Three key ways to fight the workforce crisis in health and social care

Like many other social care providers and disability charities, Sense has been concerned about the challenges facing the care workforce for years.

But with the whole economy facing labour shortages, recruitment and retention is now even more difficult.

This could have devastating consequences for the disabled people who receive care and support.   

A close up of an adult and young child both smiling.

The greatest workforce crisis in the history of social care

The challenges facing the sector are so enormous that one of two reports recently published by the Health and Social Care Committee – made up of MPs from a range of parties – concluded that social care is facing “the greatest workforce crisis in its history“.

The other report, written by an independent panel of experts commissioned by the committee, rated the government’s measures on the health and social care workforce as “inadequate”.

What’s the problem and what can we do about it?

In our response to the committee’s call for evidence, we focused on three key factors that would make it easier to recruit and retain staff in the sector:

  • Better opportunities for career development;
  • Improved pay and conditions; and
  • A workforce plan.

1. Provide better opportunities for career development

In contrast to the NHS and other sectors competing with social care for workers, such as retail and hospitality, there is no clear pathway for career progression in social care. Similarly, despite the range of specialist skills that a care worker can gain, there are few opportunities for training and professional development in the sector.

We believe that it’s time for this to change. It is reassuring to see the committee recognising that “better training and career development pathways in social care will be an essential part of driving recruitment and retention in the sector”.

We hope the government listens to this call for more action to improve the training available to care workers.

2. Improve pay and conditions

We were pleased to see the expert panel quoting our evidence on low pay in the sector. They highlighted our concern that underfunding often leaves providers unable to pay their staff well.

This has long been a problem, making it difficult for providers to compete with the NHS, or even with other sectors like hospitality and retail. But with the rising cost of living and labour shortages pushing up wages in other sectors, the social care sector is now even less able to attract staff with competitive wages.

Pay is not the only factor. Other sectors can often offer better conditions too, particularly given the emotional impact of the pandemic on carers.  

The result? Care workers leave the sector for better-paid jobs in other sectors, and few people want to take their place.

The government has announced a fund to allow local authorities to pay providers more fairly for the care they provide. In our submission, we pointed out that the terms of reference for this new Fair Cost of Care Fund make no mention of fair pay for care workers.

Agreeing with our concerns and citing our evidence, the committee called for this new fund to enable care workers in social care to be paid in line with care workers in the NHS.

3. Create a workforce plan

While the Department of Health and Social Care has set out a comprehensive workforce plan for the NHS, the department has not committed to doing the same for social care. In our submission, we argued that the need for a people plan has never been stronger.

While the government’s recent white paper on social care set out what it describes as a strategy for the workforce, this falls short of being a comprehensive workforce plan equivalent to that of the NHS People Plan.

The sector is 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.

The committee agreed with us, saying that “a long-term, sustainable strategy is needed which includes the prospect of pay progression, professional development, training and career pathways.”

What’s next?

We welcome the committee’s recognition of the scale of the workforce crisis facing social care.

It is positive that they made use of our evidence and the evidence of others in the sector and agreed with many of the arguments we made.

The government will now respond to the committee’s report, setting out whether they agree with the report’s recommendations.

The committee have listened to us. Now it’s up to the government to do the same.