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Government’s social care workforce plan “woefully insufficient”, say MPs

MPs are calling on the government to implement stronger leadership, long-term financial support and a clear workforce strategy to address the key shortfalls in the adult social care sector.

In a new report, Reforming adult social care in England, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says the government is currently falling short on its promise to ‘fix the crisis in social care’, as it has no roadmap for achieving long-term targets.

The Committee highlights that vacancies in the social care sector exceeded 152,000 in March 2023 – a vacancy rate of almost 10% – but the workforce plan which sets out to address this shortfall is “woefully insufficient”.

They are particularly concerned by the government’s proposed visa restrictions, which prevents care workers from bringing dependents with them to live in the UK. However, the Department says it expects to be able to carry on recruiting internationally for people without dependents.

Nuffield Trust Deputy Director of Policy Natasha Curry said the lack of a credible workforce plan and ‘unpredictable and sporadic funding’ is hindering the sector’s ability to plan for the long term.

“As a result, people continue to experience long waits for care; staff shortages endure; and delivery of even the government’s flagship charging reform – already delayed – is uncertain,” she said.

Longer term plan urgently needed

The PAC are now calling on the government to stop ‘patchwork funding’ and ‘short-notice announcements’, and instead provide a longer-term plan to give local authorities greater certainty over funding and allow them to plan ahead.

The Committee also wants to see the government implement a ‘convincing plan’ to address the chronic staff shortages in the long-term. They are particularly concerned about the workforce shortages in rural areas, and they ask the government to write to the Committee setting out how it will lead the sector to identify and address workforce challenges.

This includes achieving a sustained reduction in the number of vacancies in the sector (beyond 2025), addressing the challenges and risks associated with international recruitment, tackling local variations in vacancy rates, addressing issues around disparity with NHS pay, and assessing which workforce initiatives are most effective for recruiting and retaining staff.

Finally, the Committee says Department should set out a roadmap for delivering its vision, pulling together all its reform activity and the risks to delivery with key performance indicators.

Sector leaders must be able to hold the government to account on their progress, and the Committee asks the Department to publish six-monthly updates on progress to time and budget.

10-year ‘vision’ will not bring about the fundamental changes the social care sector desperately needs

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “Years of fragmented funding and the absence of a clear roadmap has brought the adult social care sector to its knees. Waiting lists are rising, the sector is short tens of thousands of essential staff, and local authority finances are being placed under an unsustainable amount of pressure.”

Ms Hillier says a single chapter in the Adult Social Care Reform White Paper to the social care workforce “does not do justice to the level of work that will be required”, and the Department must set out how it will identify and address workforce challenges in a more robust manner.

“Whilst we welcome the increase in funding, we fear this will do little to address the key challenges faced by the sector in the absence of a well-funded multi-year strategy. A 10-year vision is all well and good, but this alone is not enough to bring about the fundamental changes this sector so desperately needs,” she said.

Ms Curry said: “All in all, the PAC delivers a scathing judgement on the government’s progress and we join calls for the DHSC to provide clarity on how it intends to deliver change.”

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