Since the post-Covid reopening of the economy, staffing shortages in the care sector in England have been of increasing concern. In October 2021, British charity Skills for Care warned that, at 8.2 per cent, adult social care vacancy rates in England were exceeding pre-pandemic levels (which in 2019, stood at 8 per cent). That figure has since exceeded 10 per cent, according to Skills for Care’s monthly tracking.
The UK government has sought to remedy to this crisis, in part, with the new health and social care levy, which came to force in April 2022. This levy is currently being implemented as an increase in National Insurance contributions.
Experts have pointed out that this is having a disproportionate impact on household budgets for those on lower incomes and those below the age of 50. They have also warned that it won’t fix the problem.
This is because a relatively small portion – £5.4 billion of the £39 billion to be raised in the next three years – is set to go to social care, with the remainder to be spent on the NHS. And half of that £5.4 billion will be used to compensate for the cap on care costs of self-funders. Crucially, only £500 million has been allocated to workforce reform, and this amount is to be spent, not on the pay uplift so desperately needed for recruitment and retention, but on training and qualifications.
Our ongoing research (the results of which are not yet published) looks at the financial impact Covid has had on care homes for older people and their staff. We interviewed managers, care-giving staff and support staff from for-profit and non-for-profit providers of all sizes. We have found that most people don’t think carers need more training – they are, as many reminded us, among the best trained workforce in the economy. What they do need is improved working conditions and better pay.
Conversely, the shortage of qualified nurses is one of the biggest pressures on both nursing homes and on the NHS. Therefore, rather than offering more training to existing carers, we have to pay them more. And the levy money should be used to train new nurses.