Social care 360: workforce and carers

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7. Vacancies

The staff vacancy rate is the highest since records began  

Chart showing that over the past year the overall unemployment rate fell, while the social care vacancy rate in England rose

Why is this important?  
The vacancy rate is an important indicator of providers’ capacity to deliver social care services. Staffing also affects quality: higher staff-to-bed ratios in care homes correlate with higher Care Quality Commission ratings. 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?  
Between 2020/21 and 2021/22, the vacancy rate rose sharply from 7.0 per cent to 10.7 per cent and the number of vacancies rose from 110,000 to 165,000. The gap between the vacancy rate in social care and that in the wider economy has grown to 4.3 per cent.  

The vacancy rate was lowest in Yorkshire and the Humber, and the North East (8.7 per cent) and highest in London (13.2 per cent).   

There was variation between roles, with higher vacancies in domiciliary care (13 per cent) than in residential care (8.6 per cent), and higher vacancies for registered managers (13 per cent) and registered nurses (15 per cet) than for care workers (12 per cent) and senior care workers (7.1 per cent). The vacancy rate for personal assistants is also high at 13 per cent.  

What is the long-term trend?  
At 10.7per cent, the vacancy rate in adult social care is the highest it has been since Skills for Care began collecting data in 2012/13.  

What explains that 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 pay), the rate of increase has failed to keep pace with some other sectors. As a result, people can now earn more working in supermarkets than as care workers.    

The vacancy rate in social care remains much higher than the overall unemployment rate and it appears that as unemployment falls, social care vacancies rise. This suggests that, for many people, other work is more attractive than social care. Vacancy rates in adult social care are higher than in the NHS (7.9 per cent) and much higher than in other areas of the economy such as retail (3.6 per cent), education (2.7 per cent) and manufacturing (3.9 per cent). The gap between social care and the overall vacancy rate in the economy also appears to be growing. There are also around 500,000 more economically inactive people due to sickness than in 2019

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

A further factor that may help explain the increased vacancy rate in social care, particularly in comparison to other sectors, is the introduction of a requirement for care home staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in November 2021. Though this requirement was withdrawn in March 2022, the government’s impact assessment estimated that around 40,000 staff might leave their roles as a consequence of it. A Department of Health and Social Care survey of care providers found that staff not wishing to be vaccinated was thought to be the second biggest reason for them leaving posts in care homes. Unusually, the number of filled posts in social care fell by 50,000 (3 per cent) between 2020/21 and 2021/22, though there is no evidence as to what proportion of people leaving adult social care did so as a result of the policy.  

What has happened in 2022/23?
In February 2022, following recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee, the government made it easier for overseas social care staff to work in the UK. 

Monthly tracking data from Skills for Care, while not comprehensive, suggests that the vacancy rate in adult social care has increased since April 2022 (though may have peaked around October 2022) and in December 2022 stood at 10.8 per cent.  

The vacancy rate was worst for home care (13.4 per cent). The latest data is here.  

8. Pay

Care-worker pay continues to rise but struggles to compete with other sectors

Made with Flourish
A chart demonstrating care-worker pay in England has consistently increased by more than inflation since the introduction of the National Living Wage

Why is this an important indicator?
Care workers make up around 860,000 of the 1.62 million jobs in the social care sector (other jobs include managers, ancillary and admin staff, jobs for direct payment recipients, nurses and social workers). 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. Level of pay also correlates with Care Quality Commission quality ratings.

What was the annual change?  
Average2care worker pay in the independent sector in 2021/22 was £9.66 an hour, an increase of 3.5 per cent in real terms since 2020/21.   

Support and outreach workers were slightly better paid than care workers: £9.89 in the independent sector. Senior care workers earned £10.41 an hour. By comparison, a registered manager received £17.32 and a registered nurse £18.23.  

Care workers employed by local authorities on average earned £11.03 an hour in 2021/22. 

What is the long-term trend?  
Since 2012, care-worker pay has increased by 16 per cent in real terms.  

However, pay in other sectors has been increasing more quickly. In 2012/13, care workers were paid more than retail sales assistants but by 2019/20 they had been overtaken. Many care workers would be paid more in entry-level posts in supermarkets.  

What explains that 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 7p 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). More than one-third of careworkers (36.1 per cent) leave their job during the course of the year, equivalent to more than 300,000 people. Most stay within social care, however. Turnover rates fell in 2020/21 , but crept back up again in 2021/22.  
What has happened since?  
As of end February 2023, the government had not yet announced plans for spending £500 million of funding for workforce development and training, announced as part of its social care White Paper in December 2021.

In its Autumn Statement in November 2022, the government made available £7.5 billion funding for adult social care over two years, though none of this money was specifically aimed at increasing pay for social care staff.  

In December 2022, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which had identified low pay in the sector as critical to its recruitment problems, said: ‘Despite calls from the Health and Social Care Select Committee, the Public Accounts Committee, the NHS Confederation, Care England and numerous other organisations alongside the MAC, the Government appears to have no ambitions to raise pay in a material and properly funded way.’ 

  • 2Mean average. The median rate for care workers, which is used in the graphs in this section, was £9.50.

9. Carers

Fewer unpaid carers now receive paid support and respite care has also fallen 

Chart showing that the proportion of carers in England receiving either no support, or information, advice and signposting is increasing

Why is this indicator important?  
Unpaid carers – usually, but not always, family members – contribute care equivalent to 4 million paid care workers to the social care system. Without them, the system would collapse. 

What was the annual change?  
The number of carers receiving direct support – which includes paid support such as direct payments, services and information and advice – fell from 338,000 in 2020/21 to 314,000 in 2021/22. The number of people provided with respite care (provided to support unpaid carers) stayed level at 33,000. 

What is the longer-term trend? 
The number of carers receiving direct support from local authorities was the same in 2021/22 as it was in 2015/16 – 314,000. However, there has been a shift in the type of support they receive. Fewer carers now receive paid support (27 per cent compared to 31 per cent in 2015/16) and more receive advice, information and signposting (56 per cent compared to 50 per cent in 2015/16). 

The number of people provided with respite care delivered to support their carers has fallen from 57,000 in 2015/16 to 33,000 in 2021/22. 

What explains this?
The fall in support between 2020/21 and 2021/22 may reflect figures returning to normal after an increase in carer need during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The longer-term fall in support for carers is best explained by pressure on local authority budgets rather than a reduction in demand because evidence about changes in the number of carers is mixed. The total number of people claiming Carer’s Allowance in August 2022 was 1.3 million, an increase from 1.2 million in February 2016. The UK 2021 Census estimated the proportion of the UK population that provides unpaid care at 9 per cent, a fall from 11.4 per cent in 2011, though the proportion providing 20 or more hours of care a week had increased.  

What has happened in 2022/23?  
In its 2021 social care White Paper, People at the heart of care: adult social care reform, the government announced a small £25 million fund to ‘kickstart’ changes in support for family carers but no plans for spending this money had been announced by the end of February 2023.

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