By Geraldine Donworth, Industry Manager – City & Guilds (www.cityandguilds.com)
The pandemic has highlighted the many longstanding issues that our health and social care sectors have been facing for many years, including insufficient funding and under-resourcing. And now, amidst rising inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, the sector is under even more significant pressure.
As inflation causes real wages to shrink, there are reports of a “mass exodus” of thousands of staff to jobs in other industries. With pressure mounting on local authority funding, and brewing burnout amongst staff because of intense pressure during the pandemic, which has not been alleviated owing to significant skills shortages, urgent action is required.
However so far, Government solutions have focused on short-term initiatives and have failed to address this crucial issue. For example, the £500 million announced to support the adult social care workforce over the next 3 years is of course welcome, but there is no mathematical link between the amount of money promised and the level of need. Likewise in May, the Chancellor announced £15 billion to help families with rising costs. However, this represents a drop in the ocean for care staff struggling with soaring living and increased fuel costs after more than a decade of real term pay cuts, as pay increases have failed to rise in line with inflation.
Yet, our need for a skilled workforce in care is only growing; our Great Jobs research (2022) research found that by 2026 we’re likely to see 166,169 new job openings for residential care and home care workers roles alone.
Now, more than ever, social care needs a sustainable employee pipeline with new recruits coming through the door, and effective employee incentives to retain them. But continuing low attractiveness is failing the sector. Our research found that ongoing negative attitudes towards social care mean that only 25% of working age people in the UK would consider a job in the sector. When asked why respondents wouldn’t consider a job in social care, the top three reasons included low pay (23%), that they feel they have a lack of relevant skills or experience or qualifications (24%) and unsociable hours (18%).
With an average salary of just £18,602 across all social care jobs – compared to £30,000 in retail and £25,000 in hospitality – and with 67% of current workers in the sector saying that better pay would make them feel happier or prouder to do their jobs, insufficient pay is a credible concern for job seekers, and an issue that somehow needs to be addressed.
The positive news is that, as we well know, there’s plenty to celebrate and value about working in social care. 61% of all respondents said that they would feel proud to work in the sector, whilst the people already working in the social care sector were some of the proudest of their work: 80% said they are proud of their job and a further 83% said their job gives them a sense of purpose.
For employers to be able to recruit the skilled workforce they need in the years to come, it’s clear that work needs to be done to improve recognition and reputation of these social care roles by Government, employers, and wider society – making these jobs more attractive, aspirational, and affordable for those that work in them.
Whilst addressing the concerns around staff salaries and terms and conditions are important, there are other ways that jobs in the sector could be portrayed as attractive, including highlighting that flexible working is possible and ensuring progression and career opportunities are all available to encourage new people to join the profession and existing workers to stay.
We urge employers to continue to work with sector stakeholders to lobby Government to act now: to improve recognition of these roles, invest sufficient funds into the system, encourage applications from the wider talent pool and help people discover the jobs and career progression opportunities available in the sector. Only then will we have the talent we need both for now and for the future.