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Mind the Gap!


We are used to hearing about widening gaps – the gap between rich and poor, unhealthy and well, north and south – I could go on….. However, it seems there is a gap in social care that whilst we have known about, we have not managed to bridge, and is becoming less of a gap and more of a chasm. This is the gap between the number of people needed to provide high quality care and support across the country, and the number of people wanting to do it.

The latest figures from the sector skills body for social care, Skills for Care, states that there are approximately 110,000 vacancies in the sector on any single day. This is the equivalent of the capacity of Wembley Stadium and the 02 put together. In contrast to this figure around how many staff are needed in the sector, the same report tells us that only 20,000 people were ‘new’ recruits to the sector last year, whilst at the same time over 390,000 left their jobs (although not necessarily the social care sector). Of course, we also know that the demographics of the country are shifting dramatically, and as a consequence the numbers of staff we will need in social care in the future is growing exponentially – and Skills for Care estimate that by 2035 the workforce will need to expand by an additional 650K to 950K.

Social care workers are a very precious resource, and it is right that this sector, with over 1.6 million roles, has the eye and ear of government. However, from a central platform, what can and should we expect government to do? We know that government is working on a national recruitment campaign for the social care sector, following in the footsteps of it’s recent campaign for nurses. This will be important, as it is key that we get the number of new recruits up, particularly in a future climate where migration targets are applied across both EU and non EU nationals. We know from staff surveys that the perceived ‘status’ of social care work is low, and therefore the importance of a campaign that captures the variety, value and skill level of the many roles will be significant. In addition, the Secretary of State is engaged in a ‘listening’ campaign, inviting staff from the social care sector to share their views and perspectives on working at the front line – and gathering ideas and thoughts about what works and, of course, what could be improved. In addition, we are promised a workforce strategy for socialcare, the first distinct strategy since 2009. This will be key as it will need to read across to the planned reforms for social care to be embodied in the future social care green paper.

However, what most social care employers will tell you is that the majority of their workforce come from a very localised base – usually a small radius of between 2 and 5 miles. This means that whilst a national campaign will raise the profile, it will not encourage people to move across the country to pick up new jobs – so the hard work will have to continue at base. So what is on offer to support local activity? Skills for Care offer a wide range of resources which look in detail at those who have managed to buck the trend in both recruitment and retention and how they have managed to get and keep good staff. In addition, they have evaluated the short and longer term learning from applying a ‘Value Based Recruitment’ approach. There is also a lot of help out there from specialists such as the author of ‘Saving Social Care’, Neil Eastwood, who regularly shares his expertise and ideas through social media and live conference platforms. However, I have noticed there is another very powerful trend on the horizon. The power of ‘storytelling’, used for many years to make clear the value of person centred care, is now being used by individual providers to tell the powerful stories of working within care. Providers are setting up their own ad hoc ‘PR’ agencies from within their staff teams to tell the very real tales of what working in care looks and feels like, and they make for a powerful narrative. As noted, the statistics tell us this is a local employment market, so what better to attract the local workforce than seeing someone you might bump into at the school gate, the local supermarket or community group telling you their story. Of course, this is not a panacea – and the central messages is that if we are to narrow the gap between supply and demand, we need to draw in resources from every corner to ensure that we are adequately equipped to meet the workforce requirements of today, tomorrow and the future.

Vic Rayner, Executive Director, National Care Forum @vicrayner

NCF is the national membership body for not-for-profit care and support providers. For more details on their work contact @NCFcareforum


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