The amount of people working in social care in England has shrunk for the first time in almost a decade, despite an increased need which has seen hospitals having a lack of beds because there are no care places for patients to be released to.
According to figures released by Skills for Care, there was a net fall of 50,000 people in the workforce in 2021, leaving around 165,000 vacancies unfilled. It is projected that England will need somewhere in the region of 500,000 more care workers by the middle of the next decade and it looks as though we will fall far below that number.
Experts say an 'absolute crisis' has been exposed by these figures and that the system is still reeling from the dual blows of Brexit and Covid. The government committed to a £500 million fund to boost recruitment in the sector last month but it has been dismissed as 'a drop in the ocean', with councils telling the government they need £3 billion to improve pay and increase recruitment.
Worryingly–but not surprisingly–Skills for Care found that the quality of care fell when there was fewer staff.
Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association, said: “People’s lives and dignity are at risk. The impact of this is on people who are really vulnerable and are left without the care and support they need.”
Care workers receive an average of £9.50 per hour which is £1 less than new healthcare assistants in the NHS and almost £2 per hour less than a warehouse job at Amazon which asks for no experience. Almost a quarter of jobs in the care sector are on zero hours contracts, which compares with only 3% in the wider population.
Chief executive of Skills for Care, Oonagh Smyth, said: “Our society needs a step change in how it values social care and the great people who provide it. We must talk more about how rewarding social care is to work in so that we attract more people, and we must make it easier for the people who love working in social care to stay by improving terms and conditions and investing in their career development.”
The GMB trade union has called for £15 per hour minimum wage for carers, many of whom can currently not afford food, shelter, clothing and other essentials.
The Skills for Care research also showed that: