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Residential Social Care: Staff

Volume 814: debated on Monday 6 September 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the (1) training, and (2) remuneration, of staff in social care residential services.

My Lords, we are incredibly proud of our health and care staff. As a nation, we are indebted to their selfless dedication, particularly over the last 18 months. The Government fund a range of training opportunities to support the development of care staff, including through a core workforce grant of £23.47 million. However, the vast majority of care workers are employed by private sector providers, who set their pay independently of central government.

My Lords, I am grateful, but the Minister will understand that, very often, the impression is given that the only qualification needed by these splendid staff is that of a kind heart. This is despite the fact that they are caring, day by day and hour by hour, for the people in our society with the most profound needs. Does the Minister accept that, in these circumstances, it is remarkable that the median pay for these staff is £8.12 per hour? Is it any wonder that there are 112,000 vacancies in this field? Could the Minister say whether the Government have any plans to support these staff with professional training and give them a fair salary?

My Lords, I endorse the noble Lord’s key point, which is that value is seen not through salary but through the skill, love and determination of our social care staff to do a fantastic job. We are extremely proud of the service that they provide. The provision of care in this country is being looked at in the spending review settlement, and the need to support the sector will be addressed in that.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the best technique for improving and regulating the wages and conditions of those engaged in the sector is through sectoral collective bargaining—a technique that was established by legislation in 1909 and abolished in 2013—namely, the wages councils. These were designed specifically for the low-paid and those less well organised in trade unions. Is it not time that there was a wages council for social care?

My Lords, I am enormously grateful for the insight of the noble Lord in this matter, in which I know that he is a great expert. However, he should of course remember that social care is provided through independent providers and local authorities. Social care workers are free to organise themselves as they wish, but that is not the arrangement that we have in this country.

Last week, three-quarters of providers in the United Kingdom Homecare Association said that recruiting social care workers is the hardest that it has ever been. In July, they warned that they faced a perfect storm of losing staff through Brexit and increased pay in retail and agriculture making their wages uncompetitive. They are at breaking point. One-third said that they are handing back some or all of their care contracts to local authorities because they cannot fulfil their contracts now—this is before they lose any unvaccinated staff—so what steps are the Government taking to urgently help the elderly in our care homes, the care homes and their staff going through this crisis?

My Lords, I am aware of the anecdotes that the noble Baroness alludes to, but they have not been seen through the figures that we have in the department. However, we are providing support to providers: we have a national recruitment campaign that is running in the autumn; we have put in free and fast-track DBS checks for staff recruited in response to the pandemic; and we have the promotion of adult social care careers in our jobcentres.

My Lords, while we await the announcement of the Prime Minister’s social care plan, after two frustrating years of non-action and delay, the continuing crisis in care homes needs to be dealt with now. With a possible 68,000 jobs now predicted to be lost in the light of the Government’s 11 November deadline for all care staff to be vaccinated, feedback from care providers shows that both care workers and the most senior and experienced staff are leaving the care workforce, with registered nursing staff constituting a much higher proportion than other care staff. What action have the Government taken to address this potential crisis in both the staffing and the management of care homes, particularly since the number of nursing jobs, for example, has decreased by 17,000, or 33%, over the past year?

My Lords, I do not completely recognise all of the noble Baroness’s figures, but I acknowledge that recruitment in many sectors of the economy is tough at the moment, and that is why we are putting in the measures that I mentioned to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I add that we are doing an enormous amount to fund: we have put £1 billion of additional funding into social care for 2021-22, on top of the significant support provided to the sector during Covid-19 over the last year. This is money directly to address the issues that she is concerned about.

My Lords, Plymouth’s university trust had to shut to new admissions, except for emergencies, partly because 100 beds had people in them who would have been better off at home or in residential care. This was only last week. Does the Minister agree that any CCG or local authority contracts let to provide social care in residential settings should include allowances for the cost of staff, their training, PPE, sickness and annual leave, and be funded at least at the equivalent of the local living wage, so that we can get back to a normal NHS care situation?

My Lords, I take on board the anecdote that the noble Baroness has just mentioned—I will look into that. I did not know about the arrangements at the Plymouth trust. On the whole, the arrangements for discharge have moved on a long way during the pandemic, and the financial arrangements for discharge have improved dramatically, so I am disturbed to hear the story that she tells, and I will definitely look into it.

My Lords, a disproportionate part of the proposed rise in national insurance will fall on low-paid workers, including those in the care sector. When this announcement is made, I hope that the Minister will come forward with plans to ensure that staff in the sector get a decent living wage.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that taxes have to be spread across the whole country, but I remind him that the national living wage has risen by 2.2% in the last year, which benefits everyone across the population.

My Lords, a number of local authorities, including Croydon, are insolvent. Have the Government or the Minister’s department made an assessment of the impact of that on the viability of care providers and the capacity of people who need social care, and are entitled to it under the Care Act, to get the services that they need?

My Lords, I acknowledge the pressure that local authorities are under. We do indeed keep in very close contact with local authorities that have financial pressure; I assure the noble Baroness that we will not be in a position where we breach the Care Act and that we keep very close tabs on the financial support that social care needs.

My Lords, there is a recruitment and retention problem in social care and a problem of youth unemployment. Does the Minister believe that his responses provide a basis for any young person to consider a career in social care, particularly his response to my noble friend Lord Hendy?

My Lords, many young people do seek a career in social care. Many of them see it as interchangeable with work in retail and in hospitality; in fact, we have seen an enormous amount of displacement between those sectors during Covid. We have to make sure that as retail and hospitality open up, those who have moved to social care continue to stay in that setting. That is one reason we are investing in the kind of education arrangements I described.

My Lords, as the shortage of HGV drivers has led to a hike in their wages, does the inevitable increased staff crisis in care homes—effectively 40,000 to 60,000 workers will be sacked because of the illiberal mandatory vaccine for front-line workers—mean that they might get a decent amount? But seriously, does the Minister agree that any social care policy should prioritise improving working conditions and renumeration, and that this is key to the better protection of care residents and far more of a priority than obsessing about Covid at this stage in the pandemic?

My Lords, the average turnover rate in social care is high, as noted by many noble Lords, as it is in some other sectors, including retail and hospitality. However, turnover rates are 8.1% lower in the past year among social care workers, down from 37.2% to 29.1%, which reassures us that many have in fact found it a fulfilling career.

My Lords, can the Minister say what improvements have been made to staff training in light of the Out Of SightWho Cares? report from the Care Quality Commission, which highlighted the excessive use of restraint, seclusion and segregation in the care of people with learning disabilities and autism in residential settings?

We are enormously grateful for that report, which has made a huge impact. I am not sure of the specific impact of the measures the noble Baroness describes, but I would be glad to write to her.