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Recruitment and retention problems in social care – why existing data could hold the key to reversing the trend

Our latest report, Reversing the staffing problems in social care - the case for a new approach, explains why existing data sets could hold the key to tackling recruitment and retention problems in the social care sector.

At the beginning of April 2023 the government published its ‘next steps’ paper on social care reform – the implementation plan for its 2021 White Paper.

The plan includes steps to improve recruitment and retention in social care, including:

  • a pledge to invest at least £250m over the next 2 years to enable better career progression for those working in care and improve recognition of their skills and experience by introducing a new care workforce pathway, a new qualification and range of funded training schemes;
  • support for care providers in accessing international recruitment and building a sustainable workforce; and
  • a potential plan to extend the national advertising campaign Made with Care, which has encouraged people to apply for roles within the sector.

This is all progress in the right direction – but why are there such problems with recruitment and retention within the care sector and what more can be done?

ReWAGE's new paper: ‘Reversing the staffing problems in social care - the case for a new approachlooks ‘behind the numbers’ to find out more about the current recruitment and retention crisis facing the social care sector.

The scale of the problem

  • The Skills for Care annual report published in October 2022 showed there were 165,000 posts unfilled in adult social care.
  • Staff turnover is around 30% per annum with an annual loss from the sector of approximately 10% – equivalent to about 160 thousand individuals.
  • The sector has struggled to replace its losses, vacancy rates have doubled from about 4% to 10% per annum in 10 years, at a time when the demand for social care is still expected to grow.
  • According to the Resolution Foundation in 2022, there were 1.7 million social care jobs across the UK, making it one of the largest low-paying sectors in the country.
  • The Foundation also stated that were this workforce to grow in line with our ageing population, the number of social care jobs would outstrip those in retail or hospitality in little more than a decade.

Contributing factors

Declining working conditions (not just pay alone) means that more people are leaving the sector and less want to join. This fall in employment creates a higher workload for those workers who remain, potentially increasing the need to work unsociable hours or lengthening their working day / week. This impacts on the incidence of absenteeism, which, in turn, feeds back into higher workloads for non-absentees.

The loss of staff and a declining availability of replacement employees diverts employer/manager attention from day-to-day activities into recruitment and the training of new recruits. As they increasingly find themselves firefighting, their inability to provide sufficient attention to day-to-day operations and the growing problems in staff quality, planning staff coverage, staff morale, etc. place care quality under severe pressure.

Operating a dysfunctional system undermines employers/managers’ own morale and, at the same time, creates abnormally high costs because of overtime, training, agency workers, etc. Given tight financial constraints, this can even lead to closure of care facilities, further exacerbating the overall problem of provision.

What the data can tell us

There is a wealth of existing data about the adult social care labour market (the Adult Social Care Workforce Data Set (ASC-WDS)[1] for England) that can be interrogated to identify solutions.

By modelling this detailed workforce data and linked datasets it is possible to:

  • Identify what demands are placed on the system, how it processes the demands, and the outputs (quantity and quality).
  • Examine the interrelationships between wages and other aspects of “good work” and what part each play in producing an imbalanced labour turnover.
  • Explore how these interrelationships interact with other sectors within the economy (e.g., the NHS, other local employers), affecting demand for services and supply of labour.

This information can then be used to identify solutions that are affordable for society, that care workers can buy into, and that can be sustained in the long-term to reduce the pressure on wages and improve working conditions.

Professor Chris Warhurst, co-Chair of ReWAGE and Director of the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick, says:

“For many people social care is a vocation and, while the current high rates of inflation have increased the focus on pay, it is not normally the main motivating force to seek employment in the sector. However, declining working conditions can erode employee good will over time – especially if people feel that they are not being treated fairly – and it will deter potential employees from joining the sector at a time of labour shortages.

“Available evidence suggests that addressing the problems of the sector may not be as financially worrying as government might believe and would reap long-term benefits – a reduction in turnover would lead to less use of agency workers, lower levels of recruitment and training costs; higher staff experience, morale and productivity; increases in activity rates and the quality of care.”

The paper has been authored for ReWAGE by Professor Derek Bosworth with input from Beate Baldauf, both of the Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick.

Mon 12 Jun 2023, 08:18