By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter
A Conservative MS led a debate on structuring a social care system fit for 21st-century Wales amid concerns about a recruitment and retention crisis.
Gareth Davies told the Senedd there is a predicted £646m funding gap in social services and the Welsh Local Government Association has warned of record levels of demand.
The shadow social services minister said workforce retention is particularly poor in the social care sector with a high staff turnover.
He said: “We often see care workers leave the profession for alternative employment that pays a very similar wage but inevitably comes with less responsibility.
“Many care workers are undervalued for this reason and they have to work unsociable hours with pay that is the same as a supermarket worker.
“Why would someone want to remain in the care sector with the burden of responsibilities, looking after another person’s welfare, that isn’t reflected in the social care pay, when you consider the responsibilities that they have in comparison to other low-paid sectors?”
Mr Davies warned that options for career progression are low with most caring roles offering no real route to progress.
The Vale of Clwyd MS highlighted an Oxfam study which showed that 68% of adults in Wales think that care work is not valued highly enough by the Welsh Government.
He welcomed the real living wage rollout in social care but warned: “This realistically is a bare minimum and a wake-up call that more government money will not fix this issue alone, but with the right investment model, the industry would be paying a fair wage.”
Mr Davies called for more funding for early education which he said creates two-and-a-half times as many jobs as investment in construction and yields greater tax returns.
“Spending on social security benefits also decreases as it enables parents to work more hours without state assistance,” he said.
“The burden on the NHS is also reduced significantly when we have a successful, functioning social care system.
“Currently, we are still seeing bottlenecks forming in hospital wards where patients are not being discharged when they are medically fit.”
Mr Davies urged ministers to utilise the transferable skills of the 310,000 unpaid care workers in Wales by introducing fast-track training for those with personal experience.
His Conservative colleague James Evans, who represents Brecon and Radnorshire, echoed calls for an update on delayed transfers of care.
Responding to the short debate on Wednesday January 17, Julie Morgan told MSs that supporting the most vulnerable people is the Welsh Government’s top priority.
The deputy minister for social services pointed to a 3.1% increase in the revenue support grant, which funds council social services, in the draft 2024-25 spending plans.
Mrs Morgan highlighted a recent Welsh Government consultation on plans for a voluntary pay and progression framework for the social care workforce.
She pointed to investments including the £146m regional integration fund as well as £10m over three years in a bursary to make a social work degree more attractive and attainable.
Mrs Morgan said: “People who were waiting in hospital and who were medically fit to go home – that is one of our highest priorities because, obviously, it’s very damaging for people to stay in hospital when they are medically fit and able to go.”