A stark rise in vacancies within the adult social care sector in England has created a pressing need to attract more individuals to the industry. With over 165,000 unfilled positions, representing a 52% surge in just a year, the question arises: how can the care industry entice people to join at a time when the demand for care in individuals’ own homes is escalating?
The care sector grapples with several critical issues, primarily the increasing demand for community support coupled with a shortage of individuals willing to work as carers. Additionally, the sector faces scrutiny over low wages and the persistent challenge of staff retention. However, one care agency in Staffordshire, Visiting Angels, is determined to confront these obstacles head-on.
Helen Lofts, co-owner of Visiting Angels, emphasises the importance of caring for the agency’s staff, considering it a top priority. Lofts states, “This is a skilled job and needs to be rewarded accordingly. Minimum wage has no part to play in care as far as Visiting Angels is concerned. We are out to change the face of care, and that starts by recruiting your carers, paying them accordingly and treating them in the right way.”
Research conducted for a care provider in December revealed that care workers in England earn an average of £8,000 less annually than their NHS counterparts with equivalent skills. Many care workers receive salaries near minimum wage levels, which will rise from £9.50 to £10.42 per hour for workers aged 23 and over next month.
To ensure fair compensation for their 21 staff members, Visiting Angels East Staffordshire has increased care client fees by 13%, allowing their employees to earn an hourly rate at least £2-£3 higher than the minimum wage. Helen Lofts explains, “Business costs have risen by an average of 15%, and we raised our pay rates by 15-17% accordingly. This model is proving effective. By retaining staff, we avoid the expenses of recruiting new employees. It is far more beneficial to invest in and support our existing valued workforce.”
Visiting Angels goes the extra mile by providing additional benefits to their carers, such as mileage compensation between their calls, payment for travel time, contributions towards car maintenance, MOTs, and other support. Helen Lofts asserts, “Valuing your carers fosters loyalty and retention. It’s not just about pay; it’s about providing support in various ways.”
Erin Woodhouse, a 23-year-old care worker, derives her passion for the profession from her firsthand experience of witnessing the impact of illness within her own family. Woodhouse states, “My dad has multiple sclerosis, so I’ve seen first-hand my mum care for my dad, and I’ve helped out in between my university studies. I thought I’d like to take on that role myself, help other people, and gain experience in this sector.” She acknowledges that while she feels adequately compensated for her work, many care companies only offer the minimum wage.
In response to the workforce challenges and the remarkable commitment of carers, the government expresses its gratitude. The spokesperson highlights the government’s prioritisation of social care in the Autumn Statement, which includes an allocation of up to £7.5 billion over the next two years.
Erin Woodhouse reflects on the rewarding nature of the job, stating, “I don’t think you can truly understand the nature of the job until you’ve actually done it. I didn’t fully comprehend what care givers go through until I started this job myself.” She adds, “We get to meet so many different people, and you do become part of their family.”
Beryl Pipe, whose husband David has been confined to a chair and is unable to speak since suffering a heart attack 23 years ago, praises the invaluable support provided by carers. Beryl remarks, “The carers are absolutely invaluable. I certainly could not manage without them. I’ve looked after him for 21 years, but eventually, his condition deteriorated beyond what I could handle.” Despite the cost of care, which amounts to thousands of pounds each year, Beryl emphasises that she couldn’t imagine life without it.
The government’s Made With Care recruitment campaign aims to bolster careers in the adult social care sector. Councillor David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, acknowledges the significant financial and workforce challenges faced by the sector. He affirms that councils across the country are actively collaborating with care providers to understand their pressures and identify strategies to support the sector, including through council tax precepts and other funding. Councillor Fothergill emphasises the need for £13 billion in funding for social care to alleviate the pressures and enable councils to fulfil their statutory duties.