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Social Care: Staff Numbers and Vacancy Rates

Volume 704: debated on Tuesday 23 November 2021

9. What steps his Department is taking to increase the number of carers in the adult social care sector. (904307)

We recognise the considerable challenges the adult social care sector faces in recruiting and retaining staff. We have put in place a range of measures to support local authorities and care providers to address workforce capacity pressures. These include a new £162.5 million workforce recruitment and retention fund, and the latest phase of our national recruitment campaign, launched on 3 November, which highlights adult social care as a rewarding and stimulating place to work.

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. The latest figure I have for the vacancy rate for carers in August was significantly worse than those from before the pandemic, and it is likely to worsen still further due to the requirement for compulsory vaccination. When does my hon. Friend believe the vacancy rate will return to pre-pandemic levels?

The first thing to say is that obviously the vaccine saves lives, and it is our responsibility to do everything we can to reduce the risk for vulnerable people. As of 14 November, 92.5% of care home staff have had their second dose. We have put in place measures, as I said earlier, to support workforce capacity, which have only just gone to local authorities. The Department continues to closely monitor workforce capacity, bringing together the available data, including the vacancy rate, with local intelligence. Longer term, we have committed at least £500 million to support and develop the workforce, and that will go some way to addressing the barriers to people taking up work in adult social care, which has been an issue for a number of years.

There are 105,000 vacancies across all social care workforce grades, but employers are unable to recruit across those grades. The Government have accepted the need to add senior care workers to the shortage occupation list—they did that in April—but the Migration Advisory Committee is not due to report until next April on the need to recruit social care workers. It is no good the Minister saying employers need to pay more money to recruit UK workers, because this Government are the ones underfunding the employers, who cannot then compete with the likes of Amazon. When will the Government admit that they need to add all grades of social care workers to the shortage occupation list if they are to have any hope of addressing this shortfall and providing the care that is needed to address the care crisis?

As I mentioned earlier, we have sent out £162.5 million, which has not yet been put into effect. For example, Sefton received £1,032,474. That money has only just gone into the bank account, and has not yet been utilised to retain staff, or to recruit agency or other staff. As the hon. Gentleman says, adult social care providers can recruit key adult social carers from overseas from the shortage occupation list. That provides lower fees and a reduced salary threshold of £20,480 for someone to be eligible for the skilled worker visa.

The adult social care sector faces the worst staff shortages in living memory. A recent survey by the National Care Forum found that one third of managers of registered care homes are limiting or stopping admissions from hospital, due to staff shortages, with direct consequences for both the NHS and for vulnerable people who cannot access the care they need. The care sector needs action now, not warm words and job adverts. Will the Minister commit to paying a retention bonus to frontline care staff, to help stem the tide of those exiting the care sector this winter? Will she commit to a fully funded, permanent pay increase, to bring the minimum level of pay for care workers up to £10 an hour—the minimum rate at which Amazon is recruiting in many areas where the care shortage is at its most acute?

We have committed to bring forth new measures in the White Paper, and to spend at least £500 million on recruiting that workforce. To address the emergency now, as I mentioned, there is £162 million. In addition, we have put around £500 million particularly to address discharge processes, and to ensure a discharge to assess process, which means it can be much quicker. We must ensure that those teams work together to shorten the discharge process. There is no doubt that our NHS and our whole system is under extreme pressure this winter, and we thank it for all the work it is doing.

There is a particular challenge in a county such as Surrey that has a rapidly ageing demographic, high housing costs, and where the cost of living is high generally. Could I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State to ensure that they consider all possible avenues to assist with what is becoming an acute shortage of key staff? We cannot end up in a position where the elderly do not receive the care they need, and we need maximum flexibility to ensure they get that care.

There is no doubt that the sector is facing extreme pressure. It always faces pressure as the demographic need grows by 1% to 2% every year, but we have set out money to help with the short-term impact of that. Surrey will receive £2,704,702, so just over £2.7 million. We recently started the biggest national recruitment campaign we have ever done, Made with Care, to thank our care workers and to show what a fantastic and rewarding career it would be. We will continue to work with local authorities to help as much as we can.

In the context of what the Minister has announced about increased money for staff terms and conditions, what does she make of the Alternative Futures Group, which operates in the north-west? It refuses to take up the real living wage, even when councils offer to fund it, and is in a process that is seeing the terms and conditions of its workforce deteriorate? Is there a need to look at that group, and to have a collective agreement for the whole sector?

Yes, and I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would write with the details. We have a skills shortage in many areas across our economy. Because of the success of the Plan for Jobs, and our bounce back from the pandemic, anybody who does not treat their staff well will find that their skills shortages become very acute indeed.