A new report from Skills for Care shows the number of filled posts in adult social care is down for the first time on record, with records dating back to 2012/13.
The annual ‘Size and structure of the adult social care sector and workforce in England’ report also found that at the same time vacancy rates have risen. This points to a challenge in recruiting and retaining people to work in adult social care, rather than a decrease in demand for roles.
This year’s report based on data from employers found that the number of filled posts i.e. roles with a person working in them, has decreased by around 3% (50,000) between 2020/21 and 2021/22; the only annual decrease since records began in 2012/13.
Over the same period the number of vacant posts has increased by 55,000 (52%), which suggests that the decrease in filled posts is a result of the sector’s ongoing recruitment and retention difficulties rather than a decrease in demand for care services.
The total number of posts in adult social care in England, including filled posts and staff vacancies, was 1.79m as at 2021/22 an increase of 0.3% from the previous year. The number of filled posts was estimated at 1.62 million and the number of vacant posts was around 165,000.
The study also found that the total number of people working in adult social care as at 2021/22 was estimated at 1.5 million, which is 4.5% of the total workforce in England. This compares to 1.4 million people working in the NHS.
The data also highlighted the dispersed nature of social care, finding there is 17,900 adult social care organisations in England, across an estimated 39,000 establishments.
The decrease in filled posts and corresponding increase in vacancies across adult social care comes as the wider economy has reopened following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the peak of the pandemic, vacancy rates decreased with fewer jobs being available in other sectors, and some care workers reporting they felt they had to help the sector through the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The data suggests that it was independent care providers who have struggled most with recruitment and retention challenges, compared to local authorities. Between 2020/21 and 2021/22, the majority of the decrease in filled posts was in the independent sector down by 45,000 while filled posts in local authorities remained broadly the same.
In residential services, the number of filled posts fell by 13,000 in care only homes and 15,000 in care homes with nursing. This is in line with data showing a greater challenge in filling nursing roles. Meanwhile, in domiciliary care services, the number of filled posts fell by 19,000. This highlights a real challenge with recruitment and retention for these roles despite an increase in demand for home care.
The greatest decrease in filled posts was for direct care providing roles which decreased by 4% (55,000 jobs) across all direct care roles. Registered nurse roles specifically saw a 4.5% decrease in filled posts, reinforcing the specific recruitment challenges for this profession.
Looking at longer-term trends and how the sector has changed since 2012/13, the number of filled posts in adult social care has increased by 120,000 jobs, an increase 8% over this period.
The report shows that if the social care workforce grows proportionally to the projected number of people aged 65 and over in the population then the number of posts will need to increase by around 480,000 posts to around 2.27 million by 2035.
Oonagh Smyth, CEO of Skills for Care says:
“Through our monthly tracking data, we already knew that the number of filled posts had been decreasing since the height of the pandemic, and now our annual report has confirmed that filled posts have decreased for the first time on record.
“This highlights the recruitment and retention challenges which we know social care employers are facing right now and is not a decrease in demand for care services. In fact, our forecast data tells us that we will need a 27% increase in posts in social care by 2035 to continue to maintain the current levels of care and support to people who will need it in the future.
“Adult social care workers are passionate and skilled professionals working across complex roles, something which was ever more evident through the peak of the pandemic. Skills for Care is working hard with all our partners to raise the profile of social care in communities and the opportunities available to people with the right qualities to build a rewarding, lifelong career in adult social care.”
This newest report comes ahead of Skills for Care’s more detailed ‘State of the adult social care workforce in England’ report which will be released in October.
Monthly tracking of vacancies, total staff, occupancy rates and sickness can be found on the Skills for Care website.
View the full ‘Size and structure of the adult social care workforce in England’ report: www.skillsforcare.org.uk/sizeandstructure
Image depicts Oonagh Smyth, Skills for Care CEO