Social care workforce departures show ‘leaky bucket which needs urgent repair’

Skills for Care said it is going to work with other organisations to come up with a long-term workforce plan for social care (Alamy/PA)
Skills for Care said it is going to work with other organisations to come up with a long-term workforce plan for social care (Alamy/PA)

Almost 400,000 people left their jobs in social care in the year to March, with around of third of these exiting the sector altogether, according to a detailed annual report on the workforce which reveals a “leaky bucket” on staffing.

Skills for Care, which is the strategic workforce development and planning body for adult social care in England, said its projections suggest that in just over a decade from now, a quarter more posts in the sector will be needed.

In its annual State of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce in England report, published on Thursday, it said that equates to some 440,000 posts needed to keep in line with the projected number of people aged 65 and over in the population by 2035.

Skills for Care said it is working with “a wide range of organisations and people who have a stake in social care” to develop a workforce strategy for the sector identifying what is needed over the next 15 years, complementing the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan which was published earlier this year.

The organisation said the plan will aim to ensure the sector has enough of the right people with the right skills and will help employers and commissioners with their workforce planning.

Among its key findings were that an estimated 70,000 people arrived in the UK and started direct care-providing roles in the independent sector in the year to March, up from 20,000 the previous year.

The report noted that this was a “substantial increase in international recruitment” and came as employers relied more on international recruitment since care workers were placed on the Shortage Occupation List in February 2022.

It also said while care worker pay has increased at a faster rate since the introduction of the national living wage, there is very little difference in pay depending on experience.

On average, care workers with five or more years of experience in the sector were paid just six pence (0.6%) more per hour than care workers with less than one year of experience, the report said.

Adult social care is estimated to bring £55.7 billion per year to the economy in England, up by 8.5% from 2021/22, and greater than the economic contribution of the accommodation and food service industries, Skills for Care said.

Its report stated: “Far from adult social care being a drain on resources, we are key to the economies of local communities and in economically deprived areas.”

A report from Skills for Care in July had already noted that the workforce grew by 1% between April 2022 and March 2023, after shrinking for the first time on record the previous year, and that the vacancy rate fell to 9.9% – around 152,000 vacancies on any given day – from 10.6% the previous year.

Its latest report stated that the turnover rate across the sector was 28.3%, down slightly from 28.9% the previous year – meaning that around 390,000 people left their jobs.

Around a third of those people left the sector entirely.

In the latest financial year, the proportion of men working in the sector increased for the first time on record from 18% to 19%.

Just 8% of the workforce was aged under 25 – compared with 12% of the economically active population.

The report comes in the same week as the Government launched a recruitment campaign for the third year in a bid to help build the “vital workforce”.

Skills for Care chief executive Oonagh Smyth welcomed the “green shoots for the sector” with the workforce having grown slightly and the vacancy rate down.

“But the challenges haven’t gone away,” she added.

“In particular, the fact that 390,000 people left their jobs in 2022/23 and around a third of them left the sector altogether shows that we have a leaky bucket that we urgently need to repair.

“We can’t simply recruit our way out of our retention challenges. So, we need a comprehensive workforce strategy to ensure we can both attract and keep enough people with the right skills to support everyone who draws on care and support – and all of us who will draw on care and support in the future.”

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers which represents trusts, welcomed the pledge to develop a new workforce strategy but said it must be accompanied “by sustainable Government investment and support to ensure the sector can not only recruit but keep much-needed staff”.

Both Care England, a representative body for independent adult social care providers, and the Health Foundation charity said while international recruitment is filling staff gaps, a new approach is needed.

Beverley Tarka, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), said international recruitment has been “a sticking plaster to the bigger problems of poor pay and working conditions” in the sector and called on the next government to commit to a “long-term, fully funded plan for social care”.

A Government spokesperson insisted the “action we’ve taken is growing the social care workforce and filling vacancies, meaning there is more capacity in the social care system than last year” and said it is investing almost £2 billion over two years to help councils support the workforce.