As our population lives longer, it is no surprise that there is an ever-growing necessity for care workers – and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important these roles are in providing support to those who need it.
Working in care is rewarding, but it can be difficult to know where to start. Our guide will walk you through many different areas of social care, including the ‘why’s, ‘what’s and ‘how’s:
‘Why’ social care is important and reasons to go into it as a career;
‘What’ types of services you could provide and clients you could work for;
‘How’ to get into care and what your future might hold.
We cover all this and more, to give you a comprehensive look at the industry, how to join, and what you can expect from it as a career. Whether you’ve been interested for a while or have never considered it before, read on to discover all you need to know about working in care.
Social care is all about providing care and protection to those who are in need or at risk, be they children and youngsters, or adults and older people. It is about providing physical, mental, emotional and/or social support in order to help and encourage people to live their lives with dignity, affording them the respect and independence that they deserve. This support can take many different forms, for many different reasons, and in many different settings.
In this guide, we’ll mainly be focusing on social care for the elderly.
Those working in care go by many different titles, depending on the area they work in or the organisation they work for.
Although some organisations use the term ‘carers’ to refer to their staff, this is most often used outside of the industry to refer to unpaid, informal roles taken on by friends or family members.
A ‘caregiver’ is typically someone who takes responsibility for someone who needs care. They may be paid or unpaid, and can be a family member, member of the community, or a trained professional.
‘Care workers’, ‘care assistants’, and ‘care professionals’ are only ever used to refer to those who have paid roles and careers within the care industry, so will be the terms used in this guide.
As our technology and our understanding of wellbeing improves, we can enable people to live longer and healthier lives. This however means that there is a constant increase in the demand for social care to continue providing support.
If we want our society to develop and thrive, then we must take the time and put in the effort to care for its individuals. John Donne once wrote “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”, and this is true no matter our age or status in life.
And as the population of the UK grows, so does the number of people over the age of 65; this proportion of the population is in fact growing faster than that of the under-65s. Estimates state that, by 2032, the number of people over the age of 85 living by themselves will rise to 1.4 million (from the current number of 573,000), and that at least 1.7 million additional adults will require social care (including support for long-term disabilities, mental health, etc.) over the next 15 years (Care Provider Alliance, 2020).
As of 2020, it is estimated that there are roughly 6.5 million people performing informal and unpaid caring work, with 6000 more taking on caring responsibilities every day (Carers UK, 2022). Out of this number, 1.4 million are providing over 50 hours of care a week, while 1 million are caring for more than one person. Estimates state that the number of people providing informal care could reach 9 million by 2037 (Carers UK, 2014, referenced in Care Provider Alliance, 2020).
Although it is currently saving the economy money, informal care is not the solution. Currently 5 million people are attempting to juggle work with their caring responsibilities, with 600 people every day quitting work in order to care for an older or disabled relative (Carers UK, 2022). Despite this high number, the Carer’s Allowance available is the lowest benefit of its kind.
Informal caring is not only hard financially, but also on a more personal level. In response to a survey held by Carer’s UK in 2018 (p.6), 72% and 61% of carers said they had suffered mental and physical ill health respectively as a result of caring, while roughly 80% in their previous report (2017) said that caring for loved ones had left them feeling lonely or socially isolated.
This was particularly difficult for people during the first year or so of the COVID-19 pandemic. Research from Age UK found that, during the second wave (from roughly August 2020 to February 2021) of the pandemic, the number of over 65s providing unpaid care for someone else reached over 4 million; 23% of them were over 80, and at least 7% of them had significantly serious health conditions themselves (Age UK, 2021).
Caring for people without professional training and a strong support system can exact a heavy toll on friends and loved ones. This is why care professionals and care workers are so important.
According to the Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set (ASC-WDS), there were 1.54 million people working in adult social care in 2020/21 in England alone, providing physical, emotional and social care to older people or those with health issues (Skills for Care, 2021a). This is an increase of 12% since 2012/13, with a shift away from local authority jobs and towards independent sector jobs, especially those in domiciliary services (helping people to remain in their own homes).
However, with the growing number of those who require support, this isn’t enough; the Skills for Care Report (2021a) estimates that, by 2035, the sector will need almost a further half a million care workers to fill roles to keep this support up.
