A new pay and rewards structure for social care that provides parity with the NHS and is mandatory for employers and commissioners should be implemented within the current financial year, government advisers have said.
In a recommendation labelled “top priority”, the Social Care Taskforce Workforce Advisory Group said a review into pay and conditions involving employers, commissioners and employees should be instigated within three months and its outcomes implemented in 2020-21 and fully funded by government.
The group, whose members included provider, union, regulator and local government representatives, was one of eight advisory groups established to explore specific areas of social care and feed into the final report of the government-commissioned the Social Care Sector COVID-19 Support Taskforce, published earlier this month.
Though the taskforce did not make the urgent pay review one of its explicit recommendations, it said the proposal – which it saw as a “longer-term piece of work” – was “strongly supported” by taskforce members and “would be an important initiative to ensure the resilience of the sector and the wellbeing of the workforce in the future”.
However, the idea was not taken up in the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) adult social care winter plan, which was published alongside the taskforce report and in response to it, though a DHSC source said recommendations not taken up in the plan would be “used to shape our future thinking”
‘Exceptional’ response that is not sustainable
The workforce advisory group said the social care workforce had responded “in an exceptional way” to Covid-19.
Its report said: “They have worked additional hours, taken on new tasks, worked directly with people who are Covid-19 positive and take on specialist roles. This position is not sustainable, and this crisis borne response shouldn’t become an expected part of the norm of social care workforce delivery without training and infrastructure support to ensure they remain and feel that their new skills are recognised.”
It said the situation created risks of burnout for staff and managers alike, and that the loss of staff from the workforce, in the context of a second wave of Covid-19, would be “disastrous”.
The report said the urgency of the proposed review of pay and rewards was strongly supported by the advisory group, adding: “We also note the risk of high levels of unemployment having a perverse incentive of eroding the existing terms and conditions available within social care.”
Winter capacity risk
The taskforce’s overarching report picked up on these themes, saying “overall terms and conditions have set the context for long-term recruitment and retention problems”, including turnover rates of 40% for care worker roles, and 40% of home care staff being covered by zero-hours contracts.
It added: “Levels of absence, vacancies and turnover are the fragile workforce backdrop to the pandemic and a major risk in the second half of the year. These issues not only lead to a higher risk of infection, but also mean that capacity is at greater risk of being insufficient to respond to need during the height of the winter.”
The key measure to support the workforce in the winter plan is the extension of the infection control fund, from now until March 2021, to enable care home providers to pay staff their normal wages when self-isolating and have enough staff to limit movement between homes.
The DHSC also accepted recommendations from the taskforce to set up a short-term workforce planning group to address capacity issues during the winter, and review the availability of wellbeing support for care staff.
The need for improved support for staff mental and physical was another top priority set out by the advisory group, which it said should involve investment in occupational health, mental health first-aid and bereavement support services.
Plan ‘very light on the workforce’
However, Vic Rayner, executive director of the National Care Forum and co-chair of the workforce advisory group, said she felt the winter plan was “very light in relation to the social care workforce”.
“The primary offer to the majority of the workforce consists of apps and guidance which is no substitute for the serious call for a bespoke occupational health scheme to support the workforce called for in the workforce advisory group recommendations.
“The workforce is our most valuable asset – and the plan ignores or minimises that fact at all of our peril,” Rayner said.
Meanwhile, James Bullion, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), said the plan was a welcome start, but there was much more to do.
“It is good to see the contribution of the 1.5 million people who provide care and support to older and disabled people being recognised.
“It is vital that they are also rewarded and that money which is being given to providers makes its way into the pay packets of care staff and acts as an incentive for them to stay with us over the winter and beyond,” he said.