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28 Oct 2020

Making ends meet in social care

Paige Mynard

Skill for Care’s recent report illustrating the state of the social care sector has prompted the Health and Social Care Committee to call for a £7bn annual increase in social care funding in the government’s spending review to avoid the risk of market collapse. 

The workforce intelligence report ‘The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England’ published this month worryingly found care worker pay drop below that of retail assistants and cleaners over the last eight years. 
 
The workforce development body found that, while care workers earned more than retail assistants, cleaners, hairdressers, catering assistants and launderers in 2012-13, they had fallen behind the first two and seen the gap close with the latter two by 2019-20. 

It should be noted, the data used in this report was collected before the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore does not show how COVID-19 has impacted the adult social care workforce and many of the other sectors. However, this report is useful to reflect the composition of the workforce before COVID-19 and to give context to any further research or data collected after March 2020. 

Staff turnover continues to increase

Within this time before the pandemic, the report’s figures clearly illustrate the competition faced by social care employers from other lower-paid sectors in recruiting and retaining staff. The report also highlighted an estimated turnover rate of directly employed staff working in the adult social care sector was 30.4% in 2019/20. This is equivalent to approximately 430,000 leavers over the year. The care worker turnover rate within domiciliary providers was 39.1%. However, most of these leavers don’t leave the sector. Around 67% of jobs were recruited from other roles within the sector.  

Workforce vacancy rate 

Additionally, the report estimated that 7.3% of the roles in adult social care were vacant in 2019/20, equal to approximately 112,000 vacancies at any one time. Worryingly this suggests the supply of available workers is still substantially lower than the demand. 

We cannot miss this opportunity so we must continue to invest in our frontline staff and dedicated leaders and managers who have made such a difference in keeping people safe and well during the pandemic.
 
Oonagh Smith, CEO of Skills for Care commented: “Any reduction in the
number of vacancies is welcome, but we need to attract more new recruits who have the right values to fill posts that offer long term careers where you can make
a difference in people’s lives every single day. Once people have discovered the personal satisfaction on offer in social care, we need to keep them by investing in pay, their professional development and creating clear career pathways. We cannot miss this opportunity so we must continue to invest in our frontline staff and dedicated leaders and managers who have made such a difference in keeping people safe and well during the pandemic. We will use the quality information in this report to make long-term workforce decisions informed by solid data in what is a critical period of change for a workforce bigger than the NHS.”
 

What does the adult social care sector need?  

Upcoming Industry Support Guide speaker Kathryn Smith, CEO of the Social Care Institute for Excellence Chief Executive, commented on the report:

The workforce needs to move from low pay, low recognition and poor conditions; towards higher pay, better conditions, progression and development.
“It’s concerning that many vacancies still exist, especially at a time when preparations are being made to protect care services as we head for winter;
and at a time when social care is a growing sector. The workforce needs to move from low pay, low recognition and poor conditions; towards higher pay, better conditions, progression and development. The workforce also needs to have parity of esteem with the NHS. We agree with Skills for Care that careers in social care offer job satisfaction that also makes a difference to people. It’s time to recognise that with government action”. 
 
 
UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said that overhauling the care sector is the answer to staff shortages. 
 
“The government must end the care crisis by showing it’s ready to end a bargain-basement service that puts profits above care and treats staff like numbers on a spreadsheet.” 
 
“Vacancy rates this high prove the care system is broken. Government immigration policies are simply making a bad situation worse,” she said. 

“Ministers says they appreciate care workers, but gratitude won’t keep the wolf from the door. Care can be tough, emotionally exhausting, highly skilled work. But its staff are also underpaid, poorly treated, and undervalued. 

The government must end the care crisis by showing it’s ready to end a bargain-basement service that puts profits above care and treats staff like numbers on a spreadsheet.

The UK urgently needs a fully funded national care service with fair pay, extensive training and a proper career structure for its dedicated workforce.” 

Calls for an increase in social care funding 

Following the findings, the Health and Social Care Committee backed the introduction of a lifetime cap to protect against “catastrophic care costs”. The Social Care: funding and workforce report urges action to improve the pay and recognition of social care workers, progression pathways aligned with the NHS and oversears recruitment of care workers. 

Health and Social Care Committee Chair Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP also called for a 10-year plan for the sector along with a people plan as seen in the NHS. “Without such a plan, words about parity of esteem will be hollow. We owe it to both the staff and families devastated by loss to make this a moment of real change.” 

Professor Martin Green OBE, CEO of Care England, added: “We concur with the Health and Social Care Committee’s assertion that action needs to be taken now, we simply cannot afford to wait. The sector needs support and one tangible way to provide this is via a ten-year plan for adult social care. 

“This plan must be carefully aligned with the NHS and I hope that the Committee will monitor progress as it must not sit on a shelf and gather dust or we will be faced with a vastly depleted social care sector with huge repercussions for the nation. 

“The report addresses the short, medium and long term requirements. It is heartening that after so long in the wilderness the sector is being listened to and we hope that this report will be the turning point that we so desperately need.” 
 
Whilst we are all aware this will be a challenging winter, as the team behind the Dementia, Care & Nursing Home and Home Care Expo’s, we are hopeful an increase in social care funding will allow rapid action to be taken to support the sector through the next decade. 

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