"In recent weeks, life has changed immeasurably for most of us. The daily topic on the tip of everyone’s tongues is understandably the global pandemic threat presented by coronavirus and many people find themselves out of work, furloughed or working from home. Life simply isn’t how it used to be.

For others, the pandemic has meant a ramping-up of what were already challenging and pressurised jobs. Those who are not only keeping the country running and supplies flowing to those who need it most, but also those who find themselves, through their choice of career, at what is the blunt end of this virus. I am talking about our health and social care workers, who are dealing with the virus directly, caring for those who live with a daily need for support, whilst trying to keep themselves safe.

We have all witnessed the well-deserved, mass outpouring of appreciation for the people who are performing these duties, knowing the potential risk they put themselves at. The national 8:00pm round of applause on the door steps of the country, the donations of goodies and essentials for NHS staff, and the governments gesture of a green badge to recognise carers. All of which are in praise of the amazing people who are doing what needs to be done, like they always do, with no thought of self.

I have been privileged to be part of the health and social care world for the last fifteen years and have seen lots of things change in this time, but none as dramatic as the way in which health and social care professionals have been thrust into the public’s consciousness in the last few weeks. I use the term health and social care professionals deliberately, because what still needs to change in our society, is the wider view that people performing these roles are classed as “unskilled workers”; a term often used when describing those without a clinical qualification. The bulk of the people who make up the health and social care industry are so called “unskilled workers.” But in fact these people have immense knowledge and skills in providing the very best care for people with a range of conditions, illnesses and needs and who can adapt their delivery quickly to changes in support-need.

What coronavirus has highlighted is that pre-pandemic, the importance of these vital roles was certainly undervalued by many. But why has it taken such an extreme situation for them to be recognised and the vital role they play in our society?

I was lucky enough to start my journey in the health and social care sector as an NHS Health Care Support Worker and can honestly say it was one of the most engaging and rewarding roles I have ever had; and one that gave me a firm platform for what has become my career. I was rarely made to feel less than an essential part of the team by any my peers, clinical or not. I did however occasionally struggle with hearing some of my colleagues characterise themselves as “only a support worker” as I have always felt that there is immense and incalculable value in the direct delivery of care to those who are in need, and of those who see their role as giving that care.

The Health and Social Care Secretary spoke at a recent Downing Street daily briefing of professionalising the social care industry, wearing a new green badge. While I’m sure many will be proud to wear the badge and I value the recognition of the sector this brings, I am left wondering whether the focus should be on ensuring there is more resource available in a sector which has been the victim of £7.7 billion worth of cuts since 2010?

For years, these cuts have put immense pressure on organisations delivering vital care and support, who simply don’t receive the funding to increase staff pay. Thus, having a detrimental impact on recruitment, and painting a picture of the roles being of lower value.

It’s important to understand the true scale of this workforce. In the NHS there are approximately 400,000 people in support worker roles and in social care there are 1.2m people delivering direct care. A total of 1.6m people, which roughly equates to 1 in every 20 jobs in the country is delivering care. With this in mind, it is absolutely staggering that it takes a global pandemic for us to start to recognise this enormous group of people, who many of us will rely on at some point in our lives, as skilled and essential employees.

And the best we can do is a green badge?

The profile of these roles needs to be raised nationally, the importance of what many of these amazing people do daily needs to be celebrated, and the funding for the vital services they provide needs to be right. We need to value the people already working these roles, who are highly skilled, personalised and values driven; and make these careers attractive to our young, future-workforce, so that they aspire to work in care.

We can only hope the positive that arises from this pandemic is that the current highlight on the sector brings about prolonged and positive change in our whole approach to the health and social care profession, recognising it is integral to the very fabric of our society. Not one only talked about in times of national crisis, or as a vote-winning strategy."

- Heath Gunn, CEO at Enham Trust