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How can we prevent the exodus of social care staff to better paid jobs?

Social care staff are leaving the sector in droves for better-paid jobs in supermarkets, retail and hospitality is fuelling the worst NHS crisis since records began. Some 410,000 staff quit social care last year. Vacancies in the sector have almost doubled in the past year, with one in ten posts now empty — a shortage of about 160,000 staff.

Widespread labour shortages and the cost-of-living crisis means staff are being lured to jobs in supermarkets with higher wages, while companies such as Amazon are offering “golden handshakes” of up to £3,000.

This has reduced capacity in care homes, with four in ten refusing to take on new admissions — meaning elderly and vulnerable patients end up stranded on hospital wards.

Impact on the NHS

Leading doctors have described the “frightening” situation in A&Es now far worse than during the Covid peak but said the solution was to “give money to social care — not us”. Social care is due to receive only £5.4 billion of the government’s new £36 billion package for healthcare reform, funded through a rise in national insurance that was introduced this month.

NHS England figures show a record 13,000 patients a day are taking up beds because they cannot be discharged, creating a logjam in hospitals and ambulance services that is “costing lives”.

Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “Without a solution to social care the emergency care crisis is not going to improve. Don’t give money to us, give it to social care.

What can be done to prevent the exodus from social care?

I believe we need to get back to basics and support our understanding of why people work. The following reasons may give us some insight:

REASON ONE: Financial security.

If we want to prevent staff from leaving and retain them, we must start paying a realistic wage for the work they do. The care sector needs an injection of Government funding now and pay comparable wages that can be found in the retail sector. As a start, a loyalty bonus would help to retain staff.

We should also ensure that no social care workers are on zero-hour contracts.

REASON TWO: Belonging.

To many staff, work is a way of belonging to a team. Managers need to build on this and promote the benefits of working in social care and the psychological rewards of caring for others.

REASON THREE: Opportunities for personal growth.

There needs to be a clear staffing payment structure that rewards skills and achievements and provides opportunities for growth and promotion.

Staff training must be given more professional recognition and social care also needs an academic base in more universities.

REASON FOUR: Giving meaning to work.

Work I believe is more than financial security. According to Natasha Curry, deputy director of policy at the Nuffield Trust health think tank, “Social care staff don’t feel valued in the same way as the NHS.

We need to promote the professional work carried out by social care staff in the media and recognise the skills required in job descriptions and training courses.


How can we prevent social care staff leaving the sector? The predominant cry no doubt is to pay staff more wages. I am sure in the short term this will help. But social care does not only need to recruit thousands of new staff, it also needs to find a way of retaining them.

If and when social care staff achieve parity of wages with the retail sector. Managers are more likely to recruit and retain staff if they promote the meaningful benefits of the work and society values the contribution made by social care workers to many people’s lives.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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