Updated 25 July 2022
The number of job vacancies in adult social care in England rose by 52% last year, while the number of filled posts dropped for the first time since records began, official figures show.
There were 165,000 vacant posts as of March 2022, up 55,000 on the year before, and representing just under 10% of roles, found Skills for Care’s latest analysis of the size and structure of the workforce.
The workforce development body said the increase in vacancies was driven by employers’ recruitment and retention difficulties, not falling demand for care, as the rise in empty posts was matched by a 50,000 fall in the number of filled roles, from 1,670,000 to 1,620,000 (1.62m).
This brings to an end a year-on-year rise in the size of the workforce since records began in 2012-13, when there were 1.5m filled roles in the sector.
And the situation appears to have deteriorated further since March, with vacancies rising from 9.9% to 10.3% in May, with no growth in filled posts, according to separate Skills for Care figures.
The data showed that the drop in filled posts was concentrated in the independent sector (down 45,000) and among direct payment recipients who employed their own staff (down 10,000). Within residential care homes, there was a drop of 13,000 filled posts, with a 15,000 fall in nursing homes and a 19,000 reduction in domiciliary care.
Increasing pay gap
Factors cited for the trend include workforce attrition caused by the immense challenges of working through the pandemic, a drop in immigration from Europe following Brexit, social care being overtaken, in terms of pay, by other low-paid sectors, such as retail, and the widening gap in remuneration between equivalent roles in social care and the NHS, such as nursing.
The consequences of the workforce gaps include increased costs for local authorities, said the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, following its annual spring survey, also released this week. Directors said pay for entry-level home care staff needed to increase to £12.77 per hour, £3.27 above the current national living wage that many of them are paid, to minimise recruitment difficulties.
In a separate report released on July 25, MPs called for social care workers to be given “parity of esteem” with NHS colleagues, including through increased pay – delivered through a £7bn annual boost in social care funding by 2023-24.
The report from the health and social care select committee said that social care providers were “consistently being outbid by the retail and hospitality sectors” on pay.
However, it said that action on pay would not be sufficient to tackle recruitment and retention in social care, with a long-term strategy needed that encompassed pay progression and improved learning and development.
Recruitment and retention challenges
In response to its findings, Skills for Care chief executive officer Oonagh Smyth pointed to the challenges of recruiting sufficient staff to meet the growing need for care over coming years, driven by an ageing population and many more people experiencing multiple long-term conditions.
“This highlights the recruitment and retention challenges which we know social care employers are facing right now and is not a decrease in demand for care services,” she said. “In fact, our forecast data tells us that we will need a 27% increase in posts in social care by 2035 to continue to maintain the current levels of care and support to people who will need it in the future.”
Smyth added: “Adult social care workers are passionate and skilled professionals working across complex roles, something which was ever more evident through the peak of the pandemic. Skills for Care is working hard with all our partners to raise the profile of social care in communities and the opportunities available to people with the right qualities to build a rewarding, lifelong career in adult social care.”