What is a support worker?

BY: Ciaran Willis


What is a support worker?

A support worker looks after vulnerable people and helps them to live life to the fullest.

Support workers help with day-to-day activities, so the people they support can manage their lives, learn new things, or do what they enjoy.  A support worker also helps people to be independent and to have as much choice as possible.

Rebecca Wilson, team manager and former support worker, describes the role as “looking after every element of someone’s health and wellbeing, and making sure they’re alive and happy and independent.”

Support worker Christine Bauer says it’s important to help people to do things on their own – “a support worker encourages independence and self-reliance tailored to the persons own ability and needs.”

Mahfuja Islam, previously a support worker and now part of the learning and development team at LDN London, says you also make sure “a person isn’t missing out on opportunities, just because they might not be as aware of what’s going on in the community.”

 What do support workers do?

The role includes every part of day-to-day life. It will vary from person to person. As the old cliché goes, every day is different. It’s true.

Some of the tasks you will help with include:

The best people to tell you, though, are the people you’d be supporting, like Margaret:


Why should you become a support worker?

It’s hugely rewarding

If you have the right values and want to support individuals with learning disabilities and to make a difference, then becoming a support worker is your best option, says Mahfuja Islam. “You don’t get that reward from any other job.”

She says it’s amazing when you see people’s communication improve, so they’re better able to talk to their family. “It gives you a different type of happiness when you are part of the achievement.”

Christine Bauer says that supporting others is not a one-sided learning experience. “Many individuals with learning disabilities are creative and it is a joy to see their openness and engagement, especially in arts and crafts, and music.”

The role “gives many valuable insights into a side of life that would otherwise stay undiscovered…I believe it is a privilege and joy to support other people”, Christine says.

You can change lives

Rebecca Wilson says becoming a support worker changed her own life. She adds, “You have the ability to completely change someone’s life in this job.”

Rebecca says that research shows how health workers can potentially shorten people’s lives or help people to live longer. “You can help people to have a happy, healthy, fulfilled existence,” she adds.

You gain amazing skills

Rebecca Wilson became a support worker straight after university. She says that the role has given her amazing skills. She has quickly become a team manager and loves her role.

You learn a huge amount as a support worker. You gain great communication skills, especially working with non-verbal service users, as well as interpersonal skills such as the ability to listen to others.

As well, the empathy and care you develop for other people is another life skill which is important beyond work.

As a support worker, you would also build on your organisation skills, including the ability to plan and organise daily, weekly and monthly calendars, which is important in any job.

You would also gain qualifications, including a level 2 care certificate and health, hygiene and first-aid certificates.

What type of support workers are there?

The role of a support worker is different depending on who you are supporting.

At Learning Disability Network London, you would be supporting people with a range of learning disabilities.

This includes people who need less support, who may just need occasional help managing their money or filling in forms.

Many of the people we support have severe (or profound) disabilities and need 24/7 care. They need help moving and getting around, with basic tasks and personal hygiene, and may have difficulty communicating. However, they can still live independent lives and make choices for themselves.

There are a variety of learning disabilities. Each person you support will be different, as you would expect, and you would need to adapt to find the best way to support each person.

People with learning disabilities can often struggle with communication. Some people – if they are misunderstood and cannot communicate what they want to – can become frustrated (as we all would be) and be angry and upset.

It’s important to learn how to communicate with the people you are supporting so there is not a breakdown in communication. You may need to ask people who know them for information, so you can better provide support for their needs. As with anybody, you’ll have to figure them out as people and find out what they like best.

Just like everyone else, people with learning disabilities have beliefs, likes and dislikes, and goals they want to work towards. You would need to get to know the people you support so you can empower them to live as they wish to.

But you won’t be on your own. Each person you support will have an individual care plan, created by them and those who know them best, and you would follow this to make sure they get the support they want and need.

You would get lots of help too. Your managers and the other members of the team will be there to assist you to do the best job you can and to offer advice and reassurance.

How do I become a support worker?

You don’t need any qualifications to become a support worker.

You just need the right values.

Support workers need to:

Be empathetic – You need to see from the perspective of the people you are supporting and care about them having choice and independence. It is not a job where you just leave work as soon as you can at the end of the day – you need to truly care and go the extra mile to support people.

Be patient – Sometimes it takes time for people to learn new skills and do tasks. And it will take time to figure out how best to support people and to develop trust. So, you’ll need lots of patience.

Understand emotions – You’ll need to be able to understand people’s emotions, interpret what they are saying and what they need.

Be organised – You’ll need to manage your time well and turn up when you are needed (so other team members can leave after a shift). You could also put the people we support at risk. You will help to manage someone else’s life, which may involve crucial medical appointments, assisting with medication or helping them go to college – so, you will need to make sure you keep track of important details.

Be resilient – It’s not an easy job, so you need to be able to deal with stress and setbacks. It helps if you look after yourself and are able manage difficult emotions; sometimes things will go wrong and plans won’t work, as in life.

Do shift work – Most support workers will need to do shift work, which includes early mornings, and night shifts where you sleep at the service.

Help with personal hygiene – The reality is that you may need to help the people you support with their personal hygiene, washing, and going to the toilet. It’s important you’re comfortable with this.

LDN London would provide the training you need to understand people with learning disabilities and prepare you for the job.

You would also need to train for a level 2 care qualification. This would take around 20 hours and we would pay for you to do it. There is also flexibility which means you could complete this at home, as well as at the services you are working in.


How much does a support worker earn?

LDN London currently pays £21,547 per year (the London Living Wage) or £12.38 per hour for sessional workers

There are great opportunities to develop in the role. Our current Chief Executive Gabby Machell and Assistant CEO Mandy Crowford both began as support workers.

The usual progression is to move from support worker to be an assistant team manager and then a team manager. You could also specialise in a particular area (such as dementia or autism) or move into other manager positions.

Interested in being a support worker? Fortunately, we are currently hiring! Find out more:



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