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Skills for Care to develop workforce strategy for adult social care – as new report shows a year of ‘green shoots’ and ongoing challenges

Skills for Care has published its annual State of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce in England report – and announced plans to develop a new and comprehensive workforce strategy for adult social care. 

The report covers the year from April 2022 to March 2023, which saw some improvements in workforce capacity – largely driven by an increase in international recruitment – including more posts being filled, fewer vacancies and less turnover. 

The report also highlights ongoing trends for the sector, including 390,000 people leaving their jobs – with around a third of them leaving the sector altogether. 

This year’s report gives brand new insight into what works when it comes to keeping people working in adult social care. It identifies five factors that are key to retaining staff. They are: 

 

    • being paid more than the minimum wage 

    • not being on a zero-hours contract 

    • being able to work full-time 

    • being able to access training 

    • having a relevant qualification. 

Where none of these factors apply, care workers are more than twice as likely to leave their jobs than when all five factors apply – a 48.7% turnover rate compared with 20.6%. 

While this analysis looked at the independent sector, the importance of good quality roles, development and stability will also be important for people employed by local authorities. These include the 23,500 social workers or 3,800 occupational therapists who work in social care and the broader commissioning workforce, all of whom are an essential part of how social care functions.  

Other key findings in the report include: 

 

    • The workforce grew by 1% between April 2022 and March 2023 after shrinking for the first time on record the previous year. 

    • The vacancy rate fell to 9.9% – around 152,000 vacancies on any given day – from 10.6% the previous year. 

    • Monthly tracking since March suggests that the vacancy rate has continued to fall, and in August was 8.4% among independent sector care providers. In independent sector care homes, the vacancy rate fell to 5.1% in August, which was below pre-pandemic levels (5.5% in 2019/20). 

    • The turnover rate across the sector was 28.3% in 2022/23 – down slightly from 28.9% the previous year. This means around 390,000 people left their jobs. Around a third of them left the sector altogether. 

    • Adult social care added £55.7 billion per annum to the economy in England (up 8.5% from 2021/22) – which is more than the accommodation and food service industries. 

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

    • For the first time on record, the proportion of men working in the sector increased from 18% to 19%. 

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

    • The number of registered nurse filled posts increased by 2% in 2022/23 to 33,000. 

    • Between March 2022 and March 2023, an estimated 70,000 people arrived in the UK and started direct care providing roles in the independent sector. 

    • Projections show that we will need 25% more posts (440,000) by 2035 if the number of adult social care posts grows proportionally to the projected number of people aged 65 and over in the population.   

In response to those trends, Skills for Care, as the strategic workforce development body for adult social care in England, will be working with a wide range of organisations and people who have a stake in social care, to develop a workforce strategy.  

The strategy will identify the social care workforce needed over the next 15 years and set out a plan for ensuring the sector has enough of the right people with the right skills. It will help employers and commissioners with workforce planning, support the Government’s reform agenda and complement the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan covering the same period, which was published earlier this year. 

Skills for Care CEO, Oonagh Smyth, said:

“It’s good to see green shoots for the sector and workforce in our latest report – which is testament to the hard work that’s gone into tackling the recruitment and retention challenges we face. But the challenges haven’t gone away. 

“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.  

“We’ll be using the expertise, data, insights and relationships we have developed over the last 20 years to develop that strategy. Given the rich diversity of the sector, any strategy will only be successful if it’s created by the many organisations and people that have a stake in the future of social care, so we’ll be working with a wide range of partners who are willing to embrace and drive the changes we need. 

“As always, we are grateful to all the employers who contribute their data to give us a very clear picture of what is happening in our sector, and what needs to happen to fully meet the needs of people who draw on care and support in our communities.” 

Sir David Pearson, who is co-chairing the steering group for the strategy with Oonagh Smyth, said:

“There is nothing more important in helping to provide high-quality care and support in this country than in ensuring we have in place a confident, capable and caring workforce, now and in the future. 

“Millions of people depend on over 1.5 million social care workers every day. It is a huge privilege to help lead the work with Skills for Care in developing a comprehensive workforce strategy to build on the government reforms and the work of local government and social care providers in local services. 

“We want to make sure that the voices of all parties, particularly those who have experience of social care services, are driving this strategy.” 

Support for Skills for Care’s workforce strategy plans 

Rob Webster, CEO of NHS West Yorkshire Integrated Care Board, said: “If you want to integrate care, you have to integrate the workforce. Having a long-term plan for staffing in social care is an essential part of the work that we need to do together to create the conditions for us to be successful.  There are many fantastic careers in social care and by working together we can make sure that we have the people to fill them.”   

CEO of the Homecare Association, Dr Jane Townson OBE said: “The Homecare Association has long called for an adult social care workforce strategy and 10-year workforce plan, aligned with the NHS People Plan. We are therefore delighted that Skills for Care is starting on this important work.  

“Demand for homecare is rising. Complexity of need is increasing. We must ensure we grow and develop the homecare workforce to meet changing needs. This includes addressing opportunities and challenges.  

“The homecare workforce is large and diverse. According to Skills for Care, there were 1.635 million filled posts in adult social care in England in 2022/23, of which 700,000 were in homecare. Roles include care workers, managers, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, and other support staff.  

“Many homecare workers love their roles and the opportunity to improve lives. We need to improve their working lives too. They need greater security of hours and income; higher pay; better working conditions; opportunities for training and career progression; and manageable workloads. 

“We look forward to working with Skills for Care and other stakeholders to shape and implement a workforce strategy. Our collective aim is to ensure a sustainable, diverse, and skilled social care workforce for the future.” 

Simon Bottery, Senior Fellow, Social Care at The King’s Fund said: “Millions of people across the country rely on the 1.5 million social care staff supporting them to live independent and fulfilling lives. A comprehensive plan for that workforce is vital to help set a direction for recruiting and retaining staff and making social care a more rewarding and attractive career choice. That’s why are delighted to be working with Skills for Care and other organisations to help tackle the challenges across the adult social care sector by developing a long-term workforce strategy.” 

Dr Clenton Farquharson CBE, Chair of Think Local Act Personal, said: “I commend the efforts of Skills for Care to develop and advance the workforce strategy for adult social care, recognising that investing in and supporting the workforce is a key part of our shared commitment to improve the quality of care and support for those of us who draw upon it, so that everyone can flourish and do more of what matters to them, now and in the future.”  

The report can be downloaded here.

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