From education to employment

Improving Pay and Job Quality in Adult Social Care

Becci Newton, Institute for Employment Studies
  • SkillsWorld LIVE is back
  • Canvas In Article Block ad

The Recruitment Challenge

There is undeniably a problem in securing an adult care workforce of the scale England requires. Skills for Care1 reports 1.67 million adult social care jobs, and 1.54 million people working in these. It is a growing sector – between 2019-20, jobs increased by 45,000, and growth of 29% is forecast by 2035 to meet the needs of our ageing population.

However, the number of jobs being filled has declined. Vacancies stand at 8.2 percent, slightly above pre-pandemic levels for reasons related to the pandemic and withdrawal from the European Union. Fewer people travel to the UK to take up care roles – falling from 5.2% of new starters in January-April 2019, to 1.8% in the same period in 2021 (Skills for Care, 2021).

Given the scale of opportunity, securing a job in this sector might be thought as attractive – over 100,000 vacancies were advertised on any given day in 2020/211 and, in England, care work does not require formal qualifications or registration (IES and Health Foundation, 2020). Yet still, vacancies go unfilled which Skills for Care attributes to recruitment and retention problems (Skills for Care, 2021).

A Diverse Sector

Compositionally, the workforce is predominantly female (82%) and ethnically diverse, with 21% of workers being from Black, Asian and other ethnic minorities. The average age is 44 years and over a quarter of care workers is older than 55 (Skills for Care, 2021).This figure that does not include the one-in-four older female workers, and one-in-eight older male workers employed elsewhere providing unpaid adult care who are typically in their 50s and 60s (ONS, 2019). Men do not work in caregiving roles as much as women, instead being more likely to work in outreach and social work roles – this means male clients cannot necessarily access care from a male.

However, there is an intersectional progression problem: proportionally more males and more white people work in senior roles than on the frontline; senior staff tend to be older while operational care workers are younger (Skills for Care, 2021). Arguably, getting on in this sector as an older woman from a minority ethnic background could be a challenge.

Pay, Job Quality and Health Constraints

Nonetheless, from one perspective care roles should be well-matched to older workers’ motivations for work that is meaningful, flexible, intellectually stimulating, sociable, and age-inclusive (IES and CfAB, 2017). However, pay and job quality are both constraints, as is the physical nature of care, given older workers’ greater propensity to experience health conditions.

Unpacking this, while hourly pay rates have increased with the National Living Wage, pay is lower than in most supermarkets, at a mean hourly wage of £8.30 in the independent sector (IES and Health Foundation, 2020). Close to a quarter of the workforce has zero- hour contracts, providing insecure employment with unpredictable hours and income (IES and Health Foundation, 2020). News stories reporting community care workers not being paid for the travel time between the appointments with people they provide care for, technicalities of minimum wage aside, hardly build a picture of a good work sector.

Alongside low pay and precarious work, there are challenges for over-working and non- disclosure of illness to avoid loss of already low pay (IES and Health Foundation, 2020). Care workers face risk of chronic pain resulting from lifting and manual handling, particularly when working alone in a client’s home; shift work brings an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes; and poor mental health can result from older workers managing their conditions and trying to remain in work. Covid-19 has shone a light on the issues facing care workers and increased their risks as they are more likely to be in higher risk groups – older and from an ethnic minority (IES and Health Foundation, 2020).

An Outsourced Sector

Underlying low job quality is a complex sectoral make-up ranging from multi-site, commercial businesses with turnover of tens of millions of pounds, national and local charities, to care commissioned directly by clients (IES and Health Foundation, 2020). The publicly-listed companies and registered charities are regulated. However, the existence of large multinationals does not guarantee high quality care, and CQC finds that low quality results from insufficient and inappropriate management and leadership. This is also likely to directly impact the quality of management that adult social care workers experience (IES and Health Foundation, 2020).

