In recent years, the number of vacancies in the adult social care sector has increased dramatically. In October 2022, Skills for Care revealed that the number of vacant posts had increased by 1.79 million in 2021/22. Crucially, it also found that fewer positions had been filled and vacancies were increasing year-on-year.
Care sector trade organisations have warned that such shortages have affected, and will continue to affect, care recipients. In its workforce report from June 2022, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee reported that an additional 490,000 jobs would be needed in social care by the early part of the 2030s.
Here, Amy Stokes, a partner at Forbes Solicitors, explores the key factors resulting from such a lack of resource and how care leaders can manage risk when navigating the issue.
What has led to the social care staffing crisis?
A number of factors have created a perfect storm when it comes to staffing within the care sector. Net migration of EU nationals in the year to June 2022 was negative 51,000, a decrease of 63,000 people compared with year-end June 2021, when it was positive 12,000. This demonstrates the real impact of the end of Free Movement between the UK and the EU, coupled with Covid lockdowns, which saw a large number of EU nationals return to their country of origin and have now missed the deadline for applying to the EU settlement scheme to secure their status.
Lower comparable pay to other sectors, averaging £10.88 per hour, and workforce pressures are also taking their toll. In its inquiry on the health and social care workforce in July 2022, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee reported that the NHS had lost two million full-time equivalent days to sickness in August 2021. These included more than 560,000 days to anxiety, stress, depression, or another psychiatric illness.
A recent survey of NHS Trusts found that staff were struggling to afford to get to work, with 71% of trust managers describing this as having a “significant or severe impact” on resource. Faced with a cost-of-living crisis, many care employees are also leaving the sector for better paid jobs in other industries, such as hospitality or retail, and attrition rates are now at just 35%.
Why is retention such an issue?
Care is a risky, hands-on job that can be emotionally taxing in exchange for relatively low pay and unsociable hours. Of course, it can also be extremely rewarding, but a growing number of employees are seeking more flexibility. The sector is caught in a vicious cycle of mass resignations leading to increased workloads, hours, and pressures for remaining staff, which fuels poor retention.
Are agency workers the answer?
In short, no. Despite the growing reliance on agency workers – research by Care England found almost eight in 10 providers were using more, or significantly more, agency staff in 2022 – there are significant risks linked to agency staff.
Care providers have no control over the training they have received, which has been reported as being inadequate in some cases. The cost of agency workers also carries higher fees than if staff are recruited permanently, and there’s issues where agencies are sponsoring migrant workers (under the skilled worker route) and placing them into care homes – this is not permitted under immigration rules and therefore classed as illegal work.
What other options do care providers have?
Care home leaders must consider their recruitment strategy carefully to maximise resource and minimise risk. With recruitment costs on the up, it’s worth considering other ways to source talent – perhaps through social media and linking up with trade organisations. Overseas recruitment and obtaining a sponsor licence to take advantage of the Health and Care Worker visa is another option.
Retention is vital, so providers should regularly review the benefits they offer, as well as working hard to foster a positive workplace culture – this will also help attract future employees.
In order to provide the vulnerable in society with the quality of care they deserve, as well as protect the sector’s employees, the time for change is now.
For more information about comprehensive legal expertise that helps care for your organisation, visit the Forbes Solicitors team at UK Care Week 2023. Stand G84, UK Care Week, 22nd – 23rd March 2023, NEC, Birmingham. Or email: email@example.com