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Care worker organising: a new group for peer support, best practice, and improvements in the workplace

Older person sitting on sofa using laptop and walking stick by their side. Careworker looking at the same laptop, both smiling.

Care worker organising: a new group for peer support, best practice, and improvements in the workplace

This commentary focuses on care worker organising, drawing on the experiences of Homecare Workers’ Group founder Rachel Kelso and Centre for Care researcher Duncan Fisher. Initially, Rachel explains why she set up the group, before Duncan shows how this links to the centre’s ongoing care worker organising research.

Rachel Kelso writes about starting a new care workers’ group for peer support and advancing their cause:

Domiciliary care workers like myself have very limited contact with our peers. We drive alone from one client’s house to the next, only communicating with colleagues via a breadcrumb trail of notes about client care, or when we visit somebody who requires the support of two workers. In terms of the employment experience, each of England’s 12,800 domiciliary care employers exists as its own bubble, with no contact between employees who work for different care providers. There is no mandatory professional body for social care and only fifteen percent of care workers in the private sector belong to a union. The result is that England’s huge workforce of 625,000 homecare workers is highly fragmented.

I began to wonder what it would be like if there was contact between workers from different homecare agencies? How much knowledge and years of experience could be shared to the benefit of those who draw on support? How good would it be if, after a particularly tough week, there was a community you could turn to which was independent from your employer, such that there would be no need to worry about being labelled a ‘difficult employee’? First and foremost, I set up Homecare Workers’ Group as a support network and community of best practice for domiciliary care workers in England.

Taking this further, Homecare Workers’ Group intends to get care workers a seat at the policy table. The reasons why the clap for carers became uncomfortable and eventually fizzled out during the COVID-19 pandemic remain unaddressed: low pay compared to the high skill and social value of our work; unpaid travel time which depresses our contracted hourly rate of pay, in some cases to below the legal minimum; zero-hours contracts and poor work-life balance. Whilst current efforts at a national level to establish new career pathways in social care are welcome, these will be empty gestures as long as the above ingredients of precarity remain in place. The government’s Health & Care Worker Visa is a stopgap for meaningful change, encouraging care providers to recruit from overseas and locking those individuals into care work no matter the working conditions that greet them.

Rising demand for services

Thanks to a myriad of factors, demand for services is forecast to rise by 61% between 2018 and 2038. An estimated 627,000 more individuals must join the social care workforce by 2030/31 to meet that demand. Yet the sector is beset by a chronic recruitment and retention crisis. On speaking to other care workers through Homecare Workers’ Group, I know how passionate we are about ensuring the dignity of the people we support. And yet, as long as the sector is unable to attract and retain enough people who are a natural fit for care, the quality and availability of formal care services will continue to suffer. By expressing our commitment to remaining in the sector despite its challenges, members of Homecare Workers’ Group demonstrate that there is much to love about the work itself, such that if basic employment conditions were to improve, many more individuals could be attracted into the sector.

I launched Homecare Workers’ Group in November 2023. Raising awareness among care workers is the biggest challenge, as we are a notoriously hard-to-reach demographic. Yet I am encouraged by the enthusiasm I have found in those who have joined. The group has received a resoundingly positive reception from other stakeholders including my current and former employers, local authorities, the regional Skills for Care team, and researchers in the social care space. All of these actors recognise the need for action and the potential in bringing care workers together as part of this.

Duncan Fisher reflects on community and voice within care worker organising:

In the commentary I wrote in autumn 2023, I perhaps underestimated the extent of organising and campaigning taking place to improve the situation of paid adult social care workers. Of course, part of fieldwork is searching, connecting, and delving deeper, and, in our ongoing research into care worker organising at the Centre for Care, we are trying to capture and piece together the breadth of these activities. Rachel’s founding of the Homecare Workers’ Group is an important moment, and her motives highlight several issues we are trying to understand through our ongoing study.

older person sitting in a wheelchair smiling at a care worker. Care worker is standing, cleaning a table.

It strikes me that community and voice are central to what Rachel and her co-members are doing. In the literature on organising, ‘community’ has significance, with Ethel Tungohan – drawing on the work of Valerie Francisco-Menchavez – portraying the ‘communities of care’ within Filipina migrant domestic worker social movements. The communities built through activism and organising work are significant in themselves, and this supportive, solidaristic element is fundamental to Homecare Workers’ Group. The ‘voice’ I see here is the speaking and listening to each other that Rachel mentions above. The homecare setting is crucial, with these disparate workers often lacking a space where they can come together to support each other through their working lives and to advocate for policy change. Voice is also directed outwards, and about influencing policy and trying to improve care workers’ conditions and enhance care quality.

Speaking to Rachel, and to other care workers who engage in organising, it is clear they ‘care’ very much about their work, and their actions are borne of a deep commitment to it and to advocating for its importance to society. Yet the way many care workers are treated shows a profound lack of care towards them. Rachel started the group because of the absence of meaningful action to improve the conditions and status of care work, and she realises that this is an ongoing, uphill struggle. She said that if what happened in care settings during the pandemic was not enough to lead to change, she is not sure what would.

In recent years, among the most challenging and urgent critiques of paid care workers’ treatment has come from the academic Lydia Hayes. In a report published during the pandemic, she and colleagues called for ‘the urgent appointment of care workers to problem-solving roles’. It would appear, however, that care workers – or even those representing their interests – still lack influence or a say in their work situations. We echo Hayes and colleagues’ call for care workers to have a greater say in decision-making on the present and future of care and care work, and would extend that call to people who draw on care and support.

Duncan and colleagues in the centre’s Care Workforce Change group, including Professor Liam Foster, are currently researching care worker organising in the UK. Duncan’s previous commentary sets out what they are trying to do with this study. Please contact him to learn more about this work – email

To find out more about Homecare Workers’ Group, please visit

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