Social care 360: workforce and carers

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7. Vacancies

Staff vacancies have fallen but remain at a very high level. 

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Why is this important? 
The vacancy rate is an important indicator of providers’ capacity to deliver social care services. In an open jobs market, it is also an indicator of the relative attractiveness of social care as a career compared to other sectors.  

What was the annual change? 
The vacancy rate fell to 7.2 per cent from 7.6 per cent and the number of vacancies fell from 122,000 to 112,000. The vacancy was lowest in the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber (5.5 per cent) and highest in London (9.5 per cent). 

What is the long-term trend? 
The vacancy rate remains much higher than in 2012/13, when it was 4.4 per cent, and the vacancy figure for 2019/20, though it had fallen, was the second highest in those eight years.  

What explains this trend? 
Pay is a significant factor in recruitment. While pay for care workers has increased in real terms year on year since 2014 (see indicator 8), the rate of increase has failed to keep pace with some other sectors. As a result, people can now earn more working in supermarkets and cleaning than as care workers.   

The vacancy rate remains much higher than the overall unemployment rate and it appears that as unemployment falls, social care vacancies rise. This suggests that other work is more attractive than social care for many people.  

However, pay is not the only factor in recruitment. Employees also value good working conditions, especially flexibility.  

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What is the impact of Covid-19 likely to be?
Covid-19 may reduce the number of vacancies in adult social care because of its wider economic impact. Vacancies had already fallen by August 2020 in part because of lower occupancy rates in care homes, and it is expected that the pandemic will result in higher unemployment, forecast to peak at the end of 2021, and this in turn is likely to lead to more people opting to enter social care, where there are vacancies that often require little formal training or experience. More recent but more limited data on vacancies is available here.

However, other factors may come into play. Some employers are adopting policies that require Covid-19 vaccination before employment is offered, which may create a barrier to some new entrants and conceivably lead to some existing social care staff leaving the sector. The government has how opened a consultation on mandatory vaccinations for staff working in social care.

In addition, there may be an impact on EU migrant workers in social care, who made up 7 per cent of the workforce before Covid-19 (with higher rates in London and the South East). The Office of Budget Responsibility notes an increase in EU workers leaving the UK during Covid-19 and, with the UK having left the EU, it may be more difficult for these workers to return. The Office for National Statistics has downplayed these statistics, however.

8. Pay

Care worker pay is increasing but not as fast as other sectors. 

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Why is this an important indicator?  
Care workers make up around 865,000 of the 1.65 million jobs in the social care sector. Pay in the independent sector, which employs the great majority of staff, is a key factor in the sector’s ability to recruit enough staff to meet demand. It also makes up a large proportion of provider costs.  

What was the annual change? 
Average care worker pay in the independent sector in 2019/20 was £8.50 an hour, an increase of 3 per cent in real terms since 2018/19.  

What is the long-term trend? 
Since 2012/13, care worker pay has increased by 11.8 per cent in real terms. However, pay in other sectors has been increasing more quickly. In 2012/13, care workers were paid more than cleaners and sales assistants but by 2019/20 they had been overtaken. Only hairdressers and barbers have fared worse.  

What explains this trend? 
Care worker pay has grown since 2015/16, driven by the introduction of the National Living Wage, which has risen faster than inflation. However, other sectors have proven more able to renumerate their lower-paid staff than social care.   

While care worker pay has increased, there has been a negative effect on the pay progression of more experienced care workers. Those with several years’ experience on average earn just 12p more an hour than those with less than one year’s experience, down from 29p more an hour in 2012. 

Uncompetitive levels of pay also have an impact on staff turnover (though are by no means the only factor). Nearly one in three social care staff (30.4 per cent) leaves their job during the course of the year, equivalent to 430,000 people. For care workers in the home care sector, the figure is closer to one in two. Most stay within social care, however.  

These statistics relate to pay in the independent sector. Pay in the local authority sector, where around 52,000 direct care staff are employed, is better. There, care workers earned, on average, £19,600 in 2020.  

What is the impact of Covid-19 likely to be? 
Pay will have increased during Covid-19, driven by a 6.2 per cent increase in the National Living Wage in April 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have had limited impact on pay: unlike other nations in the UK, England did not pay a £500 bonus to staff for working during Covid-19, though some individual employers did pay bonuses voluntarily. Some care staff may have lost income if required to self-isolate on statutory sick pay. In April 2021, the National Living Wage increased by 2.2 per cent to £8.91, much lower than in previous years so care worker pay increases may also now slow. 

9. Carer support

More carers are getting support but it is mainly advice.  

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Why is this important? 
Unpaid carers – usually, but not always, family members – contribute the equivalent of four million paid care workers to the social care system. Without them, the system would collapse. The charity Carers UK estimates that carers in England have contributed more than £400 million of care each day since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

What was the annual change? 
Though 30,000 more carers were supported by their local authorities in 2019/20, the number receiving payments or services other than advice and information fell. Of the 316,000 who received direct support, the majority (207,000) received information, advice or signposting. There was, however, an increase in support such as respite care, provided directly to the person being cared for.  

What is the long-term trend? 
Despite the increase in 2019/20, there are still fewer carers receiving support from their local authorities than in 2014/15. The percentage receiving paid support has also fallen over time, from 31.4 per cent in 2015/16 to 29.0 per cent in 2019/20. Similarly, instances of respite care have fallen from 57,000 in 2015/16 to 46,000 in 2019/20.  

What explains this? 
The fall in paid support for carers, and in wider support over time, is best explained by pressure on local authority budgets. There is little to suggest that the number of carers has fallen. The total number of people being paid Carer’s Allowance in August 2020 was 940,000, an increase from 885,000 in August 2019. The Department of Work and Pensions’ annual Family Resources Survey does show a small, long-term fall in the percentage of people saying they provide informal care from 8 per cent in 2008/09 to 7 per cent in 2018/19.  

What is the impact of Covid-19 likely to be? 
Covid-19 has had a huge impact on family carers, though not necessarily on the support available to them. The closure of many formal services, particularly day centers, and unwillingness to use other services because of the risk of infection, led to many people taking on new caring roles. Carers UK estimates that the number of carers more than doubled during the pandemic from 6.5 million to 13.6 million. Research suggests that this has increased mental health problems of carers, particularly those caring for people with intellectual disability.

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