We can’t fix the NHS crisis until we fix our social care crisis

With 165,000 unfilled vacancies in social care, we urgently need to recruit people to work in the sector to resolve the crisis

Right now ambulances are queueing outside hospitals, and people are dying waiting for them, because there aren’t enough beds to discharge patients into. This is, partly, another manifestation of our long-term social care crisis. There are 13,000 patients in hospitals that are ready to leave but cannot, due to a lack of social care provision. To help solve the NHS crisis we need to increase social care provision and we’ve set out how: by paying care workers more and providing them with a proper career path and better conditions.

The government has now offered £200m to provide short-term care placements so people can be discharged from hospital, but this will not deal with the huge underlying problem of there not being enough social care provision. Their plan will only increase the number of available beds by 2,000 when our needs are much greater. If we do not increase the capacity of the social care system to look after more people, then thousands will remain in hospital beds, and that harms everyone.

The reason these people cannot leave hospital is because there simply are not enough care workers to look after them. Around 165,000 care jobs are currently vacant — representing about one in ten care jobs — and on top of that, around 30% of the workforce leaves each year. We need to recruit, and retain, far more care workers than we currently do.

But we cannot get more care workers without paying them more. Care work is one of the lowest paid occupations in the country and their pay has fallen relative to other low-paid jobs. Care work now pays less than jobs in the retail sector. Conditions in the sector are also poor. The work itself is physically and emotionally demanding, and insecure contracts are widespread, with 25% of workers on zero hours contracts. The care sector is simply not an alluring enough prospect to attract the required number of care workers.

On top of that, care workers do not enter a career with the chance for progression and pay increases. Experienced care workers earn little more than new starters. With few chances for recognised training, there are few routes for care workers to upskill, and get higher wages in return for more skills.

If we want there to be enough beds for our loved ones, and an NHS that is there for us in our time of need, then we need to urgently reform our social care sector by expanding the quantity and quality of care available. We’ve set out the path to achieve this: an immediate increase in care workers’ salaries to a proper Living Wage and a relaxation of visa fees to allow more migrants to work in the sector.

We’re also calling for longer term reforms to ensure we have for a proper care workforce that can attend to our needs. We need to make care work a more attractive profession by ensuring that there is a care career path in place – with better conditions and more training in return for higher pay.

We cannot solve our NHS crisis without increasing the quality and quantity of care workers. It is now up to the government to seize this opportunity and provide the reforms we so desperately need. 

Image: iStock/​Dean Mitchell

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