Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Mencap report shows reality of working in a social care system in crisis

A third of learning disability support workers have left the sector for good due to poor pay and of those remaining many face financial hardship, according to a new report from Mencap.

The report, Why We Care: the reality of working in a social care system in crisis, examines the social care system in England and Wales through the experiences of those who work in it. It explores the challenges of the sector and celebrates the dedication of frontline staff supporting people with a learning disability.

It found that a third (34%) of staff surveyed took on the role because they wanted to give back to society and improve the lives of those they supported. However, two-fifths (39%) said they were facing financial difficulty as a result of pay in the sector and almost a third (28%) said the long hours affected their work/life balance with one in six (14%) saying their mental health was affected.

Some support workers were skipping meals, having to use foodbanks and working long hours to make ends meet. As of March last year, the most recent data showed that on average, a support worker gets paid £10.03 per hour just over minimum wage.

Pay was one of the reasons why a third of people have left the sector for good, enticed by higher wages in other sectors such as retail and logistics. There are now concerns amongst frontline staff that it is only a matter of time before this affects the consistency of care people with a learning disability need to thrive because of a sector reliance on agency workers.

Mencap is calling for immediate cash injection into social care

The report said that a lack of local authority funding is also putting huge pressure on Integrated Care Systems, local authorities, NHS Trusts and social care providers who are responsible for improving health and care across England.

Local authorities are legally required to provide social care under the Care Act 2014 but worryingly three quarters of Directors of Adult Social Services across English councils say they are not confident about being able to fully offer the minimum social care support required by law in their communities.

Why we care report

In 2021/22, over 205,000 adults aged 18 to 64 in England were not provided with adult social care support when they requested it.

The charity is calling on all political parties to commit to a national long-term plan for social care workforce and a minimum £8.4 billion immediate cash injection into social care. It is also calling for a minimum pay for social care staff that reflects similar roles in the NHS (band 3) and a cap on agency charging.

Jackie O’Sullivan, Acting CEO at Mencap, said: “Support workers and service managers are the beating heart of social care and while it is heartening to see the passion and dedication so many bring to the role, it is also heart-breaking that so many are being affected by government cuts and sector-wide low pay.

“Without long-term government funding into social care we could see the level of care and support people with a learning disability receive put at risk. Many people with a learning disability need support to get out into the community and to stay healthy. Ensuring there are enough support workers in the profession is vital to make this happen.

“The government needs to fund a long-term plan that will meet increasing demand and commit to a minimum pay for those working in social care that reflects similar roles in the NHS to encourage people to stay in a career in social care.”

Why can’t Mencap pay support staff more?

The charity also addressed why it is only able to pay staff what it receives from local authority contracts, which hugely varies. In recent months, it said it has had to reject contracts from local authorities because the funding that is offered does not match what is needed to deliver good quality social care

It also said that other charities are experiencing the same challenges. Research from the National Charity for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) reveals that 73% of charities surveyed say they cannot meet the current demand for the public services they deliver with the funding they receive13 due to increasing demand, higher operating costs, and no uplifts in line with inflation.

It added: “People might question why Mencap does not subsidise the pay our support workers get from other funding sources. But the income we receive from funders and generous donors is used to fund a range of other much-needed services, such as our helpline, outreach programmes for people with a learning disability and families, and to campaign for change to outdated laws like the Mental Health Act. It would also fail to resolve the wider issue of chronic underfunding. The money to pay for social social must come from the government.'”

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