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Creating a community within a community to tackle the cost-of-living crisis
The cost-of-living crisis hasn’t just affected those on unemployment benefits. It has also taken its toll on people in fulltime work, particularly those in highly skilled but low paid jobs, such as social care sector workers. In this article Barry Price, Specialist Contributor with QCS, the leading provider of content, guidance and standards for the social care sector, looks at some of the challenges they face – and how the social care sector can help.
Between 1 April 2021 and 31 March 2022, food banks in the Trussell Trust's UK wide network distributed over 2.1 million emergency food parcels to people in crisis. This is an increase of 14% compared to the same period in 2019/20.
Moreover, thousands of people who have had to use food banks are in work. The increased demand continues to be exacerbated by soaring energy bills, rising inflation and higher food and fuel prices.
According to the trust, some families have had to choose between heating their homes and eating. The charity, which runs more than half of UK food banks, says it expects food poverty to worsen in the UK as the cost-of-living crisis deepens.
Social care sector staff hit by crisis
Within the social care sector, many workers who have been badly hit by rising costs and low wages, hide the challenges they face. There is a certain shame attached to financial struggles, but this is where registered care managers can come to the fore and help their staff.
Some of the elements that come into play when checking in with staff to make sure they are coping include team meetings, supervision and appraisals, health and safety and wellbeing policies.
Asking difficult questions
Resident managers may have to have ‘difficult conversations’ when dealing with struggling staff members – which is why QCS added a section covering work-life balance within its supervision guidance.
Supervision is when a manager meets regularly with staff to review their work and provide support. QCS supervision forms provide prompts for managers to start conversations by asking open-ended questions such as: ‘Do you have anything in your work which is impacting on your life or vice versa?’ Skills for Care also provides guidance on how to train managers to plan and deliver effective supervisions that will help staff address any issues.
Knowing your staff
But essentially for managers it’s all about knowing the individuals who make up the teams they supervise, being observant and aware of the signs people may show when they are facing difficulties.
For example, did a team member always bring in a packed lunch before – and now they don’t? Are they working a full shift without having anything to eat? Or did they previously get the bus to and from work, and now walk an hour each way to save money - especially when bus fares have gone up, but wages haven’t?
Managers can ask other team members to keep a watchful eye on colleagues, and alert management when they feel that something’s not quite right.
Options for helping staff
Unfortunately, managers and providers in general don’t have it within their power to increase wages. But what they can do is suggest some solutions in team and support meetings that may collectively help alleviate some of the financial pressure. Some suggestions include:
- Demystify the purpose of food banks such as those run by the Trussell Trust. Leave leaflets around the setting and explain that they are for all people in need, including those in work. Taking the stigma out of food banks can promote their use among staff who may need them.
- Provide details of local organisations who have services for families struggling through financial hardship. They may provide clothes, school uniforms, trainers for kids and so on.
- Let them know about the Blue Light Card discount service open to the social care sector. For a small fee, members can register for 2-years access to more than 15,000 discounts from large national retailers and local businesses.
- Some providers have created a hardship fund for staff. Make sure that staff are aware of it and help them apply.
- Inform them about the Care Workers Charity. They offer a crisis grant for care workers who have experienced a change in circumstance resulting in a significant financial impact.
- Signpost staff to financial advice and support such as that provided by Citizens Advice
Creating a community within the community
Some of the best aids when it comes to staff facing difficulties are all about creating a community within the community, which means everyone helps each other where they can. Options include:
- Can your setting find a way to allow staff to eat with residents? This may be the only proper meal the person has the whole day. They are still supporting service users, and it turns mealtime into a social event too.
- What about a breakfast club, a simple yet effective way to ensure staff start the day well?
- Get local restaurants involved. For example, ask the local ‘chippy’ to sponsor a ‘fish and chip’ Friday where they offer a discounted price for residents and staff. Invite family members too.
- Create a swap shop – which is particularly effective in larger residential homes. Encourage staff along with resident’s family members and friends to bring in school uniforms, pens, books, clothing, toys that another team member could use. Publicise it in the setting’s newsletter.
- Consider creating an allotment in the grounds. Make it something that residents, staff and their family can all get involved with.
- Ask a local supermarket or greengrocer to sponsor a ‘free fruit’ program for your staff.
I know some readers will be reading this thinking it’s not their problem but consider this. Managers and providers have a responsibility to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their staff team members. It’s vital to get the message out there that, during the food and cost of living crisis, it’s not a crime to ask for help if you need it. Coming up with creative and constructive solutions to find ways to support team members, will make them feel valued and more comfortable to ask for help when they most need it.
Blogpost on ‘Creating a well-being strategy to mitigate the cost-of-living increase;
Skills for Care Effective Supervision resource
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