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Money Isn’t The Sole Answer to the Care Staff Shortage

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

- Mandatory vaccines could lead to 42,000 vacancies to add to the 170,000 that exist already

- 80% of care workers say the pandemic has increased their workload to ‘unsustainable’ levels

- Recent barriers to entry mean recruiting staff from overseas is now more difficult: foreign-born workers account for just under 6% of care staff

The U.K. is facing a shortage of staff across many different sectors. While much of the private sector is feeling the impacts of mounting vacancies, shortages are being most keenly felt in the public sector, with care no exception to this.

What makes the care sector stand out from others, however, is the magnitude of the shortages. The latest estimates from the National Care Association say there are currently 170,000 open vacancies in the sector, which equates to roughly 10% of all positions. This would be the biggest staff shortage in this industry on record.

The impacts, both currently being felt or likely to be felt in the future if it isn’t adequately addressed, make for worrying reading. The obvious consequence is a reduction in the quality of care, due to a two-fold impact of not having the people to provide the necessary attention to everyone in need, and the mistakes that come from exhaustion and burnout from the staff that have the burden of the extra workload. The longer-term effects of this are wide-ranging, though the most damaging are people in need of care being turned away in the future due to a lack of staff (this is already happening in some areas of the U.K.), with hospitals subsequently being overrun.

A solution to the care staffing crisis is therefore much needed. It is first important to discuss the reasons why the care sector has found itself in this position.

The Causes of the Staffing Shortage

With this issue only being treated as front-page news recently, many have highlighted shorter-term factors such as the pandemic and Brexit. The pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact. For one, the November 11TH deadline for care staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID or face losing their job has driven many from the industry who were previously happy and settled. The estimates are that this could lead to a further 42,000 workers leaving the industry. This will have a more immediate impact than the other factors discussed here as the ‘No Jab, No Job’ rule also applies to temporary agency staff, often used to fill gaps left by leaving staff. Brexit has also had a sudden and sharp effect on the sector. Foreign-born workers constitute a substantial minority of care workers in the U.K., with 5.9% of care home staff in 2017. The new post-Brexit points-based immigration system has put up a barrier to entry for many foreign-born workers who may otherwise work in the care sector here. The new system does not qualify many care sector jobs as skilled, which means potential candidates based in the EEA are now excluded from joining the sector.

While this factor is important, it does not address why there were an estimated 120,000 vacancies before the pandemic hit, or why three quarters of care homes have reported a higher rate of staff departures since April this year than the previous year. There are several reasons for this; many have left for roles in different sectors with more pay and a less stressful work environment, and Brexit has led to many foreign workers returning home.

From this, the answer appears obvious – pay care workers more. However, interviews with those who are leaving the industry, including those who are leaving for roles with higher salaries, show it is not a straightforward decision to leave, with many doing so reluctantly, but feeling like they have no other choice to avoid burnout. This is shown further by a quote by a care home manager saying recently that the appreciation staff get is their staff’s ‘second salary’. Overstretching of staff has become an even more pertinent issue since the pandemic, with the questions raised about high infection rates in care homes at the beginning of the pandemic leading to a growth in demand for home care services. We can conclude from this that money is not the most important factor here – it is a combination of relatively low pay and feeling overworked and undervalued. This is best summed up by the charity head of Age UK, who said after mandatory vaccinations were announced:

‘…mandatory vaccination feels to me and many others like too much stick and not enough carrot for a workforce who have given their all and been through the fire these past 15 months, quite possibly with more to come.’

This gets to the crux of the issue of many workers in the sectors feeling they are having to sacrifice too much and roll with too many punches in order to do the job they love. A Health Foundation survey of July 2020 showed that 3/5 of care workers say work and how they were treated since the beginning of the pandemic makes them feel ‘depressed, gloomy, and miserable’, with 4/5 saying the pandemic had increased their workload to unsustainable levels due to covering for leaving or self-isolating staff. This has created a perfect storm, and with the tourism and hospitality beginning to re-open and regain strength, it is no surprise there have been reports recently of people moving from the care sector to these re-emerging industries.

The Solution

Although they are not immediately obvious, potential solutions to the crisis that have become apparent in the past few months. The first of these is technology. The impact of the pandemic, and increasing demand for care services, have led to technological answers to logistical and administrative questions. The growth of workforce management software solutions has enabled the more efficient organisation of staff, and have provided care professionals with hitherto unavailable opportunities for hourly and part-time work, thanks to being able to work better on mobile devices. Another positive development is an increasing awareness of the past 18 months of the dedication and skill needed in social care provision. This may be beneficial in the long-term by ensuring applicants have a better idea of the work they are applying to do, meaning staff retention is more likely.

The solution, therefore, is not purely money. It is taking a more holistic perspective of the worker experience and making the workloads of those who are currently there more manageable. This may involve, at least in the short-term, removing the points-based barrier to entry for foreign workers. Once the care sector is not an industry that wears its workers down to the extent it does now, then those for who working in care appeals will be more inclined to enter the industry.

The ‘Made with Care’ recruitment campaign announced by the government on November 3RD has the potential to address these issues. Alongside advertisements on television and social media, it is also promising £5.4 billion to reform social care, and £500 million to support training and career development. While this is making the right noises on the most fundamental of levels, time will tell whether the money will be spent in the right places, and whether those the campaign is targeting will be convinced that they will not feel the burnout many of the predecessors have.

Care will always be a sector that some enter in good faith, only to leave after only a short while because the physical and mental demands were too great. Being overstretched and having policies thrust upon you, without receiving any great reward in return, is avoidable, however. Pay is part of the solution, but appreciation can be shown in many other ways. After the 18 months care workers have had, it’s time to show some.

About Talent Clouds

Our platform uses cloud-based technology to assist the onboarding and screening process for new hires by storing information in one place, reducing error, and tailoring what checks are needed by role. If you would like to find out more, you can read about our platform here. Alternatively, feel free to ask us any questions you have.

Cover image courtesy of Vectorjuice



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