THIS October marks 20 years since the introduction of professional registration and regulation for the social work, social care and early learning and childcare workforce in Scotland. The Covid-19 pandemic shone a light on the true value of the workforce who support some of society’s most vulnerable citizens.

However, it was no surprise that this dedicated workforce went to great lengths, including staying in care homes to help keep residents safe, as I know they are a trusted, skilled and confident workforce, passionate about the work they do and the people who use their services.

I’ve worked at the Scottish Social Services Council for nearly 20 years, latterly as chief executive, and have been on the journey with social work, social care and early learning and childcare workers as they join our register and give a commitment to work to the behaviours and values in the SSSC Codes of Practice.

This is a valued and qualified workforce. More than 160,000 people on our register are part of a professional regulated workforce and either hold or are working towards a qualification.

The overall social service workforce employs more than 209,000 people, compared to the 152,597 employed by NHS Scotland, amounting to one in 13 jobs and making a significant economic contribution.

As a society and a country, we need to properly recognise and reward social work, social care and early learning and childcare workers with improved terms and conditions and proper investment.

Not just anyone can do this job. It takes the right values and commitment to be a part of it, whether you’re working with children and young people, those dealing with homelessness or addiction, people with learning disabilities or older people.

By valuing this workforce with proper investment, pay and conditions we can help make care a career of choice and something to aspire to. We need more people to work in care to deliver the meaningful, often long-term, relationships that enable people receiving support to have the choices and ability to live their lives to the full.

The Scottish Government’s consultation on creating a National Care Service is a real opportunity to put people from social work and social care, who really understand the sector, at the forefront of service delivery. We are not health; a medical model won’t work and we can get that right from the very outset if we make the right choices.

As the workforce regulator we have an important role to play in a National Care Service to make sure the right people with the right values are part of it to deliver the best standards of care.

Now is the time to make sure that the SSSC continues to evolve to respond to The Promise and the proposed National Care Service, as we review our Codes of Practice for Workers and Employers, career pathways that support health and social care integration and our register, including whether we should register other groups of workers such as social work assistants and personal assistants.

It may have taken a pandemic but at long last we are having the debate about the value of care and how to properly fund it. We look forward to playing our part.

Lorraine Gray is Scottish Social Services Council chief executive