Social care recruitment efforts have been branded “largely ineffective” by a leading care body as figures revealed millions have been spent on a Government campaign in recent years yet vacancies have hit a record high.
There were 165,000 vacancies in the social care sector in 2021/22 – the same year almost £6.5 million was budgeted for the adult social care recruitment campaign, according to figures retrieved by Care England.
A total of £23,650,000 has been budgeted for the campaign since 2018, including a projection for the 2022-23 year, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said in response to a Freedom of Information request from the leading representative body for care providers in England.
Professor Martin Green, Care England’s chief executive, said money spent on “ineffectual campaigns” would have been better allocated “to bring care staff benefits in line with NHS staff”.
He said the social care sector is in crisis and problems with recruitment must be tackled through better pay, benefits, terms and conditions.
Previous analysis by the King’s Fund health charity stated that, at 10.7%, the vacancy rate in adult social care is the highest it has been since Skills for Care began collecting data in 2012/13.
Annual budgets increased from £2.8 million in 2018-19, to £3.8 million the following year, then £6.8 million in 2020/21 and £6.45 million in 2021/22, the DHSC figures showed.
Care England said it was concerned by the drop to a £3.8 million forecast budget for the 2022/23 year.
Prof Green said: “It is clear that the Government’s recruitment efforts have fallen short and have been largely ineffective. The £24 million has been spent on ineffectual campaigns which could have been better allocated to bring care staff benefits in line with NHS staff.
“The recruitment campaigns represent an awareness campaign that is unlikely to result in a tangible change to the number of recruits entering the sector.
“The introduction of a minimum care wage that outpaces the NLW (national living wage), tied to NHS band 3, is not an option but a necessity to ensure that social care professionals receive the respect and fair compensation they are owed.
“The social care recruitment crisis will only be solved when care staff benefits, terms and conditions are brought into parity with those of the NHS – including pensions, statutory sick pay, holiday entitlements, and access to training. This will begin to redress the underpayment and underappreciation of care workers compared to their NHS counterparts.”
DHSC said its campaign aims to encourage people with the right values to apply for, and fill, immediate paid vacancies in the adult social care sector.
The figures come as the Government announced its volunteer programme was being expanded from the NHS into social care, with those who sign up picking up and dropping off medicines for people, and collecting and delivering food shopping and prescriptions.
DHSC said volunteers are crucial in supporting the health and care sector, and complementing the existing workforce, but they “do not replace the existing, highly-valued, paid health and care staff”.
While care leaders welcomed the use of volunteers, they warned that investment in the trained workforce is still badly needed and must be a priority.
The Government was criticised for announcing earlier this year that social care workforce funding would be halved from a previously pledged £500 million.
The move was branded a betrayal by charities, unions and opposition parties, with ministers accused of broken promises.
The Government has insisted no funding for the adult social care sector had been removed or reallocated to the NHS and that up to £600 million has “not yet been allocated”, and will be targeted on measures “that will have the most impact” over the next two years.
Last year Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed that social care charging reforms promised by Boris Johnson’s government would be delayed for two years to 2025, including an £86,000 cap on personal care cost contributions, as well as an expanded means test that is more generous than the existing one, which had been due to come into effect from October this year.
Asked during his trip to Washington when the Tory manifesto pledge on long-term reform of social care will be delivered, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “What we’ve done is invest billions of pounds into social care right now.
“Given the situation we face, it’s right that money was going in to actually just build resilience, expand capacity in the sector – £14 billion at the autumn statement last year in both the NHS and social care that was warmly welcomed by the sector.
“At the time, we announced that we were postponing the long-term reform that had been previously announced because the priority in the here and now is getting money into the sector so that they can continue to give high-quality care. I think that’s the right priority and that’s what we’re going to carry on doing.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are fully committed to our 10-year vision to reform adult social care, and recently published our Next Steps To Put People At the Heart Of Care plan – setting out how we are spending £700 million on adult social care reform over the next two years, including £250 million on the workforce.”