Context: With the population in England ageing, more people are living with complex physical and mental health needs and need care and support. As a result demand for care workers is increasing.
Objective: This paper presents findings from qualitative research in England that aimed to explore the perspectives of frontline care workers, their managers and service users about what difference the age of the care workforce potentially makes at an individual, organisational or workforce level.
Method: Interviews, semi-structured and face to face, in four local authority sites in England.
Findings: Age plays a role in the perceived character of the care workforce. A commonly-held view is that life experience is one of the most valuable qualities a care worker brings to their role. While experience is generally valued, it may be framed as experience in care work, or more generally as life experience. Younger care workers may be often seen by older colleagues and service users as less reliable until they prove themselves. However, managers often identify enthusiasm and ability to accommodate change among younger care staff. Managers are interested in having an ‘age mix’ of staff beyond retention and sustainability issues.
Limitations: The authors acknowledge the risk that the interview data may not be generalisable or totally representative of staff or care users; the study did not include directly employed care workers nor collect health-related information or personal narratives. Those employers who agreed to participate may be more committed to workforce development and value their staff. Nonetheless data are sector-wide and there are sizeable numbers of participants. Moreover, the views of users of social care and family carers are also included.
Implications: The article provides views from a range of stakeholders in social care on whether age matters in this workforce. Instances of age discrimination or stereotypes affecting different ages were reported but also the opportunities in social care work for people to work in later life and to move to this work after other work or family experiences. The age of the social care workforce needs to be considered as part of workforce planning, tailoring skills development and value-based work commitment among all age groups, reducing physical demands, and providing flexible working conditions.