Support Worker


Support worker is a broad term that refers to a range of roles with a combined purpose: to work in a person-centred way to ensure each person’s aspirations, interests, and needs are at the centre of their care. There are lots of different job titles for people working as support workers, depending on the type of support they offer.

Support workers work with people with a learning disability and autistic people to promote independence and wellbeing, and they sometimes provide direct physical help when called for. They might provide additional help such as advice about housing, learning life skills such as cooking or budgeting and providing emotional support and befriending. They mainly work out in the community and are most employed by organisations outside of the NHS. 

Support workers may work with individuals for many years, or just a short time such as when an individual is getting over an illness, or to help with a transition from living with their family to living in their own place.

By gathering information, observing, and working with people in their own environments, support workers gain a real understanding of each person’s strengths and needs to help meet individual’s needs.

Salary, hours and benefits

Average salary
  • £21,000 (starter band 3)
    The salary will be different with each employer and depend on the skills needed for each role, and the extent to which you have support and guidance available while working or are expected to work autonomously.  The average hourly rate for a care worker in 2018/19 was £8.41 in the independent sector and £10.13 in the local authority sector.

Typical hoursStandard hours are usually around 37.5 hours per week.
Working part-time is also an option.
In social care usually you will work shifts on a rota including early mornings, evenings, weekends, and bank holidays. Some services need staff to do ‘waking night shifts’ and some need staff to ‘sleep in’ (sleeping on the premises but ready to assist people during the night when needed). 
You could work
  • A minimum of 27 days annual leave per annum
  • Opportunity to join the NHS pension scheme
  • Access to occupational health services
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Opportunities for flexible working

What you’ll do

Support workers build relationships with the individual(s) to find out what they need to live their lives as they want to. 

Depending on the type of support work you do, you may be doing a range of different roles. For example:

  • supporting individuals with their social and physical activities, work, college or university, and staying in touch with family,
  • supporting people to book and go to appointments such as interviews, medical screenings, or appointments about housing or finances,
  • enabling people to communicate with others, and sometimes advocating for them,
  • supporting people to manage their finances,
  • for some people, offering support when they are distressed and/or displaying behaviour that challenges,
  • helping some people with personal care such as using the toilet, showering or bathing, and dressing,
  • supporting with tasks around the house such as shopping, cleaning, decorating, gardening and cooking,
  • supporting people who live with others to make agreements about sharing parts of their home,
  • helping people monitor their health, for example weighing themselves, taking their body temperature, or keeping track of diet, periods, or bowel movements
  • reminding or helping people take medication

Working environment

Some support workers work in specialist autism/learning disability services, while others work in mainstream services.

You will find support workers working in:

  • child development and assessment teams
  • special schools for young people with learning disabilities and/or autism
  • specialist colleges 
  • community learning disability teams
  • secure settings
  • hospitals and clinics
  • social care settings
  • charities and the voluntary sector

Characteristics and skills required

Support workers need to be creative thinkers who can adapt to the needs of the people they work with so they can find solutions to challenges that they face. Support workers also need:

  • dignity and respect
  • a commitment to protecting people’s human rights
  • the ability to work on their own initiative and prioritise their workload
  • learning and reflective capabilities – (thinking about what you do and why you do things in a certain way)
  • a commitment to working together
  • a commitment to quality care and support
  • excellent communication skills
  • patience
  • empathy
  • determination
  • an appreciation and desire to support people to live life the way they choose
  • willingness to work hard
  • ability to manage a range of needs while supporting coordination of care for an individual
  • problem solving and creative thinking skills

Once employed as a healthcare support worker you will be given support to obtain the Care Certificate, which will help you in your day-to-day role.

Restrictions and requirements

You’ll need to pass enhanced background checks, as you may be working with children and vulnerable adults.

Career path and progression

When you start in as a support worker you will complete an induction which should include the Care Certificate; these are the minimum standards that everyone working in social care needs to know.  

It might also include training necessary for your role such as specific training on learning disability and autism awareness and communication skills e.g. using sign language or Makaton.

When in your role you could do a vocational qualification such as a diploma in health and social care or a continuing professional development qualification such as learning disability or autism care.

Senior support worker

A Senior Support Worker role combines support work with managing a team. As well as carrying out the same tasks as a support worker, you’ll have responsibility for supervising staff and volunteers across a cluster of services, encouraging and inspiring them to offer the highest standards of support.

How to become a Support Worker

If you are interested in working as a care worker, there is lots of advice about finding a role on the starting your career page. 

You could look online or in your local newspaper to find vacancies, or you might want to contact local care providers to ask them directly.


You could also apply to do an apprenticeship as a care worker. 

You could do an apprenticeship in a direct care or support role. Most apprenticeships last between 12 months and two years and you’ll be required to complete a social care qualification and an assessment at the end of your apprenticeship.

Volunteering and experience

You don’t necessarily need any qualifications to become a support worker. What’s really important is that you have the right values and behaviours to work in social care. Many people start working as support workers after another career in retail, hospitality or customer services. As people gain experiences and skills they can move into support worker roles at level 2 or 3 where they need more advanced skills in health care tasks, supporting people when distressed or working more autonomously.

To start as a support worker your employer might ask that you have qualifications showing good English and number skills such as GCSE A-C in English and Maths or functional skills level 2. It might also be helpful to have a social care qualification such as a Level 2 or 3 diploma in health and social care, but this can be done once you start the job.

It might also be useful to have experience working in a similar role or with adults or children who need some support. You could gain this experience through a work placement, from your personal life, through volunteering or as part of a traineeship or apprenticeship.

From within health and social care

If you are already working in the health and social care sector and you are looking for a new challenge, then you can change career to become a support worker within learning disability and autism support and care. You do not necessarily need any qualifications to become a support worker. What is really important is that you have the right values and behaviours to work in social care.

From outside health and social care

If you want to work in health and social care and you are looking for a new challenge, then you can change career to become a support worker within learning disability and autism support and care. You do not necessarily need any qualifications to become a support worker. What is really important is that you have the right values and behaviours to work in social care.

Financial support

Your employer might pay for you to do these qualifications (they could apply for the Workforce Development Fund to help), or you could apply for an Advanced Learner Loan to pay for them yourself.

Current opportunities

There may be opportunities to progress into management roles or you might choose to go into other roles such as an advocacy worker, personal assistant, or rehabilitation worker. 

You might also choose to go to University to become a social worker, occupational therapist, or nurse.

Related careers

Many support workers will move between jobs in different types of services or supporting people with different kinds of needs.

Some employers may offer training opportunities which enable you to progress once you are in a support worker role.

You could progress your career by becoming a senior support worker or team leader or practice leader where you guide the work of other support workers.