Care sector faces crisis as huge new care workforce gap revealed

The adult social care sector in England faces a gap of 200,000 care workers by the end of this Parliament because of restrictions on immigration and a failure to attract British workers. Longer term, the sector could face a shortfall of 1 million workers in the next twenty years.  That’s according to new research from Independent Age, the older people’s charity, and the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK).

The ground-breaking report - Moved to Care - maps the size, shape and scope of the care workforce in England and warns of the impact of recent restrictions on migration and a continued failure to attract more UK born workers to social care.

Other key findings in the report - based on analysis of population figures from the Office for National Statistics and workforce data from the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care - include:

  • 1 in 5 of the adult social care workforce (18.4%) in England was born outside of the United Kingdom, which includes 150,000 working in residential care homes and 81,000 working in adult domiciliary care
  • Non-EU migrants account for the greatest proportion of migrants working in adult social care – approximately 1 in every 7 care workers (191,000 people)
  • Greater London is particularly reliant on migrant care workers with nearly 3 in 5 of its adult social care workforce (59%) born abroad
  • For the most recent migrant workers joining the social care sector, the top five countries of birth are India, Poland, the Philippines, Romania and Nigeria
  • Approximately 1.45 million people work in the adult social care sector in England, but it is already struggling to recruit and retain staff.  Nearly 1 in 20 (4.8%) of positions in adult social care in England are currently vacant – nearly twice the vacancy rate in UK’s labour force as a whole (2.6%). The Care Quality Commission recently warned of the effect of staff shortages on the safety and quality of social care provision

At the same time, a rapidly ageing population and significant cuts to social care funding are placing the sector under immense pressure.  The number of people aged over 80 is expected to double in size to over 5 million by 2037 and social care funding has been reduced by nearly 11% in the last five years.

Independent Age and ILC-UK are calling for action to both attract more UK-born workers to the care sector and make it easier for social care providers to recruit from overseas. The report sets out the changes that could help reduce the workforce gap, including:
  • Investing in training, apprenticeships and career development to make adult social care an attractive career choice for UK born workers
  • Adding highly skilled roles in the adult social care sector - such as therapist and social worker - to the Shortage Occupation List, making them easier for employers to recruit from overseas
  • Allow low-skilled migrant workers to enter the social care workforce by opening up the Tier 3 visa route

Simon Bottery, Director of Policy at Independent Age, said:

“Without action, there is a real risk of care services worsening as providers fail to fill job vacancies and staff struggle to cope with increasing demand. That can only be bad news for the older people who rely on these services to carry out basic tasks like eating and dressing''.

“We need to recognise the current reliance of social care on migrant workers and make it easier for them to work here but also look to the sector’s longer-term future.  The government must use the upcoming Spending Review to invest in social care so it can attract more UK workers, while at the same time exploring new ways of caring for our ageing population in the future.”

Ben Franklin, Head of Economics of Ageing at ILC-UK, said:

“Enabling migrant workers to fill workforce gaps is one part of the solution, but it is no silver bullet. We ensure that the sector is able to attract more UK and foreign born workers alike.

“This will require a substantive shift in the direction of policy as well as a change in public perceptions about what working in care is like. The alternative will be a degradation in the quality of care and an increasing reliance on family carers. If this is the future, it will have dire implications for those needing care, their family members and the wider economy.”

Notes to editor
  • Projections of population growth and net migration levels are taken from Office for National Statistics Population Projections
  • Information on the size, make-up and vacancy rate of the current adult social care workforce is taken from the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care, based on a 2015 survey of providers
  • Most recent migrant workers’ refers to migrants workers who arrived in the UK from 2007 to 2014
  • Care Quality Commission: The state of health care and adult social care in England (2014/15)
  • Association of Directors of Adult Social Services: ADASS Budget Survey 2015


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