This also isn’t taking into account turnover rates. The same report found that in 2020/21, the turnover rate for care worker roles was roughly 35%. Although this number had decreased during the pandemic, it still shows a steady increase since 2012/13. They estimate the vacancy number of adult social care roles to be 6.8% – this may not sound like much, but it equates to approximately 105,000 vacancies. This number decreased during the start of the pandemic, but has since returned to its previous level.
The constant growth of the industry means that care professionals are always going to be needed.
We’ve seen why careers in care are so important, and how we need more people to consider them. And there are plenty of reasons why you should.
It’s rewarding. When you work as a care professional, you are making a real difference to people’s lives, every day. Your help can have a profound impact, and make their experiences more positive. Even the smallest action can improve someone else’s day immeasurably, and knowing that you have done that is a truly rewarding feeling.
You’ll learn new skills. The organisation you work for will offer you relevant training and specialist skills, but it doesn’t end there. Being a care worker, you’ll find yourself in a variety of different circumstances and conversations, and will learn how to handle yourself depending on the situation. Over time you’ll gain an understanding of the best approach, even when things are unexpected.
Your work day can be flexible. If you’re looking for something outside of the traditional 9-5 job, then care work could be for you! Although there are many administration jobs in the sector, the act of caring for someone directly means your day isn’t likely to be set to traditional hours. Different clients will need support at varying times of day, and your work day will look different if you’re a live-in carer than if you’re a day carer, or working nights, so you can search for a job that will suit your lifestyle.
Your work will vary. As a care professional, you probably won’t be caring for only one individual. This means that your work will involve meeting a variety of needs for a range of people. Every person that you care for will have their own requirements, and there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to care; your support will be tailored to suit each of them. Even when caring for a single individual, you will find that their needs change over time, and you’ll have to adapt to fit them.
You’ll learn a lot about people. Not only are each person’s needs different, but their personalities and interests are too. Spending time with them will give you the opportunity to see things from a different perspective, to hear their stories and share in their experiences. There is a lot we can learn by simply engaging with those around us, and you’ll have the chance to connect with their friends and family, get involved in the activities that they enjoy, and connect with the community as you help them to do the same.
You’ll be part of a strong team. When you work in care, you don’t work alone. Not only do you become part of the client’s community, but you are backed up by a network of health professionals, ranging from doctors and district nurses, to other social care professionals and a dedicated administrative team. Just as you support others, you will also be supported in every step that you make in your career in care, as well as in your personal life.
There is always work. As the sector continues to grow, care professionals are becoming more in-demand. More older people requiring care means that more workers will always be needed, in a variety of places and positions. With a steady stream of opportunities to explore, you will always be valued and in demand, wherever you end up working.
Just because you don’t have formal qualifications, doesn’t mean you can’t consider a career in care; your attitude and values are also important factors. All organisations will offer relevant training, and many may allow and support you to work on qualifications or certifications during your time with them (more on this later). Here are some of the qualities that an employer will be looking for in potential care professionals.
Caring. This may seem obvious, but your time is going to be spent looking after people, so having compassion for them is of the utmost importance. Treating people with respect and sensitivity is vital to the role, so patience and understanding is a must. This includes being sensitive to different identities, races and cultures; you’ll work with a range of people, and need to treat everyone with the empathy they deserve, without bias or prejudice.
Good communication. Communication is not just about talking, but also about listening. Being able to remain calm and patient while giving and receiving instructions shows you are dedicated to taking the time to do things right. Listening and engaging is an excellent way of building trust, something you’ll need given a client’s vulnerable state, and knowing how to engage with them and the rest of your team will make your job easier.
Dependable and flexible. When you work in care, you’re working with people who are at their most vulnerable; helping them get around, helping to bathe them, helping them to take medication, and ultimately helping them to maintain their independence. This not only means being reliable and organised, but also flexible as you never know when things may change. Being patient, resilient, and calm under pressure will help you cope with the unexpected when it occurs.
Hygienic and practical. It’s not all about soft skills. Depending on the type of support you provide, you may well need to be prepared to get hands-on, whether this means doing housework, helping a client move around, or cleaning up accidents. You’ll need to keep the environment clean, tidy and safe, and employ common sense when identifying things that need doing.
