Social care shortages and the specialist workforce

deafblind person walking through the woods supported by a communicator guide

Staff shortages aren’t unusual right now. But few sectors have been affected in the same way as social care. It’s no surprise, then, that the Government is trying to address the reasons why a career in social care has long been unattractive to so many people. Its proposal for a care workforce pathway is a step in the right direction – but it’s not enough.

Why is the workforce crisis in social care so bad?

Sense services have never found it harder to recruit new care workers. And we’re not alone in that. Last year, the Health and Social Care Committee the social care sector is facing “the greatest workforce crisis in its history.“

It’s not just that it’s hard to recruit. In 2021/22, 29% of care workers in England left their jobs. Some of them moved to other social care providers. Others left the sector completely.

Why are so many care workers leaving their jobs?

It’s true that Brexit has affected the recruitment market. The strain of the pandemic has also made it harder to keep people in the sector. But these factors have only exacerbated problems that we’ve known about for a long time.

Low pay is one thing driving people out of social care. In the DHSC’s 2021 Adult Social Care Workforce Survey, 29% of domiciliary care providers said that better pay outside of the care sector was the main reason for care workers leaving.

But while pay is vital, but it is not the only factor – 12% thought that the better hours and working conditions outside the sector were the biggest draw.

Career progression is part of this. Sense finds that a lack of career advancement opportunities in the sector makes it less attractive than the NHS or even unrelated sectors like retail and hospitality. While some providers like Sense do take steps enable care workers to advance in their careers, there is only so much we can do on our own.

To try and fix this longstanding issue the Department for Health and Social Care have proposed a common pathway for career progression in the sector.  We welcome the principle behind this – but we think their proposal could do more to make sure people who are deafblind get the support they need to lead meaningful lives.

Specialist roles and the common pathway

The type of care and support local authorities should provide to people who are deafblind is set out in specific Government guidance. This says that local authorities should be able to provide ‘specifically trained one-to-one support workers’ for those who need them. This includes intervenors (who support people who were born deafblind) and communicator guides (who work with people who become deafblind). Local authorities also have duties to ensure that deafblind people have their care needs assessed by someone who is appropriately qualified.

Some local authorities commission Sense to provide intervenors and communicator guides. But not every person who is deafblind gets this support – particularly with underfunded local authorities increasingly looking for ways to cut back on support they don’t deem to be essential.

While we welcome the principle behind the introduction of specialisms into the proposed care workforce pathway, we are concerned that the pathway does not recognise existing specialists like communicator guides, intervenors and other specialists in deafblindness.

For a workforce pathway to make a difference to the lives of people with complex disabilities, including those who are deafblind, it would need to make sure that everyone can access the specialist assessments and support they need. It can only do this if it recognises the roles needed such as communicator guides and intervenors.

How else do we make sure everyone can access the right care and support?

Given how vital social care is to the lives of so many disabled and older people, you might think that they might have a long-term strategy for the care workforce.

In the case of the NHS, the Government have committed to developing a workforce plan based on projections of how many workers they will need.

But they haven’t done the same for social care.

With the sector facing a severe labour shortage at a time when it is both underfunded and still dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic, the need for a people plan is evident. Crucially, this people plan should recognise the full range of people providing care and support – such as the specialist roles supporting deafblind people.

What next?

We’ve replied to the Government’s consultation on the proposed care workforce pathway. We’ll be looking out for their response in a few months’ time. In the meantime, we’ll be continuing to highlight the importance of a plan for the social care workforce.