The government is no longer funding a scheme to promote racial equality in local authorities’ social care workforces.
The news comes 18 months after the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) committed to rolling out the social care workforce race equality standard (SC-WRES) beyond the 18 councils that have been testing the scheme in 2021.
The decision is tied to DHSC’s prioritisation of adult social care policy on “making sure that people have access to the right care, in the right place, at the right time”, leading to it to review spending on other areas earlier this year.
The SC-WRES work is now being taken on by workforce development body Skills for Care, which the DHSC had previously funded to deliver the scheme but is now resourcing the project from its own coffers.
Though most of Skills for Care’s income – which was £38.5m in 2021-22 – comes from government contracts to deliver several national social care workforce programmes, it is a charity.
By contrast, the health’s service’s WRES, on which social care’s is based, is funded, to the tune of £1m a year by its main statutory body, NHS England, itself resourced by the DHSC. The health WRES is also mandatory for all NHS commissioners and providers.
What is the social care WRES?
The WRES measures councils against nine metrics designed to capture the experience of directly employed black, Asian and minority ethnic staff in their children’s and adults’ social care departments, when compared with white staff. These are:
- The percentage of minority ethnic staff within each pay band compared with white staff.
- The relative likelihood of minority ethnic staff being appointed from a shortlist in the previous 12 months.
- The relative likelihood of minority ethnic staff entering the formal disciplinary process.
- The relative likelihood of minority ethnic regulated professionals entering the fitness to practise process in the previous 12 months.
- The relative likelihood of minority ethnic staff accessing funded, non-mandatory CPD in the previous 12 months.
- The relative likelihood of minority ethnic staff experiencing harassment, bullying or abuse from people who use social care, relatives or the public in the previous 12 months.
- The relative likelihood of minority ethnic staff experiencing harassment, bulling or abuse from colleagues or managers in the previous 12 months.
- The relative likelihood of minority ethnic staff leaving the organisation in the previous 12 months.
- The percentage of minority ethnic staff in senior management roles compared with white staff.
Speeding up progress towards race equality
The SC-WRES was announced in October 2020 by the DHSC’s then interim chief social workers for adults, Mark Harvey and Fran Leddra, so councils could better understand the experiences of their minority ethnic staff and make faster progress towards race equality in the workplace.
It then awarded Skills for Care the contract to collect and analyse data from the scheme, with the workforce development body receiving £75,000 from the DHSC’s Office of the Chief Social Worker in 2021-22 to do so.
Pledge to roll out WRES
In December 2021, in its adult social care white paper, the DHSC committed itself to “expanding the rollout” of the SC-WRES to help ensure “staff from ethnic minority backgrounds are treated equally, feel included and valued, their health and wellbeing are prioritised and they have access to culturally appropriate support”.
The SC-WRES’s test phase finished in March 2022, though the pilot local authorities continued working on the project in 2022-23, developing action plans in response to the data they collected in 2021-22.
Though it wasn’t funded by DHSC for the SC-WRES in 2022-23, Skills for Care said it continued to work on the programme and analyse data during this time.
In July 2022, the House of Commons’ health and social care select committee urged the DHSC to expand the scheme to independent providers, who employ the vast majority of social care staff, in a report on improving workforce training, recruitment and retention.
In its response to the committee, published in April 2023, the DHSC rejected this proposal but said it was “currently reviewing the lessons from the initial roll-out of the SCWRES”. This will result in a report on the 2021-22 pilot, due out shortly.
Social care workforce funding cut
However, the DHSC’s follow-up to its 2021 white paper, also published in April 2023 and setting out its key policy priorities, contained no mention of the SC-WRES. At the same time, the department cut its committed funding, under the white paper, for supporting and developing the adult social care workforce up to 2025 from £500m to £250m, though this may be added to in future.
Skills for Care said it was taking the programme forward without DHSC funding and wanted to work with the sector to develop “a sustainable model to ensure the workplace race equality standard continues to be most effective for the workforce”.
It has just launched a callout for local authorities beyond the 18 pilots to take part in the next round of SC-WRES data collection, from 1 September to mid-October 2023.
Skills for Care taking responsibility for WRES
“Skills for Care remains committed to SC-WRES as a tool for measuring improvements in the workforce in the respect of the experiences of Black and minoritised ethnic staff,” said a spokesperson for the workforce development body.
“We want to support and empower social care leaders, employers, and the wider workforce and ensure the workforce is treated equally, feels included and valued, and is supported to stay well and pursue their careers in social care.”
The spokesperson added: “SC-WRES supports organisations to have conversations about how they can embed diversity, as well as address and evidence their own progress, and dismantle issues and blockages. The SC-WRES has nine metrics that help us examine inequality. It gives a sense of where action is needed, supports the development of action plans, and the implementation of solutions. Race equality needs to be at the heart of policies and practice.”
A DHSC spokesperson said: “All local authorities and care providers should consider how to ensure staff from ethnic minorities are treated equally, feel included and valued, their health and wellbeing are prioritised, and have access to culturally appropriate support.
“We are continuing to fund Skills for Care in 2023-24 to deliver a wide range of activities to support social care employers and the sector’s vital workforce. This includes initiatives to support recruitment and retention of care staff and funding to support the workforce to access high-quality training to further their careers.”