The number of filled social care jobs in England has fallen for the first time in almost a decade as the sector struggles to attract and keep staff, figures show.
Filled positions in adult social care fell by 3% (50,000 positions) between 2020-21 and 2021-22, according to a report from Skills for Care.
It is the first year-on-year fall since the workforce body started collecting data in 2012-13.
The vacancy rate rose by 52% (55,000 positions) over the latest year, the figures show.
This suggests the decrease in filled posts is down to struggles in recruiting and keeping staff, rather than a reduced demand for care, Skills for Care said.
The fall comes despite £162.5 million in funding from Government announced in autumn 2021 and a national recruitment campaign to boost numbers.
The body’s annual report on the size and structure of England’s adult social care workforce found there were 1.79 million filled and unfilled posts in 2021-22 – up 0.3% from the previous year.
This comprises of an estimated 1.62 million filled posts and 165,000 vacancies.
Most of the fall in filled posts was in the independent sector (45,000), the figures show.
The number of filled posts fell by 13,000 in care homes and 15,000 in care homes with nursing.
There were 19,000 fewer filled domiciliary care posts across the year, despite a rise in demand.
Skills for Care said the fall in filled posts and rise in vacancies corresponds to the wider economy reopening after the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when fewer jobs in other sectors were available.
At the time, some carers had felt they needed to stay to help the sector through the worst of the outbreak, it added.
It predicts that, if the workforce were to grow proportionally in line with projections of an ageing population, the number of posts would need to increase by around 480,000 to 2.27 million by 2035.
Skills for Care chief executive Oonagh Smyth said: “Through our monthly tracking data, we already knew that the number of filled posts had been decreasing since the height of the pandemic, and now our annual report has confirmed that filled posts have decreased for the first time on record.
“This highlights the recruitment and retention challenges which we know social care employers are facing right now and is not a decrease in demand for care services.
“In fact, our forecast data tells us that we will need a 27% increase in posts in social care by 2035 to continue to maintain the current levels of care and support to people who will need it in the future.”
The Independent Care Group, which represents providers in York and North Yorkshire, said the figures reveal a “crisis” that is “robbing older and vulnerable people of the care they need”.
Chairman Mike Padgham said: “Shocking as they are, nobody can be surprised at these figures as care providers on the front line know that it is becoming impossible to fill care vacancies and they are struggling to give people the care they need.
“We are seeing care and nursing homes close due to the ongoing funding crisis and homecare providers closing or handing back contracts that are not possible to deliver.
“Unless better funding is provided for social care, this is only going to get worse and worse and that is terrible, tragic news for those needing care.”
Adam Purnell, director of social care for the Institute of Health and Social Care Management, said: “There are many reasons why we struggle to recruit and retain, but the truth of the matter is we are an underfunded sector that can only afford to pay the minimum whilst putting people through stringent recruitment checks which can last weeks or even months.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said the data may not provide a true picture of workforce capacity as it depends on the number of providers advertising new jobs.
A spokesman said: “Reforming adult social care is a priority and we are investing £5.4 billion over the next three years to end unpredictable care costs and support the workforce.
“We have made care workers eligible for the Health and Care visa and added them to the Shortage Occupation List which will make it much easier to hire workers from abroad, alongside investing at least £500 million to develop and support the workforce over the next three years.”