The UK faces a jobs crisis
in social care by 2035

If wages, terms and conditions in the healthcare sector don’t improve, there could be a recruitment crisis by 2035, says the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).

As we have reported, the MAC has re-assessed the Shortage Occupation List.

As well as making recommendations for the current immigration system, the MAC predicts where workforce problems will arise in the future.

It has identified social and health care, which it says will need a 40-59 per cent increase in jobs by 2035 because of our ageing population. Alan Manning, chair of the MAC said:

‘Given the limited potential for labour-saving innovations in this area, it is likely that employment in social care will continue to grow.’

Recruitment and retention 

Around 76,000 of the total 110,000 vacancies in the English adult social care sector relate to care workers. This is a job that is classed as ‘low-skilled’. Manning clarified:

‘Social care contains a range of jobs of different skill levels but the key role of care assistant does not, as currently constituted, normally require a formal qualification or a great deal of experience: this is the sense in which we describe this job as lower-skilled, not as a statement about the value of the work being done.’

Non-EU migrant workers currently in these positions are likely to have moved here on family or refugee routes or previous, less restrictive, sets of immigration rules.

The MAC notes that there is currently no direct route for non-EU workers to take up positions in medium or lower-skilled care occupations in social care.

Nor were there any proposals to launch one in the Immigration White Paper, published in December 2018, which set out the government’s new skills-based policy for 2021.

It speculates whether the White Paper’s proposed new temporary migration route would attract workers into social care. But as people in this category may only stay for 12 months and not return to the UK for a year, a career in social care would be impossible.

Poor terms and conditions

A recent newsletter from the Health Foundation wrote that:

‘Across the social care sector, recruitment and retention are affected by the perceived low status of the work, by low pay, training, and levels of in-work support. There is little career progression and that means it’s hard to attract and retain people with the right skills and values.’

For instance, workers in this area are more likely than the labour market as a whole to be on the national minimum wage. One in four workers in the English adult social care workforce is on a zero hours contract, and for care workers, the ratio rises to one in three.

Funding problems

In the MAC’s very first review of the SOL in 2008 (when Gordon Brown was PM), it was told that ‘increasing pay to reduce vacancies was not currently an option’ because of cuts in local authority funding.

Local authority budgets remain a key factor, 10 years later. The MAC concluded:

‘To the extent that any shortage turns on low pay and these services are a genuine priority, it is necessary for budgets to be larger so that the workers in the sector can be paid more.’

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