Working as a care professional can mean many different things, as there are a variety of job roles and services you can offer. Here we’ll cover just some of the options available to you, and some of the services you might be expected to perform.
(NB. As mentioned earlier, different organisations use alternate titles for the same roles, such as care professional, care assistant, etc. It is worth remembering this when looking for available jobs.)
Possible types of people you might work for include:
The nature of the support that you provide will depend upon the client’s needs and the area of care that you work in. You won’t be left guessing however; your organisation will draw up a care plan for each individual, to ensure that you and your team know what is required of you. We’ve summarised some of the duties you might need to perform:
Personal care. This can often involve washing and dressing the client, or helping them to do these things themselves. In some cases, this can also involve more in-depth hygiene help such as toileting, showering, and continence care if required.
Domestic responsibilities. These are assisting or completing activities that are done in and around the house, such as general housework like cleaning, doing laundry, and washing the dishes, accompanying them shopping or doing it on their behalf, and preparing food and helping them eat if necessary. It can also involve feeding and taking general care of any pets.
Clinical care. This involves monitoring the client’s health overall, for example checking their temperature, weight, and breathing rhythms, and providing them with medication reminders at the correct times. It can also sometimes involve slightly more specialised support, for example with ventilators, insulin injections, or colostomy bags.
Mobility assistance. In general, this means assisting them with moving around the house and surrounding areas, including helping them to and from bed and the toilet, and handling lifts or hoists if necessary.
Managing appointments and social engagements. This means helping them to make medical appointments, as well as organising leisure and social activities. Supporting them in their hobbies and accompanying them, if necessary, can make a real difference to their comfort and enjoyment.
Companionship care. One of the most important things you can do for your client is to provide them with companionship. Whether this means accompanying them to events, or just having a long chat with a cup of tea, this will make them feel cared for. It’s also important to help them with communicating their needs to yourself and others; knowing they’re being listened to will put them at ease and make them feel understood and respected.
Communicating with friends and family. You may find that you are not just supporting your client, but also their family or friends. Ensuring that they are kept informed if they need to be will alleviate some of their anxiety, and show them that their loved one is receiving the quality of care that they deserve.
The type of work you find yourself doing may also depend on the setting that you’re working in, as care can take place in a variety of locations. The main ones are sheltered housing or accommodation, supported or assisted living, residential care homes, or a client’s own home, and we’ve mapped out how they traditionally look below.
Sheltered housing or accommodation is ideal for those who are struggling to live entirely independently, but do not need daily or high-level assistance. Occupants live in self-contained dwellings with their own kitchens and bathrooms, and get access to communal social areas, laundry and gardens. There will be a property or scheme manager who lives on site, or a local team who will check in on residents, and a 24-hour alarm system. Sheltered accommodation does not require inspections to be performed or quality ratings to be given.
Supported or assisted living is the next level of care up from sheltered housing. Like before, residents have their own self-contained dwelling as well as access to communal areas and events. However assisted living often includes staff available up to 24 hours a day to provide personal support. Unlike sheltered accommodation, facilities are inspected and regulated by official care bodies. For both this and sheltered accommodation, you will mostly be working one-to-one with clients.
Residential care homes are more akin to hotels than individual houses. Residents get a bedroom, sometimes with ensuite bathroom facilities, and access to communal areas. Staff are available 24-hours a day to support them with personal care. Working in a residential home can require working with a number of clients or a specific ward at the same time, meaning that your schedule may be more hectic or regimented. These issues can be magnified if the location is understaffed. Staff can benefit however from the continuity of working set shifts in a single location, and there are regular opportunities for promotion to more senior roles.
Home (domiciliary) care involves helping a client to remain in their own home. Many people prefer this for themselves and their loved ones, so it’s no surprise that it is one of the fastest-growing care sectors. You might be working with more than one client in the same area, and will likely be doing a shift sometime during the day, though the length of the shift will vary depending on schedules and requirements. Mealtimes, getting up, and going to bed are common shift periods, with domestic work, handling appointments or social engagements, and general companionship happening in the surrounding periods of the shift. Although there are lots of opportunities for this type of work, contracts can sometimes offer low hours, and ensuring that you can get all your duties done during a short shift can be challenging.
