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8th Dec, 2022

Helen Clark
Helen Clark
Job Title
Divisional Director - Health & Care

I recently attended a Skills for Care event, ‘The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England’. It was a highly informative session, with some stark data to digest, and certainly provided food for thought.

The sector contributes approximately £51.5 billion to the UK economy, across 17,900 organisations (39,000 service providing locations), and employs about one and a half million people.

Covid-19 has contributed to the creation of a number of gaps we are now seeing in the service when it comes to delivering quality care, safely.

According to Skills for Care’s report, ‘The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England’, which was discussed in depth at the event, currently there are 165,000 vacant jobs in the sector, with a 52 per cent increase in posts seen in 2021/22. Staff turnover rates are high, 52 per cent for those aged under 20 years old and 44 per cent for registered nurses. These are certainly unwelcome trends, especially as roles within the sector can be so rewarding and are increasingly valued by the public.

The adult social care sector is predominantly made up of females (82 per cent), with the average age being 45 (with 28 per cent aged 55 and over). The latter group is a demographic that has moved away from the sector, and employment in general, since the onset of the pandemic. Only 23 per cent of people working in the sector identify as part of an ethnic minority group - with 16 per cent of those working in leadership roles from these same groups.

This lack of talent, and diversity of talent, begs the question – just how do we attract more young people and men to the sector? And how do employers ensure they tackle the diversity challenges on the leadership route?

Pay and benefits were a hot topic - particularly in relation to equivalent posts in the NHS. Care workers receive one pound per hour less in the private adult social care space versus the NHS comparator. 80 per cent of all jobs outside of the sector pay more to their workforce than to the workers in this market. A sustainable approach to pay and rewards is needed to ensure that workers are attracted and retained.

The Skills for Care event revealed sickness absence in the sector has doubled since the pandemic - but is decreasing. However, there is a reliance on providers, such as us, to provide short-term staffing solutions to close the necessary gaps that still exist.

The challenges in the sector have been obvious for a long, long time. And the U-turn on the Social Care Levy will be detrimental to the sector. That said, the announcement of £500 million Discharge & Workforce funding – the first tranche now and the second in January 2023 – will help. £200 million of that funding will head to local authorities to bolster the workforce, increase capacity, and take on more patients from hospitals. The funding can be used on initiatives which will have the greatest impact in the area - it's hoped this will include staff recruitment and retention. It's late coming, given the creaking healthcare system and time of year.

Alarmingly, the event also revealed there will be a 27 per cent increase in roles within the sector by 2035 (2.27 million roles, versus the 1.79 million roles currently). This contrasted with speakers highlighting the challenges they faced attracting people to study nursing at university (as one example) - it’s clear the volumes are nowhere near where they should be and that placement opportunities during courses need to cover social and secondary care.

The staffing crisis was further highlighted by one speaker in particular, Dan Ryan – the Director of Operations at MHA (Methodist Homes). MHA is a national care home and retirement living provider, and Dan felt the crisis was masked initially during the pandemic owing to the dedication of his staff teams, who worked extra hours, going above and beyond to ensure resident safety. This sentiment resonated with me, and I know it does with my team too. The effort and dedication from our workforce over the course of the pandemic was phenomenal. However, it’s this that has also led to the burnout of staff and added to the pressures of delivering care safely.

This has resulted in a negative impact on the attractiveness of the sector among new recruits. How often have we heard of migration of skilled care workers to the retail and hospitality space during the last two years, where the work is better paid, and less emotionally and physically demanding?

Leonie Goldson, National Development Manager for Reed’s Care Quality Commission registered services across the UK, said: “Our sector is unique. Employers in the sector need to realise that for their workforce to stay engaged it’s very much about making them feel valued and giving them a sense of belonging.

Staff need to be able to make a positive contribution personally and professionally. They sacrifice a lot, so they deserve to receive recognition and pay that reflects the roles and responsibilities and have access to worthwhile benefits.

Leonie Goldson

National Development Manager, Reed

“Access to resources continues to be the challenge when there is such a shortfall in funding, commissioning and reforms. An overall strategy is needed to address an ever-increasing demand for services for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.”

Gladys Wright, one of our regional managers and registered manager for our Leeds CQC registered service, added: “Adult social care is a wonderful sector to work in and one where you can make a real difference in people’s lives and affect how they view the world and feel about themselves. People come into care as they are passionate about looking after those who are vulnerable.

“Those working in the sector want to improve lives and improve their own practice. They understand the principles of the Care Quality Commission and want to keep people safe, they care, they want the service to be effective, responsive and well led - committing to their continued professional development. I personally have never worked with, or recruited anyone, who has come into this profession because they want to make a lot of money.

It’s fair to say adult social care has been underfunded for many years. What a great idea to look after people in the community rather than in hospitals, however the budget has never followed the people.

Gladys Wright

Regional Manager, Reed

“Over the last few years, a high number of care workers have retired and there is no longer the work force to replace them. Something needs to be done to make the profession more attractive and that’s where employers need to step in with competitive rates of pay, offers of career development and strong benefits packages – offering rewards that the workforce really wants and needs.”

The sector is on the edge and there’s certainly, a lot to be done. The challenges within the sector must be addressed before it’s too late. The government and those with influence need to think fast and thoroughly, and take a fresh approach to really address the sector's many issues from their roots.

The sector needs more pulling power, it needs a rebrand to make it attractive again. Employers in the sector need to consider how they encourage the next generation to work for them. How do we collectively attract more workers from overseas for the long term? How do we forge and develop career pathways (to include apprenticeships) to attract and retain staff and, moreover, protect them from burnout?

If you are a health and care worker looking for a new career opportunity or are recruiting for a healthcare candidate to join your team, Reed can help. Contact your nearest Reed office today.