From education to employment

The Wider Benefits of Adult Learning for Adult Social Care

Dr Susan Pember, Director of Policy at HOLEX

Adult Social Care is a Vast Sector

Adult social care in England is a vast sector, employing more than 1.5 million people and providing support and care to millions of people. The sector operates through a mixed business model with support for clients being provided by formal and informal approaches. The sector often functions under great pressure and the services it provides are vital to society’s most vulnerable people and are often needed urgently.


In 2020/21 the gross current expenditure on adult social care by local authorities was

£21.2bn. Almost three quarters (73.6% or £15.6bn) of total gross current expenditure is spent on long-term support, and this is the first year more money has been spent on clients aged 18-64 receiving long-term support, rather than those aged 65 and over. In 2020/21 there were over 840,000 clients receiving long-term support and many thousands needing short-term support or supported by family in the community.

Workers and Establishments

The number of people working in adult social care is estimated as 1.54 million and delivery is by an estimated 39,000 formal establishments, with many being supported in their own home. Low levels of pay, training and skills of care staff – 37% have no recognised qualification – and increasing difficulties in recruitment raise worries about the quality of care at a time when the acuteness of people’s needs in all care settings is rising.


Adult social care provides a wide range of services but mainly provides support to adults with physical or learning disabilities and/or mental illnesses. This could be for personal care (such as eating, washing, or getting dressed) or for domestic routines (such as cleaning or going to the shops). This support is provided in various ways. It can be provided through formal care services, including residential care homes, or a carer helping in the home.


There is a wide range of people who need education and skills development such as adults, children, the elderly, families, or those with mental ill health, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, or alcohol or drug dependency. And there is increasing crossover between social care and healthcare roles so the future workforce will need to be multi-skilled.

Adult Education is a Key Partner

Adult education is a key partner and adult social care looks to education services and institutions to provide underpinning support. The three main programmes provided by adult education are: training the workforce, helping to improve the skills of recipients of adult social care to enhance their lives, and training and development for carers and others who provide informal support.


Adult education provides many benefits to this group in society. It has been proven that a culture of adult learning throughout life creates the circumstances for improved wellbeing and enhanced community welfare, including improved integration and social justice. It also leads to economic gain as people who are happier and more confident are more productive and take less time off work.


Adult education and skills support covers a wide range of activity, from young adults who need to learn to live independently to the older person with learning difficulties who needs to learn new skills to find a job. The numbers participating are lower for social care clients than for the rest of the population and this needs to be reversed. The client group is getting younger and provision needs to change and be expanded to meet this new requirement.

Local Partnerships

Adult Education services provide a range of programmes normally delivered in partnership with Social Services and Local Authority Commissioning Departments.

Provision for the Adult Social Care Workforce

Adult Education provision supports entry into the workforce through improving essential employment skills. These include English, ESOL, Digital, maths and employability skills.

Many of these programmes provide an escalator approach, enabling them to understand the needs of industry, entering at an appropriate level, and creating a development path to secure improved prospects in employment or training, including apprenticeships. This type of programme tries to address local skills shortages.

As well as formal programmes leading to professional qualifications at level 2 and 3 through the new National Skills Fund Lifetime Guarantee Scheme, many education services work with employers to support their staff in other ways such as delivering the Wellness at Work Programme, training managers in the health and social care sector how to support their staff with wellbeing and developing wellness plans. They also work with home carers on subjects such learning sign language to support communication.

Provision for Adult Social Care Clients

There is a wide range of provision for learners, support workers and families. These include employability, and entry level English, ESOL, maths, and parenting courses where learners are referred by social workers.

Many services provide a range of personal development courses for those identified by adult social care as in need of support, who with appropriate training can lead enhanced lives, including Independent Living Skills for SEND adults, Wellbeing programmes for SEND adults, and Employability for SEND adults.

Recommendation 1

Ministers at the Department for Education, Department for Health and Social Care, Department for Work and Pensions and the new Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities should work together to develop a joint Lifelong Learning Strategy which includes a skills and employment plan for England. The strategy should recognise and explain the interwoven goals of an improved economy and enhanced wellbeing and prioritise the care workforce, those receiving support, and carers.

Recommendation 2

Mayoral Combined Authorities should work with Regional Health Authorities, Local Authorities, social care stakeholders and employers to determine a care workforce plan for their area. This should include clear progression routes, which in turn would lead to less duplication and stretch funding further. This workforce plan should include a clear qualification path that recognises care workers’ skills.

Recommendation 3

Local Authority commissioners should work with education institutions to map the client group and determine appropriate programmes to match the differing needs.

Susan Pember, HOLEX

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

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

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

Part Six: Adult Learning and Adult Social Care

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