Social care 360: workforce and carers

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9. Growth in the number of jobs has slowed

Jobs growth is almost at a standstill and vacancies are harder to fill

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Though adult social care remains a large and important employment sector in England, it is not continuing to grow quickly. According to Skills for Care (on whose report this section is based), in 2018, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs increased by just 0.5 per cent to 1.13 million (around a further 5,000 jobs). This continues a trend that has seen jobs growth in the sector stall since 2014. 

The reasons for this are unclear. Demand for social care – if measured by the number of people approaching local authorities for help – has risen and, while more of these people are being turned down for publicly funded social care (see indicator 2), it might be expected that they would instead buy their care privately, creating an equivalent number of jobs to those ‘lost’ in publicly funded care. However, the very small growth in overall jobs in the sector and the decline in care home and nursing home beds does not suggest that this is happening, though we would need to understand whether there has been compensating growth in self-funded home care to be more certain.

It may be that many of those who are ineligible for publicly funded care are either relying on unpaid family carers or going without care. However, there are other possibilities. For example, it is possible that staffing ratios have increased – that, on average, workers are caring for more people. Since we have no official data on issues such as staffing ratios in care homes, average visit lengths for home care workers or indeed the overall size of the home care market, it is impossible to say.

Part of the reason for the slowdown in jobs growth is the increasing difficulty in filling posts, with the number of vacant posts now standing at 122,000 (7.8 per cent). This is an increase from a vacancy rate of 5.5 per cent in 2012/13, and puts social care on much the same standing as the NHS.

This vacancy rate is much higher than the 2.8 per cent UK vacancy average across all industries. Moreover, it is continuing to increase.

 

10. Pay has increased, but more slowly than in other sectors

In 2018/19, care workers were paid less than shopworkers and cleaners

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Looked at in isolation, care worker pay appears to be a social care success story. Since 2015/16, driven by the introduction of national living wage legislation, care worker pay has increased by 7 per cent in real terms and 14 per cent in cash terms. The typical, independent sector care worker in 2018/19 saw £8.10 an hour in his or her pay packet compared to £6.93 in 2012/13.

Yet the problem for social care employers – and the temptation for care workers – is that staff can now earn more in other sectors. In 2012/13, the average hourly rate for sales assistants in the retail sector was £6.80 (below social care), but in 2018/19 it was £8.20, above that of social care. All the major supermarkets (with one partial exception) now offer higher minimum hourly pay than the average social care worker hourly rate. Meanwhile, other major employment sectors like cleaning and catering are catching up. And in the NHS, in 2018/19 a health care assistant might expect to earn between £8.93 and £9.57 per hour.

This issue also affects pay progression of more senior care workers. Those with more than five years’ experience on average earn just 15p more an hour than those with less than one year’s experience, down from 37p more an hour in 2013.

Uncompetitive levels of pay are a factor in the high vacancy rates (see indicator 9) besetting the care sector and also have an impact on staff turnover. Nearly one in three social care staff (30.8 per cent) leaves their job during the course of the year, equivalent to 440,000 people. For care workers in the home care sector, the figure is closer to one in two. While most stay within the sector, it adds a further cost to employers – and results in lack of continuity of care for those receiving that care. However, pay is by no means the only factor: lower turnover is associated with other factors, including shorter travel-to-work time, higher age of staff (and more experience in the sector), access to training, more contracted hours and greater permanence of posts.

 

11. The level of support for family carers is mixed

More people receive the national benefit for carers but fewer get support from local authorities 

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There are two main types of support available for unpaid family carers in England: a state benefit, Carer’s Allowance, which acts as an income replacement for people unable to work full-time because of their caring responsibilities, and support from local authorities, which are legally required to provide carers with advice, services and/or direct payments to purchase services. 
There is a stark contrast in take-up of the two types of support. The number of people entitled to Carer’s Allowance has increased to more than 1 million (of whom around three-quarters receive money; the remainder claim it because it acts as a ‘passport’ (an ‘underlying entitlement’1) to other benefits). This increase will have been influenced by an increase in the number of people claiming the qualifying disability benefits (see indicator 5) and by changes to state pension entitlement (some women are having to wait longer to claim their pension but can claim Carer's Allowance in the meantime).

In contrast, the number of people supported by local authorities has fallen and less money is being spent on carers than in 2015/16. The number of carers receiving direct support from local authorities in 2018/19 was 297,300 compared to 308,160 the previous year. Within that total, the proportion receiving financial support or services increased slightly (which may explain a small increase in spending in 2018/19) while the proportion receiving information, advice or signposting fell, although still comprised nearly two-thirds of all direct support. In addition, 42,300 ‘cared-for’ people received support such as respite care, a marginal fall compared to the previous year.

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It is difficult to reconcile the fall in local authority support with the increase in the number of people claiming Carer’s Allowance, since the latter support should be more difficult to obtain (it is only available if the cared-for person is already receiving a qualifying disability benefit, whereas many council carer services – such as advice and information – are more freely available). The most obvious explanation is that council services have been cut back because of budget pressures.

There is limited data to tell us whether the number of people with a caring responsibility is rising (as the Carer’s Allowance uptake would suggest) or falling (as local authority service provision might indicate). Nonetheless, it is clear that both heavily under-represent the number of carers in England. The Family Resources Survey in 2018/19 found that the number of people who self-identify as carers (at least once a week) was 7 per cent. The most comprehensive, albeit dated estimate of the number of carers in England comes from the 2011 census, which found around 10 per cent of the population – 5.4 million people – to be carers. The 2021 census will be the next comprehensive update on these figures.

However, all estimates may reflect the fact that individuals often do not self-identify as carers. For example, Carers UK found that most carers took more than a year to recognise their caring role and almost one in four took more than five years to do so.

  • 1. According to Carers UK, having an ‘underlying entitlement’ to Carer’s Allowance can increase any means-tested benefits a person is already getting or might mean they become entitled to means-tested benefits for the first time. To claim an ‘underlying entitlement’ to Carer’s Allowance a person must meet all of the conditions for Carer’s Allowance and must still make a claim for Carer’s Allowance.

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