A pathway to precarity? Young workers and zero hour futures in the social care sector

Montgomery-Mazzei-Baglioni-SinclairTom Montgomery, Micaela Mazzei, Simone Baglioni, Stephen Sinclair

In an effort to solve crucial issues such as youth unemployment, policymakers can find it tempting when it looks like there is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. When you have a population living longer and requiring personal care for many years to come it can seem logical that there is a future in that sector for a generation of young workers. However there is a risk that the prospect of new potential employment for young people eclipses an awareness of the quality of work available in that sector.

Our recent article in Policy & Politics entitled Who Cares? The social care sector and the future of youth unemployment explores the actual potential of the social care sector in the UK to offer good quality career pathways for young people. Through our research we found an environment shaped by a contradiction – that the sector is forecasting growing demand for care services well into the next decade whilst simultaneously warning about the impact of spending cuts. As one care provider told us:

The irony is that despite the ageing population, growing needs for social care and the potential that the personalisation agenda can offer, the sector is struggling.

What type of labour market environment does this produce? In short, a precarious one marked by poor pay, zero-hour contracts and limited opportunities for career progression. If that was not already a tough gig to sell to young people there is the crucial issue of the nature of care work itself, often providing intimate tasks for older people with complex health needs. This issue alone was raised by the young people we spoke to as a barrier for them to enter the sector and the sector representatives we interviewed agreed, explaining that there was a tendency to employ more mature staff whom their elderly service users preferred.

Moreover the Scottish context within which our research takes place has been undergoing a transition of health and social care integration in which Audit Scotland has highlighted the crucial need for a long term workforce strategy to ensure the success of these new governance arrangements. Our study therefore began with the purpose of investigating the possibilities for young people to pursue sustainable employment in social care and found a potential pathway to precarity for young people in a sector experiencing growing demand and financial strain. A more evidence-based and long-term sustainable social care workforce strategy seems more important than ever.

Tom Montgomery is a researcher in the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health at Glasgow Caledonian University

Micaela Mazzei is a Research Fellow in the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health at Glasgow Caledonian University

Simone Baglioni is Professor of Politics in the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health at Glasgow Caledonian University

Stephen Sinclair is Reader in Social Policy in the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health at Glasgow Caledonian University

If you enjoyed this blog, you may also like to read Personalisation, ambiguity and conflict: Matland’s model of policy implementation and the ‘transformation’ of adult social care in England by Kathryn Ellis.


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