How to improve prospects for the adult social care workforce

Liz Zacharias, Senior Consultant at Campbell Tickell, discusses the findings from a new report produced by Skills for Care: ‘The size and structure of the adult social care sector and workforce in England’.

Skills for Care’s report, released in August 2019, provides an interesting overview of the size and structure of the adult social care sector and workforce in England.

The most eye-catching headline is that the sector needs to grow by 580,000 jobs simply to keep up with the growing number of over 65s.

Alongside this, the report highlights some interesting trends, for example that social care has the second highest vacancy rate of all occupations even though since 2009. According to figures drawn from the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care (NMDS-SC) (now replaced by the Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set (ASC-WDS) service), the number of adult social care jobs has increased by 22%.

Key findings from the Skills for Care report: The size and structure of the adult social care sector and workforce in England (Aug 2019)

The main changes in the adult social care sector since 2009 highlighted in this section are:

(1) An increase in the size of the workforce (up 22% between 2009 and 2018)

(2) An increase in independent sector jobs (up 30%, or 290,000 jobs)

(3) A decrease in local authority jobs (down 37%, or 65,000 jobs)

(4) An increase in jobs within independent sector care homes with nursing (up 26%, or 60,000 jobs)

(5) An increase in the number of jobs in domiciliary care (up 205,000, or 43%) although the rate of increase has been slower in recent years (up by 27,000 jobs, or 4%, since 2014).

Challenges

The challenges facing social care generally are well known and include local authorities managing increasing demand, alongside reducing finances to the point where the adult social care system is commonly referred to as ‘broken’. This is affected further by increased complexity of needs among people requiring social care support, partly compounded by the increasing thresholds for access to services introduced by many councils to manage demand. Then there is the prevalence of low pay and an uncertain career path, with a general treatment of care work as a low-status occupation.

That said, a recent survey did find changing attitudes, with eight in ten people surveyed (83%) believing care work is highly skilled and increasingly complex and pay rates should reflect this. This poll, conducted by Survation for the GMB union, also revealed that 80% of people surveyed argue that care workers should be treated the same as NHS workers in terms of levels of pay, training and conditions.

Brexit

Alongside the above well-rehearsed issues is the steam train coming down the track of a new immigration policy and Brexit.

The prospect of Brexit has seen EU migration – a mainstay of the care workforce – reduced over the last three years since the referendum, and there does not appear to be burgeoning or even nascent domestic market taking the place of EU carers. The proposed £30k minimum threshold for migrant salaries is beyond most care organisations’ budgets and it is hard to see any quick remedy to this staffing shortfall. So what is an already dicey situation is likely to get worse.

Action needed

While the new government has promised  “a once and for all resolution” to the care funding situation, will we really see a shiny new fix to the problem? I don’t think so and I’m not alone.

Recent research from Anchor Hanover, England’s largest not-for-profit provider of care and housing for older people, revealed that 68% of people do not trust promises of social care reform, while nearly three-quarters (73%) surveyed, worry about not being able to afford to pay for their care needs in later life.

I set out below what I believe needs to be done to improve prospects for care staff.

  1. A really good PR campaign that focusses on how important care work is to the UK, and how skilled people need to be to work in the care sector.
  2. A structured career path with apprenticeships, clear competency-based recruitment, skills and aptitude development, as well as leadership development. This would be valuable for many occupations, but for care it would be great if people were rewarded and recognised for being good care workers and continuing as care workers – rather than the upward trajectory being a step up to management, where in reality a different skill set is needed.
  3. A revised pay structure – underpinned by a proper once and for all care funding settlement.

I believe that we need a training pathway, pay structure and career path that puts care work on a par with nursing and social work or housing officers.

The approach to the funding of care should recognise that we will all need an empathetic and skilled care worker to look after us when we are at our most vulnerable.

An approach that respects the profession of care worker, combined with a reward structure that is appropriate to the importance of the role in a civilised nation would help guarantee that when it’s our turn to be cared for, there will be a skilled, positive and confident workforce ready and waiting to help.

To find out more, contact Liz Zacharias : liz.zacharias@campbelltickell.com