‘Stark reminder of recruitment challenges’ as social care vacancies rise above pre-pandemic levels

Job vacancies in adult social care in England are above pre-pandemic levels, a report has found.

The sector’s vacancy rates fell during the pandemic but have risen steadily since May 2021, according to Skills for Care’s annual workforce report.

On average, 6.8% of adult social care roles were unfilled during 2020/21, the equivalent of 105,000 vacancies on any one day.

This was down slightly from the previous year’s average, when 7.3% of roles were estimated to be unfilled, the equivalent of 112,000 vacancies on any one day.

As of August, 8.2% of roles were unfilled, up from 8% just before the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

The workforce body said there had also been a fall in the number of filled posts since March, the first time it had noted a fall since records began in 2008.

That this has occurred as vacancies rise suggests providers are struggling to recruit and retain staff, rather than reduced demand.

It is likely to be due to the opening back up of the wider economy and the impact of the mandatory vaccination policy, which Skills for Care warned could push the vacancy rate up to a record level.

It estimates the sector will need to recruit 490,000 extra jobs by 2035 to keep up with the ageing population.

Skills for Care said the drop had been most apparent among registered nurses, with jobs having fallen 5% to 34,000 in the last year.

The turnover rate for registered nurses was 38.2%, more than four times higher than the 8.8% turnover rate for their NHS counterparts.

The report found that overall turnover remained high, at 28.5%, equating to approximately 410,000 people leaving their jobs over the course of the year.

It also found that the pandemic had “accelerated” the steady shift from care homes to services providing care at home.

Over the course of 2020/21, the overall number of jobs rose by 2.8%, or 45,000 jobs, with domiciliary care services accounting for most of this rise (7.4% or 40,000 jobs).

The number of filled posts in care homes fell by 0.2%.

But since March the number of filled posts had fallen by 0.8% in domiciliary care and by 2.2% in care homes.

Occupancy rates in care homes fell from 86% before Covid-19 to 77% in March 2021.

Overall, there were 1.54 million people estimated to be in the adult social care workforce during 2020/21, with 82% female and 27% aged 55 and over.

People from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background made up 21% of the workforce.

There had been a “sharp drop” in people entering the workforce from abroad, with 1.8% of new starters arriving from outside the UK in January to April 2021, compared to 5.2% in January to April 2019.

But it said there had been no evidence of the existing non-British workforce leaving at an increased rate since the new immigration rules came into place in January 2021.

The report also found that levels of staff sickness almost doubled during the pandemic, with an average of 9.5 days lost to sickness over 2020/21, up from 5.1 days before the crisis.

Skills for Care chief executive Oonagh Smyth (pictured) said: “This report is a stark reminder that our recruitment challenges continue, and to help tackle that we need to properly reward and value care workers for their high skill levels and dedication.

“We know that this is a priority for the new Government White Paper expected on adult social care this year and look forward to seeing the measures contained (in it).”

Labour’s shadow social care minister Liz Kendall said more people would go without care without urgent action.

She said: “This report shows beyond doubt the scale of the recruitment crisis in social care.

“Turnover and vacancy levels are soaring, and for the first time ever, the number of filled jobs in social care is falling.

“The Government’s NHS and social care levy won’t do anything to fix these problems, and will only hike up taxes on the very frontline care workers we need to recruit.”

Vic Rayner, chief executive of the National Care Forum, said the report shows that the workforce is not “recognised or valued for the amazing contribution it makes to millions of people’s lives each and every day”.

She added: “Each and every statistic in this report represents individual care workers and we need to recognise the very clear warning signals that the growing number of vacancies, doubling levels of sickness and high rates of turnover represent.”

Unison said the “care staffing emergency could be ended almost overnight” if the real living wage was the base rate for the entire workforce.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We appreciate the dedication and tireless efforts of care workers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.

“We are providing at least £500 million to support the care workforce as part of the £5.4 billion to reform social care.

“We are also working to ensure we have the right number of staff with the skills to deliver high-quality care to meet increasing demands.

“This includes running regular national recruitment campaigns and providing councils with over £1 billion of additional funding for social care this year.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2021, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Skills For Care.