The federal government needs a ‘volunteer military’ to save lots of social care – our analysis exhibits why that is not doable

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The UK authorities is recruiting a volunteer military for social care, to assist with the sector’s record-high emptiness price. There are at present a staggering 165,000 open posts, representing 10.7% of the workforce.

The Volunteer Responders programme, which launched on June 7 2023, builds on the contribution made by 1000’s of NHS volunteers throughout lockdown. It even makes use of the identical Good Sam app to allow volunteers to help care workers.

Creating alternatives for individuals to offer again is necessary. However the concept there may be a military of individuals accessible to bolster the supply of social care is not a brand new one, neither is it real looking.

Our analysis on volunteer contributions in social care exhibits that the proposal is at odds with the fact of the sector, which was struggling to recruit volunteers pre-pandemic. What’s extra, with out correct monetary funding within the sector, it could additional undermine an already ignored and overworked group.

Over 18 months from 2017-19, we visited seven organisations involving volunteers delivering social care to older individuals in England. We interviewed volunteers, managers and volunteer coordinators, paid care staff and older individuals receiving care, to raised perceive the contribution that volunteers had been making.

We discovered volunteering took many varieties, akin to working alongside care workers to help their work, or stepping in the place organisations didn’t have sufficient workers. In different situations, volunteers labored completely individually from paid staff.

Two organisations – a befriending service in a retirement village and a volunteer company operating train and musical actions programmes for older individuals in residential care – had a proper volunteer programme. This concerned standardised recruitment, coaching and devoted volunteer coordinators, and volunteers largely labored in clear and distinct roles.

In two day centres and a nursing dwelling, volunteers assisted paid workers and generally stuffed gaps in provision, notably in cases of quick staffing. Roles had been usually casual and diversified an awesome deal between volunteers – whereas one volunteer within the nursing dwelling arrange a studying membership, one other provided religious help and visited residents.

Two different settings – a community-led lunch membership and a help at dwelling service which assisted individuals after they had been discharged from hospital – had been arrange particularly with the intention of involving volunteers. In these circumstances, volunteers not often encountered paid care staff.

Throughout all organisations (although notably the place there was not a proper volunteer programme in place) we had been advised that it was tough to recruit and retain appropriate volunteers. Certainly, managers on the help at dwelling service, which was designed to be delivered solely by volunteers, reported having to recruit a paid employee so as make sure that they might ship the service.

Why don’t individuals need to volunteer?

Volunteer coordinators gave numerous causes for his or her recruitment difficulties. These included social care roles being seen as much less enticing than working in a charity store, and extra individuals caring for grandchildren and fogeys. Modifications to the state pension age additionally imply that retirees need to both make up for misplaced leisure time moderately than volunteer, or have care wants themselves.

The accessibility and placement of care providers additionally postpone potential volunteers. An space supervisor answerable for a day centre described the deprived city space the place she labored as a “tough place to market” to volunteers.

Managers additionally advised us that volunteers are selective in what elements of care provision they’re keen to tackle. They have a tendency to favour what a nursing dwelling supervisor known as “the good bits” – making cups of tea, befriending and operating actions like e-book golf equipment, train and music courses.

A middle aged woman and an older man sit side by side outdoors, smiling and drinking cups of tea together
Care work is greater than cups of tea.
Peter Kindersley/Centre for Ageing Higher, CC BY

These elements of social care are solely a part of the job. However stripping them out of the paid care employee position and assigning them to volunteers dangers lowering paid care roles to a sequence of bodily, and generally “soiled” duties. This might end in care work being seen as even much less fascinating as a profession and exacerbate, moderately than get rid of, the recruitment and retention disaster. It additionally disregards the appreciable ability concerned in care work and the significance of coaching and supervision for care staff.

No magic bullet

The brand new Volunteer Responders programme has been framed as a method for dashing up hospital discharge charges, by offering pick-up and drop-off providers for individuals just lately discharged from hospital. In doing so, it fails to recognise the complexity of the care sector, successfully positioning it as subordinate to healthcare.

Individuals who have been just lately discharged from hospital want appreciable help. In talking with individuals who did related help work as volunteers, we discovered that this was generally a nerve-racking place to be put in. Folks discovered the position extra demanding than they anticipated, and a few reported aged individuals requiring extra help than they had been capable of supply.

The federal government’s new programme should be understood within the context of a sector that has been subjected to repeated funding cuts, and is dealing with crises of low pay, excessive turnover, labour shortages, a scarcity of regulation and poor situations of labor, to call just some. Volunteers alone should not a magic bullet for ending the social care disaster. For volunteer programmes to succeed they require acceptable funding and help.

We aren’t wanting proof about how the federal government may meaningfully reform social care. A very good start line could be recognising the significance of excellent social take care of all of us, and in its personal proper – not simply as a repair for systemic issues within the NHS.



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