War and peace: Adult social care workforce grows but challenges remain

New data from Skills for Care has found the adult social care workforce has grown by 1% while the vacancy rate has decreased to 9.9%.

The past few years have arguably been the worst for the social care sector. Combined, the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living have been pilling on pressures since 2020 and have forced thousands of people out of their profession.

However, data released by Skills for Care today, in a report titled ‘The annual Size and Structure of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce in England’, have finally provided some good news. Last year the adult social care workforce experienced its first-ever decline, but figures are now showing it has grown by 1% between April 2022 and March 2023.

During the time period last year, the number of filled posts fell by around 4%.

However, despite this progress there remains ‘significant pressure’ in the sector to find and retain staff ‘with the right values needed to work in care’, the head of Skills for Care has said.

Within the report, figures also displayed that the vacancy rate decreased to 9.9%, or around 152,000 on any given day between April 2022 and March this year. Although this isn’t good news, it is an improvement as last year the sector experienced a 10.6% decrease in vacancy rates.

Data from the report has highlighted that over the most recent year-long period, vacancy rates were estimated to be at 1.635 million. These posts were filled by 1.52 million people, which makes up 5.2% of the total workforce in England – more than the number of people working in the NHS, schools or food and drink manufacturing.

Against this backdrop, Skills for Care claimed figures continue to point to long-term challenges for the social care workforce, with an estimated need for posts to increase by around 445,000 to around 2.23 million by 20235, if the number of people aged 65 and over grows as expected over the coming years.

Echoing similar views, Hugh Alderwick, director of policy at the Health Foundation, said: ‘The Skills for Care data illustrate the large and chronic gaps in social care – a system scarred by decades of political neglect and underfunding, and where many people go without the care they need.

‘The vacancy rate has fallen slightly to 152,000 compared with 164,000 last year, but is still high and close to the record levels seen over the last decade.’

On the topic of political neglect, the government have been criticised for announcing earlier this year that social care workforce funding would be halved from a previously pledged £500m. In a more recent example, the government have also just announced their NHS workforce plan but made no mention of plans to assist the social care sector.

‘International recruitment is vital to help fill staff gaps but must be ethical and sustainable, given global shortages in health and care workers, and is no replacement for the urgent action needed by the government to improve pay and conditions for people working in social care,’ Hugh said. ‘Care workers are among the lowest paid in society and experience shocking levels of poverty and deprivation.’

shallow focus photography of red and white for hire signage

Hugh added: ‘A national strategy is urgently needed to address these issues and support and grow the social care workforce over the long-term – like we now have for the NHS. This needs to be matched with broader policy change and investment to ensure people have access to good quality care and greater protection against social care costs.’  

Data from the report stated around 70,000 people were recruited from abroad into direct care-providing roles after adult social care was added to the shortage occupation list last year.

It explained that while Home Office figures shows that some 58,000 received skilled worker visas after that time, others will have arrived in the UK through other routes such as family permits. The level of international recruitment has contributed to the rate of new starters increasing from 32% to 34% in the independent sector.

Oonagh Smyth, Skills for Care chief executive, said: ‘We want to thank everyone who works in social care for the work that they do supporting people to live the lives they choose every day. Social care is a very fulfilling career.

‘It is encouraging that the number of filled posts has gone up and the vacancy rate has come down. Nevertheless, the data shared by employers with our Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set still show significant pressure on them to find and keep people with the right values needed to work in care.

‘It’s positive that we now have a workforce plan for the NHS, which recognises how health and social care are dependent on each other.

‘Our data support the case for a social care workforce plan, including consideration of terms and conditions to support social care roles to be competitive in local labour markets. This will help to make sure that we have enough people with the right skills in the right places to support people who draw on care and support now, and for future generations.’

Images: Clem Onojeghuo and Shutterstock


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