England & Wales Health and social care

The importance of kindness


Photo Credit: bengrey via Compfight cc

On 2 December, we’re launching Key to Care the findings of the Commission on the Future of the Home Care Workforce. We have some uncomfortable messages. We also make some strong recommendations in an area that’s complicated and sometimes thorny.

But if there is one thing I wish I could have stressed more in the report, it’s the importance of kindness. Kindness is hard to measure. There’s not much evidence on its impact. It’s hard to recruit for. It’s almost impossible to commission for. But we know it when we see it and we know it’s exactly what we’d want in someone caring for ourselves or our loved ones.

Time and time again throughout this Commission, people have mentioned the amazing work of many care workers: women and men who do a fantastic job in the face of some pretty tough circumstances. Part of what drives these care workers is dedication, a sense of professionalism, perhaps a vocation – but what makes them great care workers might be kindness.

I know from personal experience what an enormous difference kindness makes in a professional caring relationship. My best experiences with clinical care have been marked by kindness, my worst by a distinct lack. The memories of my son’s birth include some very kind staff, but are mostly marked by the unkindness of others. I remain convinced that the lack of kindness I experienced after his birth contributed to my slow and poor recovery; that is, the level of compassion impacted directly on my clinical outcomes.

I’m sure that the same thing holds true in social care. We want kind and compassionate care workers to be working with some of the most vulnerable people in our society and we absolutely rely on this kindness if it’s for ourselves or the people we love. The care workers who I talked to during this report and whose stories feature in it certainly seemed kind and expressed kindness to me, but I worry about how much the system relies on their kindness. They remain kind even though most are underpaid and often feel undervalued and through time and task commissioning often seem to be treated more like a cog than a caring professional.

If there’s a killer of kindness, it’s lack of time. We heard about care workers giving that bit of extra time – unpaid – to clients who need it. We also heard about the sense of guilt that many feel when they can’t. We heard from service users who have a parade of people coming through their home in quick succession, leaving it difficult to establish the sort of relationship where kindness can have its greatest impact.

In the report we publish next week, we look at some of the obstacles in the system, like the way that commissioning and cost-based competition are leading to poorer outcomes or the way that treating and paying care workers poorly means good ones often leave the workforce. These are the barriers to kindness. We also look at some of the ways that we can overcome them and treat care workers better. Those compassionate and skilled care workers deserve our kindness and some sensible policy solutions, too.

Key to Care: Commission on the Future of the Home Care Workforce will be published by on 2 December. It has been chaired by the Rt. Hon. Paul Burstow, MP and supported by Mears.