The labour shortage in England’s care sector is worse than at the start of the pandemic, according to industry body Skills for Care.
Its annual State of the adult social care sector and workforce in England report shows that nearly 7% of roles in adult social care were vacant in 2020/21, the equivalent of 105,000 vacancies being advertised on an average day.
The vacancy rate has been above 6% consistently for the past six years, it said.
Retention is an even more pressing problem, with average turnover at 28.5% for the same period for directly employed staff. This decreased briefly during the pandemic, but since March 2021 employers report worsening problems trying to hold on to staff.
Furthermore, levels of staff sickness nearly doubled over the course of the pandemic. An average of 9.5 days per worker were lost to sickness in 2020/21, compared to 5.1 days before the pandemic.
Skills for Care said that vacancy rates have been steadily rising since May 2021, when lockdown restrictions eased. As of August 2021, vacancy rates went back to pre-pandemic levels, according to its research.
The sector has also had to deal with the introduction of compulsory vaccinations for frontline staff, which has presented some challenges in terms of recruitment.
CEO Oonagh Smith said the report was a “stark reminder” that the sector continued to deal with recruitment challenges.
She said it was important to “properly reward and value care workers for their high skill levels and dedication”, and anticipated measures to this end in the government’s forthcoming white paper on adult social care, expected later this year.
“Social care is fundamental infrastructure in our communities, it allows people in our families, our friends and people in our communities to be supported to live the lives they choose.,” she said. “And the workforce in social care are the people that provide that support every day, in every single community.
“The workforce is so important but we know from speaking to employers that the pandemic has had a huge impact on people working in social care. The rich data from this authoritative annual report confirms this pressure, as well as showing us longer term trends in adult social care.”
The number of jobs available in adult social care rose by 2.8%, or 45,000 jobs, in 2020/21. Most of this increase was in domiciliary care, which accounted for 40,000 of those roles.
Care home challenges
This marks a wider shift from care home working to at-home services, according to Skills for Care. Occupancy rates in care homes fell during the pandemic from 86% pre-Covid to 77% in March this year.
Skills for Care’s report – based on data from a representative sample of England’s 1.54 million care workers – also found that a fifth (21%) of employees in the sector are from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. Eighty-two percent are female, and 27% over the age of 55.
The organisation’s forecasts show that if the adult social care workforce grows proportionally to the projected number of people aged 65 and over between 2020 and 2035, 490,000 extra jobs would be required by 2035.
Employers with high levels of learning and development or other “favourable workforce metrics” were more likely to have lower staff turnover and have better staff outcomes, it found.
A report by Community Integrated Care in July found that frontline social care roles are undervalued by 39%, or £7,000 a year, compared to peers in equivalent positions in other publicly funded organisations.