Some home care jobs offer work as a live-in care professional. This can make it easier to get everything done as you are dedicating a full day, however it is important to keep your working hours to the agreed amount.
There are several different ways that you can enter into a career in care – take the time to look into each of them, and decide which pathway suits you best.
Although you don’t necessarily need a qualification to work in care, you may find that opportunities arise while studying, plus it’s a good way to make connections.
Across the UK, this could be in the form of a BTEC Level 1 Certificate in Health and Social Care (requiring 2 or fewer GCSEs at D-G, or equivalent).
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, this may be a NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Care (requiring 2 or more GCSEs at A*-D, or equivalent).
In England, this may be a T level in Health, a two-year qualification that is an alternative to A levels or apprenticeships (requiring 4-5 GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths, or equivalent).
Scotland offers a range of SVQs, including short ‘skills boost’ care courses, and SCQF level 4 certifications in care and social care. These do not tend to have entry requirements attached, and can lead to level 4 and level 5 Health and Social Care courses respectively (level 5 courses can also be entered with four National 5s at some colleges). In some cases, a level 4 certification can even lead to level 6 course entry and pathways.
Apprenticeships give you the opportunity to combine practical training in a job with learning, meaning that you can earn while you study. They are available across the UK, and have no set entry requirements, but having GCSEs including English and maths, or National 5s can help.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland there are apprenticeship levels from 2 (equivalent to GCSEs or an NVQ level 2), up to 6 in Wales and 7 in England (equivalent to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree respectively). You must be over 16 and not in full-time education, and each requires the equivalent qualification of the level below it for entry.
Scotland offers foundation apprenticeships, which are part-time courses designed for 5th and 6th year students, modern apprenticeships for those over 16, and graduate apprenticeships which result in the equivalent of a full-time university degree.
The specific subjects available at each level will vary depending on where you are based and the apprenticeship providers, so it is worth researching carefully if this is something you’re interested in.
Some organisations, such as charities, hospices, and care homes, may offer the opportunity to perform volunteer work with them. This is a good way to get hands-on experience in the actual environment you might be working in.
The availability of these roles will vary; the best way to find them is to contact your local organisations in the sector directly, or check volunteer databases likeDo IT Life orCharityJob (a list of databases is available via theNCVO website). Even a role not directly caring for people can give you a start and help you make connections.
You can also always apply directly to care organisations that are looking for employees – you’ll be offered training once you have started work, meaning formal qualifications are not always necessary. You may be expected to have GCSEs or National 5s including English and maths, and any experience caring for someone (for example, a family member) can count in your application’s favour.
There is no central repository for care organisations looking for employees, though there are care-focused job websites such ashomecare.co.uk andcarehome.co.uk. Outside of these, it is worth keeping an eye out on regular jobs boards such as Indeed or Reed.
Many employers will not require you to have formal qualifications before working for them, though they may appreciate them. All entry level jobs will offer their own training, especially since social care is carefully inspected and regulated – you will need to be trained and vetted before being allowed to work with vulnerable people.
You’ll be given compulsory training sessions within your workplace, covering topics such as health and safety, first aid, manual handling, food hygiene, medication and more. You may also be offered to study for NVQs or SVQs in Health and Social Care; these nationally recognised qualifications are quickly becoming a requirement for those providing domiciliary care. These diplomas combine traditional learning with work or voluntary placements, so you may well be able to complete it alongside your job, and are essential if you wish to progress within the care sector.
In England, your workplace will also probably offer mandatory training in the form of the Care Certificate (it is also available as an e-course in Scotland). This is a nationally recognised 12-week course, which covers 15 core competencies, and is the standard which the Care Quality Commission (CQC) assesses new staff against. It’s designed to support new staff, and give them the knowledge and confidence they need to perform their duties by completing workbooks and shadowing seasoned care professionals. As a recognised qualification, its completion is marked on your record and so goes with you if you decide to move into another area of the care sector.
