Discounted housing for key workers being considered by council

GV of Oxfordshire County Council
GV of Oxfordshire County Council

DISCOUNTED key worker housing is being considered as an incentive to solve the staffing crisis in Oxfordshire’s social care sector.

Kevin Gordon, director for children’s services at Oxfordshire County Council, revealed the authority is “actively exploring” how to deliver affordable housing in a bid to recruit and retain staff.

Mr Gordon even went as far as to say he “would like to see every new development in Oxfordshire have a wing for key workers” as part of his address to the county’s people overview & scrutiny committee this week.

The report on workforce issues in children’s and adult social care delivered some stark figures – a 52 per cent spike in vacancy rates nationally, some 165,000 positions, with around 480,000 new posts likely to require filling by 2035 to meet rising demand.

It cited problems related to Brexit, the workforce being “exhausted and demoralised” post-Covid, prohibitive shift patterns and low pay.

It was argued that local issues such as a high cost of living in Oxfordshire alongside a “buoyant” local labour market – it listed Asda among the employers advertising roles with better hourly rates than the median for care workers in Oxfordshire in 2021-22 – are exacerbating those problems.

Current vacancy rates in Oxfordshire are 1.3 per cent higher than the 10-year average in children’s services and 5.4 per cent higher in adult social care. It was estimated that there were 1,800 unfilled posts with external partners in 2021-22.

Among the initiatives being worked on by the council are grow your own schemes, including a social work academy, with Mr Gordon also keen to address housing need.

“One of the barriers to people, both coming into the social care workforce and indeed remaining, is the cost of housing in an expensive place like Oxfordshire,” he said.

“Public services still need to run so we now need to factor in how we house people in public service within our county.

“I think it is fair to say the NHS is a little bit further ahead than we are in local government, there is still really attractive, low-cost housing, accommodation for nurses and police section houses.

“All of these things might sound a little bit old fashioned but they are all full at the moment and have waiting lists, such is the need for them.

“Over the past 20-30 years, we have tended to step back from linking accommodation to jobs. Years ago, local authorities would have had campuses for residential homes. We have moved well away from that model but we need to bring back some elements of that thinking.”

He later added: “I would like to see every new development in Oxfordshire have a wing for key workers because we aren’t going to be able to open up the shop in this county – within our schools, hospitals, fire stations or our social care workforce – unless we think about where people are going to live.”

Councillor Nigel Simpson, chair of the committee, said: “It is crucial we go down that route, working with the districts and developers.

“As a council we have probably got land we could build on and almost go back to the old ways of building our own properties. It is an asset for the council while also providing crucial support for people starting off in their careers in care.

“They need that helping hand. There is only so much we can give them as a salary but it is a case of other incentives that we can do to lock them into our communities and keep them on board so I am very pleased we are going down that route.”