A social care workforce fit for the future

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Social care worker

With 1.52 million workers and an adult care workforce expected to grow by 32% by 2035, the social care sector plays a significant role in the UK labour market. But the sector is characterised by high levels of job insecurity and staff turnover. There are estimated to be 112,000 vacancies in the sector at any one time and recent Work Foundation analysis found that the introduction of the new immigration system could see significant shortages in labour supply for the sector.

To help address workforce challenges in the adult social care sector, the Work Foundation has published a new guide in partnership with Totaljobs today. We set out to understand how the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted care workers and the public’s perceptions of care work. Our research found that attitudes towards social care and the prospect of working in the sector have improved since the pandemic, and we set out a number of steps that care providers and employers in the adult social care sector can take to ensure they attract, retain and develop a thriving workforce.

While the pandemic has resulted in the social care workforce facing additional pressures, the vital contribution that social care workers play within our society has been brought to the fore. Our research suggests that the sentiment behind the widespread recognition of frontline key workers is filtering into how people perceive social care. More than half of jobseekers in other sectors now take a more positive view of care.

Young people in particular indicated that the proposition of working in social care is now more appealing. Nearly a third of jobseekers would consider a role in care, and among those, 73% of those aged 16-25 reported they would be likely to do so soon.

Young people are in stark need of employment opportunities. Recent labour market data shows that young people make up 60% of the fall in unemployment observed since the onset of the pandemic. Young people have been disproportionately affected by the jobs crisis, and not only has social care been resilient to the economic uncertainty causing other sectors to contract over the past year, it is also projected to expand significantly over the long term due to growing demand for care.

However, to maximise the potential of this renewed interest in the sector, providers, sector bodies and Government will need to develop a comprehensive approach to improving conditions and support available for care workers.

Social care workers are often on low pay, unfilled vacancies can lead to understaffing and the use of zero hours contracts in parts of the sector enhance insecurity for workers. We also know from other research that there are complex, longstanding issues with how care is funded that impact the sectors’ ability to pay workers competitively, resulting in the high turnover and vacancy rates. The Health Foundation estimate a funding gap of £1.9bn by 2023/2024 just to meet demand for care in England, ballooning to £8.6bn if we are to meet demand, improve access to care and pay more for care. Successive governments have committed to address these problems, but progress is yet to be made. Government, along with social care sector bodies and regulators, needs to develop comprehensive strategies to address workforce challenges in tandem with increasing funding.

It’s paramount that now that social care work is seen by a greater number of people as an attractive career, the UK Government must make good on Boris Johnson’s promise made nearly two years ago to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all” through reforms that take a long-term view to supporting this integral sector.

In the meantime, care providers can play a role in increasing attraction to the sector, and improving working conditions and progression opportunities for care workers. Creating more work experience opportunities for young people will help a new generation of workers better understand the realities of working in care. Widely adopting values-based recruitment approaches can ensure those joining the sector are a good fit and will be more likely to stay. Providers should also seek to embed staff wellbeing surveys in support of wider wellbeing strategies and mental health support. Finally, offering workers choices of benefits and rewards may go a long way toward helping them feel valued. Taken in sum, these steps would actively encourage recruitment into care and provide a boost to the sector’s workforce. 


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