The difficulties faced by providers in attempting to recruit staff for social care services continues to present significant challenges. Low wages, conditions of service and lack of career opportunities are often cited as major reasons why it has become increasingly more difficult to attract people to work in social care.
In December last year, Health Education England published Facing the Facts, Shaping the Future: A Health and Care Workforce Strategy for England to 2027.
- The adult social care workforce is larger than the NHS workforce but has lower average pay, fewer qualifications and more part time staff.
- Turnover is high and there are 88,000 vacancies.
- Required growth of between 14% and 31% is forecast by 2030.
- 18% of the workforce is from overseas with regional variation.
- 20,300 independent organisations provide care in England.
- The government is consulting on changing aspects of the system.
The report highlights that the majority of the care workforce is likely to earn at or near the National Minimum Wage. The workforce is 82% female with an average age of 43 and nearly half work part time including 54% of care workers. Zero-hour contracts cover 24% of all staff and 33% of care workers. Turnover is high at over 25% with around 347,000 staff leaving roles during 2016/17, 33% of those leaving the sector altogether.
The sector faces recruitment and retention challenges at all levels, in both regulated and unregulated professions. Vacancy rates are higher than the general economy at 6.6% compared to 2.5%, with approximately 88,000 vacancies. Workforce diversity, as with the NHS, means a combination of interventions are needed to support an adult social care workforce for the future. The government has recognised pressures on the social care system with an additional £2bn, however a number of factors such as pay, large numbers of small employers, contract status and retention and recruitment make workforce issues challenging for the sector.
Increasing demand for adult social care
Demand is growing as people live longer with more comorbidities leading to more complex health and care needs. According to “Horizon 2035: health and care workforce futures”, by 2025 unconstrained demand for lower skilled direct care staff is likely to increase by 12%, (around 120,000 more jobs), and an overall workforce demand increase of 14% (190,000 jobs). Skills for Care suggest that need might be as much as a 31% increase or 500,000 jobs by 2030. Factoring in vacancies approaching 90,000 and the challenge of the current staffing model to meet these demand projections is clear. It also has implications for the wider economy, with labour used to meet this increase not being available to other sectors. There are interventions that can alleviate some of this increasing demand whilst meeting peoples’ desire to remain independent and well at home for longer. These include social care staff supporting prevention and public health interventions; better join up between health and care; more support for carers; and new technology.
There are two focus areas for ASC recruitment. The first is training and skills development. Roles tend to have low entry requirements with around half the workforce having no formal social care qualifications. This is especially true of the vast majority of staff providing direct care and support. The regulated professions tend to perform more supervisory roles. There are no standard training requirements across large parts of the sector with too many staff not receiving training or professional development, despite providing direct care for vulnerable adults whose dignity and quality of life is dependent on the quality of their work. The Care Certificate, developed by HEE, Skills for Care and Skills for Health, provides a standard induction framework across social care and health. There is no mandated skills training or development across employers.
The second recruitment challenge is overseas staff. UK nationals make up 83% of the ASC workforce; 7% (around 90,000), are non-UK EEA nationals and 11% (about 140,000) are from the rest of the world. Direct care staff form the biggest group of EEA staff with about 67,000 workers
The majority of roles have low entry requirements and limited career structures. The 20,300 employers separately determine job titles and structures, which makes demonstrating career pathways challenging meaning staff often seek career progression by leaving the sector. Increases in the National Living Wage have driven up pay for those on the lowest wages but also narrowed pay differentials thereby reducing the attractiveness of seeking promotion or progression in some cases.
The Health and Care Workforce Strategy for England to 2027 has involved consultations with those who have a vested interest across the care industry and was due to be completed last month. Any new strategy will need to take into account that if we are to recruit and retain more staff, we cannot continue to have over 20000 care providers determining staff job titles and career structures. We need a national set of employment conditions that give staff encouragement to seek career progression with available training, that is recognised and financially rewarded.
If staff can be supported to gain satisfaction in their work through training that leads to improvement of skills, career opportunities and financial rewards, then we have the basis for a thriving, consistent and high-quality workforce. We may then begin to see an improvement in recruitment and retention of staff in the social care industry.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute
Bettal Quality Consultancy