Carer and woman in wheelchair

Immigration rules help social care in short-term, but solutions needed

Every day there are on average 105,000 social care vacancies advertised in England, the sector also faced a turnover rate of 28.5% across 2020/21 – equivalent to approximately 410,000 leavers over the year.

This is the sober backdrop to the government’s much needed relaxation of immigration rules for care workers.

While this decision is helpful in the short to medium term, much wider change is needed to stabilise this crucial workforce.

Across the country, social care supports people of all ages and with different conditions to live the lives they want to lead.

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our frontline care workforce who have given so much over the last two years – and long before the pandemic hit - in supporting people who have cause to draw on social care.

It is an enormous and expanding workforce.

There are more people working in adult social care than in the NHS – 1.54 million in 2020/21 compared to 1.3 million in the NHS – and is predicted to grow by almost half a million jobs by 2035.

The value of the sector also extends beyond its immediate support of people to live an equal life.

It is estimated to contribute £50.3bn to the economy on an annual basis and supports 603,000 jobs through indirect spending, as well as the 1.44 million employed directly in the sector. 

However, social care employers’ ability to attract and retain staff with the right skills, values and abilities is hampered by low pay, poor terms and conditions, lack of parity of esteem with NHS workers in comparable roles, and the absence of a career development framework which might incentivise people to remain in care work.  

The long-term vision for developing domestic workforce supply is something the LGA supports, but care providers and local authorities understand how key the migrant workforce is not just to delivering services, but also in how excellent their contribution is to local areas.

With squeezed budgets and many struggling to delivery their statutory services, councils need the expertise, capacity and security the migrant workforce brings to the sector.

However, this is only part of the solution to a sector riddled with challenges.

The recent adult social care white paper sets out an ambition agenda to improve the care sector, however it fails to thoroughly set out how these changes will be funded and where worker capacity will be found.

While it contains some potentially useful measures to tackle some of the issues faced by social care, it does not address the issue of pay and, by the government’s own admission, the whitepaper is a long-term plan, when action is needed right now.

The government has helpfully recognised the urgent need to address immediate capacity pressures, but care workers should remain on the shortage occupation list beyond just the announced 12 months.

As important, we also need a lasting, long-term solution for the social care workforce which crucially addresses the issue of pay and conditions.

We welcomed the acknowledgement within the paper that people working in social care need to be valued, rewarded and properly trained and developed with the right skills to do an increasingly complex professional role.

However, this acknowledgement falls far short of the radical changes needed to bring care workers in line with their NHS counterparts in terms of pay, terms and conditions and career development.

As long as retail and hospitality can offer better pay and conditions than care work, which is still regarded by many as unskilled labour, payment at National Living Wage rates will not alone successfully secure the skilled workers needed to provide safe, quality care for those who have cause to draw on it in our communities. 

These are jobs that save lives, protect from harm and help deliver a better quality of life to those who draw on social care.

Commissioning adult social care, and working closely with care providers, is one of the most important jobs that councils do.

Social care workers deserve better pay, better conditions, greater recognition and better opportunities within their sector.

That is why the LGA continues to call on the government to commission an independent review of care worker pay, including how pay should be uprated and the mechanism for implementing this.

Pay parity with the NHS is essential and assessing the best form of comparison with similar roles in the NHS would need to be an important aspect of discussions, as costs could be in the region of £1bn to £2bn.

Government would need to fully fund any such increases.

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