple spheres collide at the intersection of systems and individuals, human needs and economic demands, business and society. Breaking down silos and barriers to participation is key: social care workers worked alongside policy-makers, academics and the third sector to make sure the discussion was grounded firmly in the experience of the individual. The workshop was led by RCA’s Professor Dale Russell and supported by the Health Foundation, Department of Health and Social Care and the TUC.
Our background brief draws out some key themes that emerged from an earlier evidence review and was used to inform the workshop. These themes include: the huge potential of the social care sector at a time of economic turbulence, the invisibility of social care work to the headline economic indicators, the ‘feminisation’ of the sector, and the narrow framing of social care in the media which reinforces individualist ways of thinking about social care.
“We have lost a sense of what caring is.”
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