Care is critical as we reimagine our relationship with technology

Last Tuesday evening, we were delighted to be joined by care providers, policymakers, technologists and activists, people who receive care and support, who care for others and work in care to celebrate the launch of our latest report, Better Care in the Age of Automation. We were particularly pleased to be able to thank so many people who shared their expertise and experiences with us and so made the work possible.

We were joined by guest speakers for a panel discussion, chaired by Doteveryone CEO, Rachel Coldicutt, to dig a little deeper into the recommendations included in the report. They discussed what better data, better skills and a better culture in the social care system might look like in practice and why care is critical as we reimagine our relationship with technology. 

Doteveryone’s recommendations for Better Care in the Age of Automation

Better data: Measuring what matters

Vic Rayner, Executive Director, National Care Forum, outlined how the most important data, is data which helps to improve the delivery of care services while Karoline Gerlich, CEO of the National Association of Care and Support Workers (NACAS), explained that there are a lot of providers only engaging with data as a means to pass inspections and prove standards and are currently less interested in data that doesn’t do this. 

Damian Green, MP for Ashford & Chairperson APPG for Longevity, supported this and added that currently, policy tends to be driven by what you measure as a success and Government targets incentivise box-ticking. Ed Humpherson, Director General for Office for Statistics Regulation, who works to ensure that statistics and data produced by government are reliable, trustworthy and valuable, explained that social care has the weakest statistics of any sector he oversees. Vic Rayner added that the sector is collecting a lot of data but it is stuck on paper. Data collection is also not standardised across providers. She said that there’s a problem with getting that data out of the cupboard and into the hands of the policymakers so they have a clearer picture of what’s currently happening in social care from which to learn and improve care. 

Rachel Coldicutt said that we’re not going to get better technology without better data. 

The panel called for a move away from box-ticking to greater emphasis on measuring outcomes, which includes workforce as well as user well-being. 

Better skills: Professionalising the workforce 

Matilda Ibini, award-winning playwright, supports Doteveryone recommendation for a Royal College of Carers because the profession of care isn’t currently valued in society. She said that having qualifications is important but emphasised that this accreditation must be reflected in pay. She noted how there are very few people caring full time because it’s impossible to live off a carers’ salary, especially with rising living costs.  

Damian Green also sees money as a central part of the debate and noted that we’ll not only need a workforce with different skills, but also more skills in the future and that must be recognised through higher pay. Tech has the potential to take away some of the routine work and free people up for more highly skilled and higher paid work. However, Ed Humpherson fears there is also another scenario whereby the introduction of automation makes automatons of workers – deskilling rather than upskilling – which becomes consistent with a less well-paid workforce. He noted that these are two potential scenarios and the reality is likely to be a mixture of both. 

“People should not be doing jobs as important, and responsible, and difficult, and pressured as this on minimum wage.” – Damian Green

Karolina Gerlich, explained that NACAS is calling for the compulsory registration of care workers to help increase the recognition that this is as a highly-skilled profession and a life-long career choice. She added that registration should be accompanied by a robust training framework and all this would help to change public perception of care; something that should be respected and recognised rather than constantly looked down upon.  

Vic Rayner added that the issues the UK social care workforce face are the same across the globe. The workforce is predominantly female and the vast majority of people in their 40s and 50s. This is an issue because it is a group that is shrinking as a proportion of society and makes it’s essential to look differently at the workforce of the future. 

She implored that we start the debate now about what technology can do to plug the current gap in the workforce and what is important that we get humans to do. 

The film, 2025: A Future of Care provides a good example of the variety of skills a care worker might need in the future, including engineering.

Better culture: Overcoming a culture of ableism and ageism 

Damian Green said this hugely difficult but also hugely important. He noted that the Disability Confident Campaign, which aimed to ensure people with disability are engaged with the workforce and given more purpose in life, was one of the things he was most proud of from his time as Secretary of State for the DWP. 

Matilda Ibini challenged this and said that as well as telling disabled people to be confident, you also need society to have confidence in disabled people. This is about changing a narrative and challenging society’s perception of disability; that it’s not a sign of weakness, and that it is very possible for one to live with a disability for the entirety of their lives. 

“Not every disabled person wakes up every day looking for a cure or ‘wanting to be fixed’.”  – Matilda Ibini

Matilda explained that there’s a term that a lot of disabled people use when talking to each other about non-disabled people that they’re the “not-yet-disabled” because everyone’s bodies are aging at different rates and eventually we will all have an interaction with care at some point in our lives. Having care isn’t a sign of weakness. Good care is empowering; it enables you to do things you couldn’t imagine otherwise.

Karolina Gerlich added that there’s a challenge to all of us to tackle taboos in society around issues of mental health, invisible disabilities and talking openly with family and friends about care needs. 

 “We can help people better when we just talk about things more.”  – Karolina Gerlich

Damian Green also called for a challenge to the mid-20th century narrative which suggests you start slowing your life down and “waiting for death” from about the age of 60; it’s an increasingly anachronistic model and we need to start thinking about giving purpose to people’s lives in their 60s and 70s and beyond. 

Ed Humpherson supported this point adding “it’s remarkable how many people who’ve left full-time employment because they’ve reached 65 or 70, are retired and fulfil themselves by volunteering.” However, this isn’t reported in statistics much but we should celebrate the value of volunteering more. 

Vic Rayner said that we need to see a shift in the profile of care and care institutions as the ‘last place people want to be’, to an important community asset and part of a bigger network that’s helping people live as independently and as fully in the community as they can. There are some great examples out there but we need to shout more about them. 

“Needing care, needing support, is not something that is about cutting off your contribution. It’s absolutely about utilitsing that in a way that means you can give as much as you want to and be as involved as you want to for as long as you can.”  – Vic Rayner

Rachel Coldicutt noted that there’s a lot of good work to be done if we’re brave enough to recognise it’s there and talk about it. Care is perhaps not as prioritised as much as other things because we’re afraid of it. 

Following questions from the audience, Doteveryone Founder and Chair, Martha Lane Fox closed the evening: 

“I cannot think of a more symbolically important place to start in how we reimagine our use of technology than in social care.” – Martha Lane Fox

Alongside the climate crisis, the crisis of care as probably one of those top challenges facing humanity. We have the tools at our fingertips to imagine and to create a different future. And we have an opportunity to build a much more robust sector and a more humane relationship with technology. We don’t necessarily need more tech or more complicated tech. 

We need to continue the conversation and build alliances. We need to free the data, build the skills and nurture a better culture and give a challenging and impoverished sector the attention it deserves.

Get in touch via [email protected] if you’d like to talk to us about working together to make this happen.

Better Care Systems Event Panel