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Nearly half UK care home workers leave within a year, finds report

Volume of care workers on zero hour contracts and lack of career progression in sector has led to ‘severe challenges in maintaining staffing levels’, report warns

May Bulman
Friday 31 March 2017 01:34 BST
Report revealed that half of care workers are on zero hour contracts, compared with three per cent of national work force
Report revealed that half of care workers are on zero hour contracts, compared with three per cent of national work force

Nearly half of care workers leave the job within a year, a report has found, prompting calls for the Government to urgently address serious threats to social care provision.

A damning study by the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee found that half of care workers (48 per cent) leave within a year of starting, while the annual turnover rate for nurses working in social care stands at 36 per cent – meaning the sector is having to replace more than a third of nurses each year.

In 2015, seven per cent of roles (84,000 jobs) were vacant, pointing to “severe challenges in maintaining staffing levels”, amid warnings that another 275,000 people will be needed to work in the sector by 2025.

In an indication of “acute financial threats” faced by care workers, the report revealed that half of care workers are on zero hour contracts, compared with three per cent of national work force, while the median hourly pay for a care worker stands at just £7.40.

Concerns were also raised over the lack of training provided to care workers, with the report finding nearly one in four (24 per cent) administer medication they are not trained to do, and 27 per cent had no dementia training.

One former care worker, who worked in a care home on a zero hour contract for a year, told The Independent the work was "stressful" and that she got "very little training", adding that because of the low pay and long hours, some people “cut corners”.

“The pay was so low, particularly for what you’re expected to do. We received minimum wage, £7.20 an hour I think,” said the woman, who asked not to be named.

“I was basically thrown into the deep end with very little training. I had a couple of days of ‘observing’ but then I was expected to just do whatever the other employees were doing. I didn’t feel supported at all and there was far too much to do with just two carers on the floor.

“I mostly worked with people from EU countries like Romania and Poland, and many of these people would work five 12-hour shifts a week, mainly to support their families. I was shocked at how much they worked for so little – it’s exhausting work.

“I felt among some staff there was resentment if the managers and people earning crazy amounts while they worked so hard and got barely anything. For some staff... this led to their work becoming sloppy and cutting corners.

“I know I couldn't do it long term. It was tiring, stressful and you don't see the reward in money.”

In a sign of the pressures placed on staff in the sector, figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed earlier this month that care workers in the UK face a suicide risk that is almost twice the national average.

The DLG Committee warned in the report that unless significant extra funds were provided in the short and medium terms, the social care system would be “unable to cope with the demands placed upon it”, adding that while extra funding alone would not solve the problems, the other steps suggested would “simply fail” without it.

While Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in his budget earlier this month that an additional £2bn would be provided to adult social care over the next three years, the Committee said this fell short of the amount required to close the social care funding gap, and recommended an urgent review of how to fund social care in the long-term.

Clive Betts, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said care providers were facing "acute threats" financially, as well as a lack of training and inadequate career opportunities within the sector, adding that they are “not rewarded” for the responsibilities they take on.

“Adult care workers are to often seen as people who wheel a trolley around and make the tea for people, but it’s a lot more than that,” Mr Betts told The Independent.

“When you think people have a responsibility to administer medication, to ensure people have a proper bath or a shower, even just helping them get up and have a proper meal. It’s a real responsibility and people are not rewarded for it.

“There should be some sort of formal, higher qualification in social care and then the possibility of moving onto a nursing qualification. That could all be there for people as a career possibility.”

He added: “During our inquiry we heard mounting concerns about the serious impact which inadequate funding is having both on the quality and on the level of care which people receive. We heard compelling evidence of acute threats to care providers’ financial viability and an increasing reliance on unpaid carers.

“A long-term fix, working on a cross-party basis and involving the public and social care sector, is urgently necessary to meet the ever-increasing demographic pressures on the system.

“This review must be ambitious and consider a wide range of potential funding sources, looking again at age-related expenditure, options such as a hypothecated tax for social care, a compulsory insurance scheme, and differences in how individuals contribute.”

Responding to the findings in the report, Richard Humphries, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund, an independent charity working to improve health and health care in England, said: "While the extra money announced in the recent Budget was welcome and will make a short-term difference, it does not provide a long-term solution.

"This means it is vital that the Green Paper due later this year sets out a radical vision for the future of social care and a sustainable funding settlement.

"Crucially, the government must follow through by implementing the long-term reforms that are so badly needed. Too many previous governments have said the right things but then failed to deliver – this government must have the courage to break the mould.”

Urging that the issue "cannot be ignored", David Pearson, Honorary Treasurer of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), said: “The report highlights the worrying consequences of the pressures on adult social care, and makes a compelling case for immediate extra funding.

“Social care needs to be treated as a national priority to ensure thousands of elderly and disabled people and their families get the personal and dignified care they deserve.

“Not only are people living longer and with increasingly complex needs, care workforce challenges, including the welcome national living wage and retention of staff, are creating further pressures - the need to future-proof the social care system cannot be ignored.”

The CLG Committee held eight evidence sessions over four months for its full Adult Social Care inquiry into the financial sustainability of local authority social care and the quality of care provided, which has questioned a range of witnesses from carers and people who receive local authority funded social care to local authorities, care providers and NHS representatives.

When approached for a comment, a Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the challenges councils face in delivering social care and the need for a long-term sustainable solution. That’s why we’re giving councils an extra £2bn to help deliver these services, taking the total to £9.25 billion over the remainder of this Parliament.

“It’s also why we’re committed to having a fair and more sustainable way of funding adult social care for the future, especially given people are living longer. We’ll be setting out our proposals in a forthcoming green paper.”

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