Caring for the carers: reinvigorating the UK care sector’s workforce
06 February 2019
With the word ‘crisis’ appearing regularly in newspaper headlines, it’s perhaps not surprising that some may be a little concerned about the state of the UK’s care workforce. It’s unarguably the case that the demands on the care sector are growing rapidly - and these are set to rise even higher. The impact of Brexit on staffing numbers is a common theme, and analysis shows that some areas of the UK where the sector is particularly reliant on overseas workers could be caught short.
But this is not the only factor driving this significant shortfall. PwC’s analysis estimates that if demand grows in line with the increase in the population of those aged over 75, the total deficit of care workers could reach 290,000 by 2030. The care sector already accounts for five percent of the UK working population, which is more than the NHS. Vacancy rates have risen for the past three of four years, and at 8 percent, it’s more than double the average across all other sectors.
The statistics do, indeed, appear pretty pessimistic. But looking behind the headlines reveals a more nuanced picture. Few reports, if any, have investigated what care workers themselves feel and think about their work. So that’s what we decided to do. And perhaps one of the most heartening (and underreported) things we found is that care workers are very committed to and passionate about the work that they do. PwC’s extensive survey asked more than 2000 care workers in the sector about their attitude to their job. And, we were delighted to find that nearly nine out of ten (87%) rate their overall experience as positive.
What we found was a workforce that draws enormous satisfaction from helping their patients. But they also expressed frustration about aspects of their working context and environment - and it is this less than satisfactory experience that could see them leave for another employer in the sector or, even, push them out of the sector altogether.
So what’s driving them out? Unsurprisingly, there are a number of factors. The perception of an excessive focus on financial performance was one. Carers felt that their work was assessed according to its impact on the bottom line rather than for the quality of care they delivered.
Deep cuts in costs were also often mentioned, with the feeling that these were disproportionately aimed at front-line not head-office services. The chance to train and gain relevant qualifications was mentioned by 53 percent of survey respondents as a positive of working in the sector. Conversely, lack of training opportunities and clear career paths can prove a disincentive to remain. For carers, time spent on paperwork is time spent away from what they love doing. The perception that paperwork is a significant distraction from core caring responsibilities was commonly expressed.
Each of these challenges is serious. Collectively, they create a formidable obstacle to overcome if the sector is to not only retain existing staff but also attract more people to work as carers and address the sizeable and growing deficit in staff numbers.
Our report sets out the key steps that care organisations will need to address in order to capitalise on the enthusiasm their staff already express about their work as well as how to translate this into meaningful, long-term careers.
By asking what ‘good’ looks like, we have developed five concrete recommendations that operators can implement. Ranging from putting care at the core of operations, to rethinking organisational structures and new approaches to admin, we believe that these steps can help all operators both stem the flow of staff out of their organisations and attract new workers to the sector. In subsequent blogs, we’ll be looking at each of these five in detail.