Social care ‘on its knees’ as vacancies hit record high

Social care risks losing staff to supermarkets where they can earn higher wages, think tanks warn

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Wednesday 12 October 2022 17:21 BST
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<p>One in five workers in residential care services were living in poverty in 2020 </p>

One in five workers in residential care services were living in poverty in 2020

Social care services face an “absolute crisis” over record vacancies as unfilled jobs have risen by more than 50 per cent in a year, a new analysis reveals.

New data on social care workers shows at least 165,000 vacancies across adult social care providers at the end of 2021-22.

This is the highest on record according to the charity Skills for Care, which has collected the data since 2012.

Leading think tanks have warned the figures to point to the “absolute crisis” facing social care with the “system on its knees”.

The annual report by Skills for Care also predicts social care services will need an extra 480,000 workers by 2035 to meet the demand but could be set to lose 430,000 staff to retirement over the next decade.

For the first time ever Skills for Care recorded a fall in the number of people working across adult social care.

Simon Bottery, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said the report was evidence “of the absolute crisis social care faces when trying to recruit staff, a crisis that has profound consequences for people needing care”.

He added: “A key reason for that is pay, which continues to lag behind other sectors including retail and hospitality, as well as similar roles in the NHS. Our recent analysis found that nearly 400,000 care workers would be better paid to work in most supermarkets.

“A sustained lack of funding has left us with an adult social care system that is failing the people who rely on it, as well as the people who work in it... As staff shortages continue to heap unsustainable pressure on an already stretched workforce, we risk spiralling into a vicious circle that makes it ever harder to fill these vacancies.”

The news comes after the new health secretary, Therese Coffey, announced £500 million from existing funds for health and social care would be made available to the latter to support patient discharges from the hospital this winter.

However, Mr Bottery warned social care is more than a “release valve” for NHS pressures and that short-term funding would not help tackle the sector’s problems.

Skills for Care warned that pay and the quality of jobs will need to be improved as it found that 24 per cent of workers were on zero-hour contracts.

According to the report, recruitment has been for providers who are competing with other sectors over pay rates.

The average hourly rate for a care worker in the sector was £9.50 in 2021-22, which is an increase of £2.57 since 2012-13 but still puts the pay for these staff among the lowest in the country.

The vacancy rate in adult social care, at 10 per cent, is far higher than the NHS, which sits at 7.9 per cent.

Hugh Alderwick, director of policy at the Health Foundation, said the report was yet another signal of a social care system on its knees”.

He said: “These problems reflect political choices. Sustained underfunding by central government has contributed to unacceptable pay and conditions for people working in the sector, leaving care providers struggling to compete with other employers.

His warning comes as the Health Foundation has found that even before the cost of living crisis hit, one in five residential care workers were living in poverty in 2020.

The report, also published today, found that 20 per cent of workers in residential care services received universal credit and legacy benefits between 2017 to 2020, compared to 10 per cent of all other workers.

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