The 15 core standards cover the following:
The Care Certificate operates alongside your employer’s own induction, and helps both new and existing staff by ensuring that everyone is trained to an appropriate level through practice and supervision. It also is useful as preparatory work for Health and Social Care diplomas, should you wish to study further.
In Scotland, you will need to register with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) within six months of starting a new role. The SSSC provides a strong network of professionals to connect with, and a wealth of learning and development resources that can count towards your Continuous Professional Learning (CPL) requirements.
In Wales, you will need to register with Social Care Wales (SCW) to ensure that you follow their Code of Professional Practice for Social Care. Like the SSSC, SCW provides resources and guidance documents, as well as invitations to conferences and events.
In Northern Ireland, you will need to register with the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC). Similar to the other registration bodies, the NISCC offers support and guidance, seminars and frameworks, and a range of resources to support your Continuous Professional Development (CPD), which can be used to work towards a range of professional awards.
The initial training you undergo and resources you study via your workplace or registration body will not just give you the skills for fulfilling your role, but will give you a good base from which to progress further. From there, you can look at specialist training if you wish to move into a more focused area of care, business training for if you wish to move into administration, or management training to become a supervisor or care programme manager. You can also retrain to work in areas such as occupational therapy or physiotherapy.
Whatever direction you want your career in care to take, there will be many opportunities for you to continue learning and growing once you have a strong foundation of knowledge and skills.
It is impossible to state with certainty the exact salary you might get if you start a career in care; salaries differ depending on the organisation you work for, the part of the country you work in, and the actual job and duties you have.
According to Skills for Care (2021b, p.11) and nurses.co.uk (Farrah, 2021), an entry care assistant role in a private organisation can expect to earn roughly £16,000 a year, while care assistants in NHS-operated care homes can expect to earn around £18,000. This can increase to roughly £24,000 for more senior or specialist roles, and higher again if you move into management.
Using data from the ASC-WDS, Skills for Care calculated that the median hourly rate for care workers in the independent sector as of March 2021 was £9.01, 29p above the current National Living Wage (2022, p.4). As of March 2021, 29% of care workers were being paid above the Real Living Wage (p.10).
Given the rate of pay, and the sometimes-taxing nature of the work, there are organisations that exist to help and support care professionals facing difficult times, especially considering the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
UK nationals and Irish citizens can apply for the government-backed Advanced Learner Loan if your organisation does not fund training and development courses. In England, your employer themselves can apply to the Skills for Care Workforce Development Fund to support their employees’ development.
The Care Workers’ Charity offers a Crisis Grant Programme for those who are employed in the UK social care sector who have recently fallen on hard times (though, at the time of writing, they are only accepting applications from the Oxfordshire and Bradford areas). They are also accepting applications for their COVID-19 Grant Fund, for those who have lost income due to shielding or illness, funeral or childcare costs, or emergency repairs.
The Scottish government offers a separate COVID-19 Social Care Staff Support Fund to reimburse employers who have continued to pay workers who have been absent due to self-isolation or illness. They have also joined with Inspiring Scotland to administer a £1 million Workforce Wellbeing Fund for Adult Social Work and Social Care, for organisations to provide wellbeing and resilience projects for their staff.
The Department of Health in Northern Ireland offers special recognition payments to those social care ‘personal assistants’ who worked through the COVID-19 pandemic. And though not a grant, Wales is introducing the Real Living Wage for certain groups of social care workers, and recently released bonus payments for thousands of care professionals.
Remember when searching for grants and support that there is a difference between care professional/assistant/worker and ‘carer’ – the latter will be referring specifically to unpaid, informal carers.
Like any job, a career in care comes with its own unique issues to consider, and it is a good idea to familiarise yourself before you start with some of the challenges you might face. Make sure to research what union options you have, and join one that will work best for you, so that you are protected while at work.
Overwork. The number of people requiring care is constantly growing, as are the number of jobs available. However unfilled positions can mean more work is being spread amongst fewer employees, and mass events like a global pandemic will exacerbate the situation. It’s important to be honest not only with your managers and co-workers, but with yourself if you start to feel burnt out.
Irregular shifts. Although having flexible work hours can be a benefit, it can also cause challenges when it comes to balancing work with home life. You may find yourself working weekends or night shifts, which won’t suit everyone. Make sure to plan your shifts ahead if you can, and remember to factor in travel time to your day. And no matter what, arrange personal time during your day to decompress.