Improving Job Quality to Attract and Retain Workers

The answer – in terms of attracting and retaining people in the sector – lies for a large part with employers improving job quality. Skills for Care finds a pay-off that could provide incentive; employers providing high levels of learning and development to staff, on average, see better outcomes in terms of lower staff turnover (reducing recruitment costs) and positive impact on care quality ratings (Skills for Care, 2021) .

  • Active IQ EPA Button

Stemming Funding Leaks to Improve Pay

To improve pay requires a different focus; analyses suggest this would be possible if funding ‘leaks’ were stemmed. Allyson Pollack (2021) reports estimate that around £1.5bn is leaked annually in ‘dividend payments, net interest payments out, directors’ fees, and profits’ of the large, private providers and that these companies engage in tax avoidance. Better scrutiny and regulation would lead to funds being available for improved pay for adult care workers – making the sector more attractive – as well as improving care quality.

Recommendation 1

Skills for Care should work to increase the esteem of care work, through introducing ‘A good work adult social care employer kitemark’ , awarded where pay rates exceed National Living Wage rates, contracts provide stable hours, and employees are engaged regularly in learning and development.

Recommendation 2

Employers should improve progression through training managers and leaders to tackle unconscious bias, open promotion strategies and identify progression pathways; providing training, development and careers conversations for frontline carers, and identifying redeployment opportunities and providing job development for older employers in the adult care workforce.

Recommendation 3

Government and HMRC should regulate more stringently to stem tax avoidance and loss of funds, so that monies recovered can be directed to the frontline and improve employment terms and conditions in the adult social care sector.

Becci Newton, Institute for Employment Studies


Reforming Adult Social Care – Integrating Funding, Pay, Employment and Skills Policies in England

The Campaign for Learning’s report, Reforming Adult Social Care: Integrating Funding, Pay, Employment and Skills Policies in England, is based on seventeen contributions from experts in both the adult social care sector and the post-16 education, skills and employability sectors. 

Three themes are common to most of the authors’ contributions – the scale of the adult social care sector in England, the complexity of policy making for the sector, and the need for greater integration of funding, pay, employment and skills. 

Part One: The Adult Social Care Sector

Part Two: Strategic Reforms to Adult Social Care

  • Paul Nowak, TUC: A National Care Forum to Fix Social Care
  • Stephen Evans, Learning and Work Institute: A Long-Term Pay, Employment and Skills Plan for Adult Social Care

Part Three: Recruitment in the Context of a Skills-Based Immigration Policy

  • Becci Newton, Institute for Employment Studies: Improving Pay and Job Quality in Adult Social Care
  • Karolina Gerlich, The Care Workers’ Charity: Encouraging Young People and Adults to become Adult Care Workers
  • Chris Goulden, Youth Futures Foundation: A Career in Adult Social Care: The Views of Young People
  • Andrew Morton, ERSA: Targeting Active Labour Market Policies to Fill Adult Social Care Vacancies

Part Four: The Delivery and Design of Social Care Qualifications

  • John Widdowson, Former FE College Principal: Embedding Emotional Support for Learners on Health and Social Care Courses
  • Naomi Dixon, Education and Training Foundation: Supporting Post-16 FE Practitioners to Teach Social Care

Part Five: The Role of Post-16 Education and Skills Policies

  • Elena Wilson, The Edge Foundation: Valuing Level 3 BTECs for 16-18 Year Olds Studying Health and Social Care
  • Julian Gravatt, AoC: What Post-16 FE Can and Cannot do to tackle the Adult Social Care crisis
  • Jane Hickie, AELP: Reforming Apprenticeship Funding and Delivery for Adult Social Care
  • Gemma Gathercole, CWLEP: Adults Skills, Adult Social Care and Devo-Deals

Part Six: Adult Learning and Adult Social Care

  • Susan Pember, HOLEX: The Wider Benefits of Adult Learning for Adult Social Care
  • Simon Parkinson, WEA: Adult Learning for Adults in Social Care
  • Campaign for Learning: Proposals for reform in England 
Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Work and leadership, Social impact, Featured voices

Related Articles

Responses