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Feature: Why we need a transformation in social care recruitment

Anne Marie Perry, Founder of CareMatch, a social care provider, explains how the social care sector can attract new recruits and close the gap of unfilled care hours in the UK.

The social care industry is facing a recruitment challenge that may evolve into a crisis if not properly addressed.

According to Skills for Care, the average turnover for the care industry in 2019/2020 was 34.4%, meaning England lost over half a million carers in the year prior to the pandemic.

For the same year, the vacancy rate for social care was reported as being 8%, over double the rate for the rest of the UK economy.

This was all before the pandemic which saw the working conditions and mental health of social care workers reach new lows. UNISON figures state that more than two thirds (68%) of care workers have seen their mental health decline because of the strained working conditions over the last year.

In conjunction with this, over half (56%) of domiciliary caregivers were on a form of zero-hour contract, providing flexibility but lacking the security of full-time work. The unglamorous nature of the work itself and the long hours expected of carers only compound the challenges of enticing new carers to fill existing vacancies and replace those who’ve left the industry.

person wearing red jacket

While many other sectors are now back on track towards normality, the situation for the social care industry is still uncertain. Many of the fundamental flaws, like working conditions and high turnover, have only been intensified by the pandemic. The social care industry needs a transformation in recruitment if it is to address these problems and prepare itself for the potential macro-challenges ahead.

Primarily, the working conditions for social caregivers need to be improved. The responsibility for which needs to be shared between the private and public sectors. Whilst the majority of large-scale policy changes lie with the state, private providers can improve the conditions of caregivers with new, robust community-based models for delivery.

App-based technologies can circumvent the challenges faced by local councils by allowing local communities to set up support networks. These networks coordinate caregiving roles to fit the needs of both providers and receivers.

They’re localised to a manageable region which provides a myriad of benefits: a reduction in the need for transport costs; access to help from other caregivers; a greater immediacy of help for those in need. These technological solutions can offer significant improvements to the working conditions of caregivers which will not only help to retain staff but encourage more to join.

As well as improving conditions, these apps make engaging the local community far easier. Help at home comes in many forms and there are tasks where support from non-carers can be helpful. Shopping for a neighbour or sharing a weekly meal can go a long way to alleviating one of the key challenges for the elderly: isolation.

Social care networks that make use of user-friendly tech allow for exactly this by engaging the community and enabling ad-hoc help from informal caregivers. By being able to pitch in, volunteers can take the pressure off full-time care workers, alleviate the detrimental effects of elderly isolation and improve the situation for all parties.

Technology alone though can only go some way to alleviating symptoms of the recruitment crisis. For a more long-term solution, the care industry needs to reach out to new groups.

In 2019, the average age of a worker in social care was 44 with 27% of the workforce aged 55 and above.

The ageing of the social care workforce is not uncommon, according to the British Medical Association, nearly half of all NHS staff are over 45 which is expected to rise over the coming years. An ageing, over-stretched workforce needs fresh blood if it is to successfully deal with future surges in demand. Young people need to be encouraged into the industry.

Private sector encouragement of community-based volunteering could be married with policy changes at a national and local level for a profound improvement in recruitment. Serious commitments by the government could help boost the sector and future proof the industry.

This could include social care programmes at schools or higher education institutions; schemes to reduce the tax paid on fuel for travelling carers; even free parking or gym memberships. Government intervention could improve the lives of the individuals in the care industry and re-establish social care as a viable career choice for young people.

The entire care industry needs to be prepared to weather future storms. According to Age UK, England’s elderly population is expected to grow by 44% by 2035. Further predictions from the UK Health Security Agency suggest that as life expectancy goes up, the number of people living with long-term health conditions and requiring care at home will grow.

The industry cannot handle these challenges effectively with our currently over-stretched workforce. By utilising app-based technologies to create community-based support networks and encouraging involvement through higher education, we can go some way to remedying the existing troubles. However, to get on the front foot and improve standards as these challenges take shape, the social care industry needs a complete overhaul of its recruitment processes.

[ENDS

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