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Government unveils plans to boost domestic social care workforce

Investment in nursing apprenticeships and a new care qualification are among the government’s latest efforts to boost the domestic pipeline into adult social care in England.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) today unveiled a package of measures, backed by £75m funding, that it said would recruit new talent into the sector and promote careers in social care.

However, sector leaders have warned that the plans might “only scratch the surface” of what is needed to resolve recruitment issues in social care and could fail unless the government pledges further funding.

“The only way to fill the significant vacancies in social care is by valuing nursing and care staff”

Patricia Marquis

The move comes at a time where there are currently over 152,000 vacancies across the adult social care workforce in England.

Among the measures announced was a £20m investment for apprenticeships, which the government said councils and adult social care providers can use towards training and supervising nurse apprentices.

In addition, the government said a further £50m of funding was set to be put towards introducing a new care qualification.

It said up to 37,000 people already working in adult social care would be able to enroll on a new Level 2 Adult Social Care Certificate qualification between June 2024 and March 2025.

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The government has also proposed a new new digital leadership qualification, which is designed to help equip social care leaders with the skills to implement and use technology in delivery of care.

These measures are all unpinned by a wider plan unveiled by the government, the Care Workforce Pathway, which proposes a first of its kind national career structure for care workers.

The new pathway, launched in partnership with Skills for Care, aims to improve perceptions of a career in care by mapping out different roles in the sector and the necessary level of experience.

Minister for social care, Helen Whately, said: “The workforce is the heartbeat of the social care sector and staff should be given the recognition and opportunities they deserve.

“These changes will give brilliant care workers the chance to develop rewarding careers in social care,” she said.

Ms Whately argued that there were “many talented people across the country who would thrive in care work” but who had not thought of it as a choice.

“Our new career path and qualifications recognise social care as the skilled profession it is,” she said.

The chief executive of Skills for Care, Oonagh Smyth, welcomed the announcement, noting that the workforce pathway and a care certificate qualification were projects that her organisation supported.

She said: “Both initiatives will encourage learning and development opportunities for people working in different care services as well as supporting with the recruitment and retention challenges which we know employers are continuing to face.”

The new measures come just one month after the government announced plans to tighten health and care visas, ensuring that care staff would no longer be able to bring their dependents into the country.

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International recruits have been instrumental in reducing adult social care vacancies in the last year, with 70,000 overseas staff recruited into direct care roles in 2022-23.

However, the DHSC said its latest plans would bolster the domestic workforce so that the sector can “strike the right balance” between international recruitment and filling vacancies with UK-based staff.

While the announcements today have mostly been welcomed from leaders working across the social care sector, many have also raised concerns that they do not go far enough.

The Royal College of Nursing director for England, Patricia Marquis, said: “We hope ministers are at last getting the message that the only way to fill the significant vacancies in social care is by valuing nursing and care staff, and boosting domestic recruitment.

“However, the plans announced today will fail if they are not backed up by new funding commitments, further detail, and a comprehensive workforce plan.”

Ms Marquis noted that the turnover of nursing staff in the social care sector was three times higher than the NHS, and that it was being “kept afloat by internationally recruited staff”.

She added: “Whilst education and training are critical to solving the staffing crisis, for far too long social care workers have been professionally overlooked and short-changed with meagre pay and poor conditions.

“Ministers must also address poor pay and employment terms for nursing staff working in social care – at least matching the NHS Agenda for Change contract.”

This was echoed by the chief executive of the National Care Forum, Professor Vic Rayner, who welcomed the measures but called on the government to properly fund the pay, terms and conditions of the social care workforce.

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She said: “None of these commitments come with any focus on moving us closer to a set of pay, terms and conditions that match the skills and expertise laid out in the new pathway.

“The role of a care worker is complex and skilled – and a pathway without an accompanying properly funded pay structure will do little to attract and retain people to progress through the career structure.”

Meanwhile, Care England also welcomed the package of support but warned that it “may only scratch the surface of what is required to resolve the recruitment and retention challenges”.

Chief executive of the organisation, Professor Martin Green, said: “This package of measures, including the Care Workforce Pathway, is an opportunity to be an asset to the sector and has the potential to make it a more attractive sector to work in.”

“The promise from this government to fix social care feels like a distant memory but this is a welcome reminder that this promise has not been forgotten,” he said.

He added: “The impetus is now on the government to turn the tide and make good on their promise.”

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