Transportation. If you are working in domiciliary care, then you will likely be travelling between clients once or more times a day. Public transport is sometimes an option, but it is more likely you will need a driver’s licence. Whatever way you travel between clients, it will be your responsibility to plan your route, and get to your shifts on time – after all, there is someone waiting at the other end who depends on you.
Physical safety and fatigue. Care work can be physically demanding at times; you may find yourself having to manoeuvre someone between rooms, as well as do housework. It’s important to be patient and take your time when it comes to caring for someone – trying to rush them and cut corners will frustrate and tire you out, and make them feel uncared for. You might also occasionally have to deal with someone lashing out; it is vital in this situation to inform others so that the appropriate actions (identifying triggers, checking medication) can be taken.
Mental stress and coping with illness/death. Being an emotional source of strength for someone can be tough, especially when that person is in a vulnerable state. It is likely that you will develop strong bonds with your clients, and it can be distressing if their health takes a sudden or further turn. Take advice from other care workers on how to balance your compassion with professionalism, and give yourself time to process should one of your clients pass away.
Resistance from clients or family. Some people can be resistant when receiving care for the first time; they may not be used to relying on others, and worry that they will lose their independence. It takes time to build trust, and it’s important that you remain calm and patient with them while you do. Talk to them to understand their concerns, and take the time to reassure them. This goes for their family and friends too – good communication is vital in all areas of the job.
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful. Although we’ve tried to include as much as we can, we know that there is a lot of information out there, and sadly we can’t cover it all.
There will always be a demand for care professionals; the first steps are to decide what type of care you are interested in, and whether you want to study for any formal qualifications before you enter the field. There are many websites and many companies out there that can help you decide which direction you want your career in care to take.
Before joining any organisation, make sure to do some research and ask questions so that you know what training might be offered, and what kind of work is available. Look into what the organisation’s values are and how they treat both their clients and employees – you want to ensure that they are as good a fit for you as you are for them.
Working in care may not always be easy, but if you are willing to go the extra mile, to be there for someone at their most vulnerable, and to use your compassion to make a difference, then it may be the most rewarding career for you.
Age UK (2021) New Age UK research finds the numbers of UK over age 65s caring unpaid nearly double during the pandemic to more than 4 million. Available at:https://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-press/articles/2021/new-age-uk-research-finds-the-numbers-of-uk-over-65s-caring-unpaid-nearly-double-during-the-pandemic-to-more-than-4-million/ (Accessed: 16 June 2022).
Care Provider Alliance (2020) Adult social care – market overview. Available at:https://careprovideralliance.org.uk/adult-social-care-market-overview (Accessed 31 May 2022).
Carers UK (2017) The world shrinks: Carer loneliness. Available at:https://www.carersuk.org/images/News__campaigns/The_world_Shrinks_Final.pdf (Accessed 16 June 2022).
Carers UK (2018) State of Caring 2018. Available at:https://www.carersuk.org/images/Downloads/SoC2018/State-of-Caring-report-2018.pdf (Accessed: 20 June 2022).
Carers UK (2022) Facts & figures. Available at:https://www.carersuk.org/news-and-campaigns/press-releases/facts-and-figures (Accessed: 20 June 2022).
Farrah, M. (2021) How Much Care Assistants Get Paid In The UK In 2022. Available at:https://www.nurses.co.uk/blog/how-much-care-assistants-get-paid-in-the-uk-in-2022/ (Accessed: 28 June 2022).
Skills for Care (2021a) The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England, 2021. Available at:www.skillsforcare.org.uk/stateof (Accessed: 31 May 2022).
Skills for Care (2021b) Social care: a rewarding career for you. Available at:https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/resources/documents/Recruitment-support/Retaining-your-staff/Social-care-a-rewarding-career.pdf (Accessed: 28 June 2022)
Skills for Care (2022) Pay in the adult social care sector. Available at: https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/Adult-Social-Care-Workforce-Data/Workforce-intelligence/documents/Pay-in-ASC-sector-2021.pdf (Accessed 28 June 2022).