0421 GMT May 20, 2019
He would often lend a hand at mealtimes and would sit and chat or read with residents, theguardian.com reported.
But after training as a chef and working in the kitchens of that same care home for a few years, he decided to apply for a job as a care worker.
“I’ve been caring for three and a half years now and I wouldn’t change them for the world,” said Wilding.
“It’s not just personal care; we’re friends and family, a shoulder to cry on. It’s not a job, it’s what we love to do.”
Wilding is one of the small — but slowly growing — number of male care workers in the UK; men make up just 18 percent of the social care workforce — an increase of two percentage points since 2015.
“A few years ago, there were never any male care workers where my mum works,” said Wilding, 23, who now works at Bucklesham Grange care home in Ipswich. “But I see more and more men starting to come into the care industry. It’s lovely to see.”
A staggering 85 percent of men, and 76 percent of men aged 16-25, say they are unlikely to start a career in adult social care, while 35 percent of the public think working in a care home is a ‘woman’s career’.
“A lot of the lads I know definitely wouldn’t give it a shot,” said Jarred Stansfield, 21, who became a care worker two years ago. Working with people who live with dementia might be one of the reasons why, he believed.
“Many men don’t want to have open conversations about mental health — they want to be generically ‘manly’ about problems,” he said.
“I also think a lot of men would feel outnumbered in a workplace that’s predominantly [staffed by] women.”
But there is a desperate need for more care workers — both male and female. The number of over-85s in the UK requiring round-the-clock care is estimated to almost double over the next 20 years, meaning that almost half a million people will have ‘high dependency’ care needs by 2035.
The care industry already faces a workforce gap, which is predicted to worsen when the UK leaves the European Union.
Around one in 20 of England’s social care workers originate from the European Economic Area, but 90 percent of them do not have British citizenship. Depending on the eventual deal struck in Brexit negotiations, by 2037 the social care sector could lack between 350,000 and 1.1 million workers — in such an extreme scenario, each UK care worker would need to look after almost 14 older people at any one time.
What’s more, the gap between life expectancies for men and women is narrowing, so more men are reaching the age where they need the kind of support provided in residential care.
“They might have lived on their own for a while but then there is a pivotal moment — they might have a stroke, for example — where a man feels he can’t cope alone anymore and moves into a care home,” said Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England.
Many residents prefer to be cared for by someone of the same gender and ethnic background, both because of the intimacy involved in supporting someone day-to-day and because of the more social aspects of care — having conversations about shared interests, and a trusted person to speak to about any concerns. But while service providers recognize the need to offer a diverse workforce to care for a diverse population, the small number of male care workers makes this difficult to realize.
“We need some serious attempts to even out the balance,” said Green, who estimates that the social care workforce needs to be 30 percent male for it to adequately respond to the needs of service users.
A number of care providers are already working to redress the balance. Stansfield, who works at Heathside care home in Woking, spearheaded a recruitment campaign for Anchor last year, which aimed to encourage more young men to get into care work by highlighting the benefits.
“I think the general perception is that the job is just having cups of tea with old people,” he said.
“But in reality you’re directly making an impact on someone’s life — and it’s enormously rewarding.”
Hallmark Care Homes doesn’t run campaigns targeted at just one group of people, but it does encourage all its homes to consider ways to diversify its workforce through recruitment. It also aims to display men and women, and a range of ages and ethnicities, in all its recruitment drives.
“Even that makes a difference, as often advertising by care companies can be very female-oriented,” said Carole Dacre, the Hallmark’s HR consultant.
The government has a role to play too, said Green, and could start by encouraging employers to recruit people who are ‘not the usual suspects’, such as the early retired or those who’ve previously had caring responsibilities.
“We also have to recognize the need for more flexible working patterns. If they’re retired, people might not want to work fulltime [so] we have to make sure the work offering is a good quality experience that fits in with other parts of their lives.”
And although care is often seen as a job rather than a career, it’s “probably the only job I can say now will be a job for life”, said Green, which is why attracting young men into the sector and getting them to understand that it is a viable career “has to be the way forward”.
“We have increasing numbers of people who need care and support, but we also have many diverse roles within care. If you start your career in one area it doesn’t mean you have to stay in that area all the time,” he said.
Stansfield agreed. “When I first told my friends I was becoming a care worker they said: ‘Why would you want to do that?’, but the more I told them about it the more they were interested in how it improves people’s lives — they were quite surprised,” he said.
“If men had a better idea of what we do, they might be more inclined to choose a career in care.”