One of the central points of my Social Care Campaign was the need for reform to the social care workforce and how we need both more workers and better paid ones.
Here in Kent the total number of social care posts is around 49,000 with 45,000 being filled posts and 4,400 being vacancies. If the workforce grows proportionally to the projected number of people aged 65 and over then the total number of adult social care posts in the South East region will increase by 28% between 2022/23 and 2035. We desperately need to hire more social care workers so we can meet the future demand for care.
The turnover rate also highlights the problem the social care sector faces. In Kent, social care staff turnover is 26.7% and while this is lower than the region average of 31.9%, it is still a high number and highlights the issues the sector has in retaining staff. The vacancy rate stands at 10.1% which is similar to the region average of 10.3%.
Care workers in Kent are paid on average £10.29 an hour as a care worker and £10.96 an hour as a senior care worker. Based on a 37 hour week, this means care workers are earning around £20,000 a year. Full time equivalent jobs elsewhere pay much higher, with registered nurses in Kent being paid on average £36,600 and social workers £37,800. Therefore, nurses and social workers are being paid between 80% and 90% more than care workers for a role which involves similar responsibilities and skill set. This massive discrepancy in pay highlights the need to pay our social care workers more fairly for the role they do.
Recruitment and retention are one of the largest issues faced by employers in the social care sector and there are many reported variables which influence the likelihood of a worker leaving their role. Some of the most important matters which are likely to keep workers in the sector include increasing pay levels, more training, and higher levels of experience. Therefore, we need to reform the social care system so that we have less workers leaving their roles, and also encourage more people to join the sector. The Government has taken some welcome steps in this direction, but I would like them to go further.
I believe that over time social care sector pay should mirror the NHS Agenda for Change pay scales to improve both the retention of social care workers, ensuring they are not lost to similar roles in the NHS, but to also support recruitment of more social care workers which we desperately need. To help encourage more people to choose a career in social care, there should be positive advertising campaigns sending clear messages that highlight the value and rewarding aspects of a career in social care. This can include working with young people in schools to promote social care as a skilled and fulfilling career. Finally, the Care Quality Commission should include basic digital training in their Mandatory Training Courses package to ensure the social care sector is fit for the future.
The reforms I have outlined above will tackle the most important issues that lead to social care staff leaving their jobs and will also help the recruitment of more workers. With an ageing population, we will always need social care workers and the number we need will continue to increase. We need to recruit and retain more staff and ensure that they are paid fairly in recognition of the vital work they do.