Social care workforce

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Part of Time to Think Differently

The size and skill-mix of the social care workforce has adjusted as demand for social care has increased and the requirements of users change. In the future, the number and type of roles within the sector may undergo a major transformation as users seek more personalised care.

Numbers working in adult social care

The numbers working in adult social care in England have grown significantly in recent years from an estimated 1.39 million in 2006/7 to 1.51 million in 2007/8 (1) and approximately 1.6 million in 2010 (2)

This is largely due to growing demand for adult social care, chiefly those employing carers through direct payments (cash payments given by local authorities enabling users to buy in care as needed), greater use of personal budgets and domiciliary care (care at home). The number of people employing carers through direct payments for adult and children’s services has risen rapidly from 7,613 in 2002 to 154,340 in 2010 and about 75,000 now hold personal budgets (2).

Three-quarters of adult social care jobs involve providing direct care and support, and in 2010 70 per cent were based in the independent sector. Between 2006/7 and 2009, 220,000 jobs were created in the independent sector while 20,000 jobs were lost from local authorities (1). 

Age of the social care workforce

Unlike the health care workforce, the overall age structure within the social care workforce is not ageing as there are growing numbers of staff in both the youngest and oldest age groups (3). The workforce is predominantly female (83 per cent in 2011). In England 19 per cent of employees are non-British. However, in London and south-east England this figure rises to between 26 and 51 per cent (2).

Demand for social care

Demand for social care is growing as the numbers of older people and of those with long-term conditions, learning disabilities and mental health conditions increase. 

Estimates predict at least 1.7 million more adults will require social care over the next 15 years, which could require an increase in the social care workforce to between 2.1 million and 3.1 million by 2025 (1,2).

At present, care providers rely heavily on migrant workers (particularly in London and the South-East), and almost three-quarters of these workers come from outside Europe. Increasing demand combined with tighter restrictions on non-EU migration could lead to staff shortages (4).

It is likely that social care roles will need to evolve in future years as high-quality care becomes more important to users and their requirements change.  Direct payments, personalised care and growing integration of health and social care require new ways of working and a more flexible workforce; however, the low status and pay of social care workers are risk factors in achieving the changes needed. Unlike social workers, care workers are not regulated, but government plans to introduce a code of conduct and minimum training standards may dispel calls for a formal regulatory regime.

Future scenarios for the social care workforce

The workforce projections below were based on projections of demand made in 2008 by the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) for the Department of Health. These in turn were based on government projections of the future population of England.

There are several scenarios.

  • Base Case scenario – assumes that patterns of service will continue at the pattern in 2008/9 while demand for services increases as anticipated
  • Maximising Choice scenario – all who wish to have  publicly funded social care provided in a highly personalised way in their own homes could do so
  • Contain and Community scenario – envisages that most care and support would be provided by a largely unpaid workforce of family carers and community volunteers. The paid workforce would focus on managing these resources and on frontline professionalised support for the whole family
  • Restricted Resources scenario – assumes that future resources for adult social care will be very limited. It envisages fewer but more stringent assessments and reviews, greater roles for community advice and guidance services and higher client-staff ratios in publicly funded residential care

Adult social care workforce jobs projections

Adult social care workforce jobs projections

Source: Skills for Care (2011). Report. The Size and Structure of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce in England 2011

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  1. Centre for Workforce Intelligence (2011). Report. Workforce risks and opportunities: Adult social care
  2. Centre for Workforce Intelligence (2011). Report. The Adult Social Care Workforce in England: Key facts
  3. Centre for Workforce Intelligence (2011). Report. Workforce Risks and Opportunities: Nursing and midwifery
  4. Association of American Medical Colleges Center for Workforce Studies (2008). Report. The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections through 2025