DHSC announce new career path and qualifications aimed at boosting domestic care workforce
New qualifications and investment in apprenticeships are among fresh efforts to boost the domestic workforce in social care in a Government bid to change perceptions of jobs in the sector.
Social care minister Helen Whately said jobs in social care have not always been seen as a “career choice” as she set out plans aimed at ensuring the occupation is recognised “as the skilled profession it is”.
The Department of Health and Social Care said a national care career structure, with defined roles and professional development, will be introduced for the first time.
It comes just over a month after proposed changes to migrant visas were announced, which would see care workers from overseas banned from bringing dependants when they come to work in the UK.
That Government announcement in December was said to have “blindsided” care leaders who voiced “grave concerns” the changes – announced in an effort to reduce net migration to the UK – could drive international recruits away from care work.
The sector has long struggled with workforce shortages, with the most recent report in 2023 from Skills for Care – the strategic workforce development and planning body for adult social care in England – noting a vacancy rate of about 9.9%. That equates to around 152,000 vacancies on any given day.
Skills for Care chief executive Oonagh Smyth told a parliamentary committee last month that “international recruits have significantly contributed to workforce capacity” in the year to April 2023.
Home Office figures published in November showed 143,990 health and care worker visas were granted in the year ending September 2023, more than double the 61,274 for the year to September 2022.
The Government said its newly-announced plans would help to recruit and retain people in the domestic care workforce.
The funding, totalling £75 million, is part of previously-announced investment under the Government’s People at the Heart of Care plan.
The plans include the launch of a national career structure for the adult social care workforce, known as the “care workforce pathway”, and more than £50 million in funding to support up to 37,000 people in direct adult social care jobs to enrol on a new level 2 adult social care certificate qualification between June this year and March 2025.
The department said over £20 million will be available for local authorities and adult social care providers to put towards training and supervising “hundreds” of new social work and nurse apprentices.
The workforce development fund will get a further £5 million to “expand access to learning and development”, while a new digital leadership qualification aims to “help equip social care leaders and managers with the confidence and capability to lead the implementation and use of technology in the delivery of care”.
Social care minister, Helen Whately, said: “The workforce is the heartbeat of the social care sector and staff should be given the recognition and opportunities they deserve. These changes will give brilliant care workers the chance to develop rewarding careers in social care.
“There are also many talented people across the country who would thrive in care work but haven’t seen it as a career choice. We’re changing that; our new career path and qualifications recognise social care as the skilled profession it is.”
Ms Smyth said the latest announcement is “welcome” and that the care workforce pathway and new care certificate qualification will “encourage learning and development opportunities for people working in different care services as well as supporting with the recruitment and retention challenges which we know employers are continuing to face”.
She added: “I look forward to seeing the impact this package can have for people working in care this year and beyond.”
Trade union Unison called the move “long overdue”, but warned the it would not be enough by itself to solve a staffing crisis in care.
Head of social care Gavin Edwards said: “Any attempt to fix the social care staffing crisis will be fatally undermined unless the Government delivers the investment and reform that’s desperately needed. Otherwise, it’s like putting a shiny new wing mirror on a car with a broken engine.
“What’s required is a significant hike in pay or staff will continue to leave in droves. Retail and hospitality pay much more with far less pressure.
“Ministers must also tackle rogue employers who drive down conditions for care workers, leading to the highest vacancy rates in the UK economy.
“These changes are hardly the plan to fix social care that was promised four and a half years ago. What’s needed is the proper reform that can only come from a national care service.”
Anna Hemmings, of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), welcomed the “positive steps to help make adult social care a real career choice now and in the future”.
She added: “But the pressure on adult social care budgets means councils and care providers don’t have the money to improve pay for those staff qualified to take on more senior roles and responsibilities and this will be a significant barrier in making this work.
“To offer genuine career prospects and pay our care workforce in line with experience, qualifications and responsibility, politicians need to commit to a long-term, fully funded plan for social care.”
Patricia Marquis, the Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, said: “We hope ministers are at last getting the message that the only way to fill the significant vacancies in social care is by valuing nursing and care staff, and boosting domestic recruitment.
“However, the plans announced today will fail if they are not backed up by new funding commitments, further detail, and a comprehensive workforce plan.
“Right now, the turnover of nursing staff in the social care sector is three times higher than in the NHS, and the sector is being kept afloat by internationally recruited staff. This is not ethical or sustainable.”
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