Adult social care vacancy numbers fall slightly from all-time high but still top 150,000

Sector bodies say Skills for Care figures show impact of liberalising immigration rules but warn sector cannot rely on overseas staff as solution to workforce problems

Care worker putting a bandage on a man's arm in his home.
Photo: dglimages/Adobe Stock

Adult social care vacancy numbers have fallen slightly from an all-time high over the past year, but remain over 150,000, show figures released today.

The number of empty posts fell from 164,000 to 152,000 in the year to March 2023, revealed Skills for Care’s annual State of the adult social care sector and workforce in England report.

However, this remains well above the 110,000 recorded in March 2021.

The drop appears to have been driven significantly by the government’s decision to allow care providers to recruit care workers and home carers through skilled health and care visas from February 2022, by placing them on its shortage occupation list.

The state of the adult care workforce in England

  • The number of filled posts grew slightly, by 20,000 (1.2%), to 1,635,000, in 2022-23, following the first ever fall in post numbers in 2021-22.
  • This was driven by rises in the number of filled posts in care homes (up by 16,000) and home care agencies (up 10,000) in the independent sector, as there was a small drop in the number of filled posts in local authorities and among personal assistants.
  • 152,000 posts were vacant, amounting to 9.9% of roles, as of March 2023. This was a reduction from the 165,000 vacant posts (10.6% of the total) recorded in March 2022.
  • 70,000 people were recruited into direct care roles from abroad in 2022-23, up from 20,000 in 2021-22.
  • The turnover rate in the independent sector fell from 32% to 30% from 2021-22 to 2022-23, while the start rate rose from 32% to 34%.

Overseas recruitment drive

Skills for Care estimated that employers recruited 70,000 staff from abroad in 2022-23.

Sector bodies welcomed the fall in vacancy numbers but warned that social care could not rely on overseas recruitment to solve its workforce problems, amid widespread low pay and lack of opportunities for progression.

“International recruitment has been helping to fill some of the gaps, but it’s not a proper, long-term solution to the workforce challenge,” said the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ joint chief executive, Cathie Williams.

“We must as a matter of urgency develop a social care workforce plan that attracts people to make rewarding careers in social care.”

Williams pointed to the publication of a long-term workforce plan for the NHS last month, adding that “we can’t tackle the deep-rooted challenges in the care and health system as a whole without a social care plan too”.

The Local Government Association and NHS leaders issued a similar message.

Call for adult social care workforce plan

“A dedicated plan to promote, protect, support and develop careers in social care, alongside better pay, terms and conditions, would both strengthen the wellbeing and recognition of those who work in this essential vocation, as well as benefit the people who draw on care,” said the chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, David Fothergill.

NHS Providers director of policy and strategy Miriam Deakin added: “While the contribution of overseas workers is invaluable, the sector cannot rely on this in the long term. We desperately need better investment to recruit and retain UK staff to put the sector on a sustainable footing.

“The NHS long-term workforce plan promises to deliver more care at home. A social care workforce plan could ensure we have enough staff in place – with better pay and terms and conditions – to meet growing demand.”

Think-tanks the Health Foundation and Nuffield Trust also questioned the reliance on overseas recruitment and voiced the need for a long-term workforce plan.

“Relying on overseas workers and agency staff are not the long-term solutions that will put social care staffing on a sustainable footing,” said the trust’s deputy director of policy, Natasha Curry. “So, while it is welcome to see short-term gains, we urgently need to see proper investment in social care if we hope to make the sector an attractive place to work.”

Migrant staff ‘exploited and harassed’ – UNISON

UNISON, meanwhile, raised concerns about some “unscrupulous” employers’ treatment of migrant staff, whom it said had been “exploited and harassed”.

In a letter to care minister Helen Whately, the union cited cases of staff having to pay upfront fees of £15,000 to employers in return for being found housing, which was sometimes poor, having wages withheld to recoup the costs of training or accommodation or being subject to racist remarks.

“Many overseas care workers have paid extortionate fees to come to the UK,” said UNISON’s general secretary, Christina McAnea. “When they get here, many can’t believe what they’ve signed up for.

“Sold an expensive dream, the sad reality for many is a nightmare of terrible treatment, scant training, excessive hours and low pay. The government must hold care providers to account and put a stop to this ill-treatment.”


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