H2: The State of the Adult Social Care Sector and Workforce in the UK

Paragraph: The adult social care sector in the UK is in crisis. With low pay and heavy workload, social care staff shortages and high turnover rates are leaving care providers in a precarious position. To positively change public perception, the government has initiated new recruitment campaigns and funding. In this crossroads, what challenges do employers face in hiring care workers?

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Social care is a sector that provides support to people with specialized, non-clinical needs physically, emotionally, and socially. The goal of the social care service is to help those in need live a safe, comfortable, and fulfilling life as independently as possible.   

Social care workers work in a wide range of settings - from youth and community work to residential care. Examples of careers in the social care sector include:

Unordered List

  • Art therapists, who help people express their negative thoughts through art 
  • Care escorts, who help elderly and differently-abled people to get to their appointments
  • Care home managers, who help vulnerable people run their daily activities, thus helping them live as independently as possible 
  • Childminders, who care for children and support their learning and development 
  • Social workers, who help protect vulnerable children and adults from harm and abuse and aid them in living independently 

Ordered List

  1. Art therapists, who help people express their negative thoughts through art 
  2. Care escorts, who help elderly and differently-abled people to get to their appointments
  3. Care home managers, who help vulnerable people run their daily activities, thus helping them live as independently as possible 
  4. Childminders, who care for children and support their learning and development 
  5. Social workers, who help protect vulnerable children and adults from harm and abuse and aid them in living independently 

At various stages and for different reasons, people may need support to reach and maintain their control and dignity. Hence, social care is an important sector because it ensures that people who need specialized, non-clinical support receive it, thus helping them live their lives. 

Social care is particularly essential for the elderly, who are among the most vulnerable. Come to think of it, the population of England and Wales has continued to age. In 2011, there were 9.2 million people aged 65 and up. In 2021, the number went up to 11 million. Experts also predict that in the next 25 years, the number of people aged 85 and up will double to 2.6 million

Considering the high demands, one might think that there’s no scarcity in social care recruitment. But, the state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England says otherwise.   

H3: The Social Care Sector & Workforce

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Where do the social care sector and workforce stand in England? Let’s look into the following figures.

H4: Trends in Workforce Supply and Demand

Demands for social care workers rise, but many posts remain vacant.  Is it because people don’t think highly of being social care workers? According to a survey by Total Jobs, that couldn’t be it.  In fact, most people in the UK think social carers are important and have great respect for their work. An astounding 90% of the population believes that social care is necessary. 

But, here’s the caveat. Despite the respect people have for the profession, 2 out of 3 people (67%) wouldn't want to become a social carer themselves. They explain that the job doesn't pay well (42%), is emotionally challenging (41%), and is unappealing (29%). 

These reasons may also be why, despite the rising demand, there are still high vacancy rates in social care recruitment.  According to Skills for Care, a group that plans and develops the adult social care workforce in England, there is a high number of job vacancies in the sector. In 2021/22, about 10.7% of the roles in adult social care were vacant. That's equivalent to approximately 165,000 job vacancies.

There is some good news, though. Skills for Care predicts that in 2022/23, the number of vacancies will decrease. They estimate there will be around 152,000 vacancies, which would be a vacancy rate of 9.9%. This is an 11% reduction compared to the previous year.

Social care recruitment isn’t the only challenge, however, as England also faces difficulties in social care retention. 

They also say the turnover rate for directly employed staff in this sector was 29% in the year 2021/22. This means that roughly 400,000 employees left their positions during that time. Another report said the turnover rate in the social care sector is 31% - 16% higher compared to the 15% turnover rate in all employment sectors across the United Kingdom. High turnover rates are not just costly; they may also result in low productivity and low-quality work

Overall, these figures indicate that despite the rising demands for social care services, many posts remain vacant. This is primarily due to challenges in social care recruitment and retention. Employers find it difficult to fill posts or they experience high turnover rates. 

Government Support for the Sector

As England faces a “stretched and shrinking” social care workforce despite the demand, the government has enacted measures to address social care hiring and retention challenges. 

In December 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) published a white paper outlining plans for social care reform. In chapter six of the white paper, the government’s strategy includes supporting the social care workforce with an investment of at least £500 million in three years - 2022, 2023, 2024. The primary policies include:

  • The development of a Knowledge and Skills Framework and career structure for the social care workforce.
  • A new Skills Passport. This will hold records of a person’s learning and development.
  • Investment in training routes and continuing professional development.
  • Offer for wellbeing and occupational health.
  • Development of a new care workforce hub – a “central digital platform for the workforce.

While stakeholders welcomed the primary policies, they were worried that the committed fund wouldn’t be adequate. Furthermore, they stated that the policies do not offer long-term solutions to the fundamental problems in the social care workforce. 

On April 4, 2023, the Government released a policy paper to report on the progress made in implementing the reforms outlined in the December 2021 white paper and shared details on the allocation of funding. Here are the highlights of the updates:

The Government committed to invest "at least £250 million" over the next two years for workforce development. They also confirmed plans to publish a national workforce pathway for adult social care and a consultation on the proposed pathway was released alongside the policy paper.

Commentators noted that the funding for workforce development had been reduced from £500 million to £250 million. The Government acknowledged that there was still £600 million of funding from the December 2021 white paper to be allocated, of which £250 million was initially earmarked for workforce development.

On July 28, 2023, the Government announced how the unallocated £600 million from the December 2021 white paper would be spent. The majority, £570 million, will be provided through a new Market Sustainability and Improvement Fund - Workforce Fund, with £365 million allocated for 2023/24 and £205 million for 2024/25. Local authorities have the option to use this funding to enhance adult social care workforce capacity and retention, among other initiatives.

The Local Government Association welcomed the funding but emphasized the need for certainty regarding its continuation to enable long-term planning and funding commitments for care workers. 

Reasons for Recruitment and Retention Difficulties

To help address the issues surrounding social care recruitment and retention, employers need to understand the potential reasons behind them. These may include:

Low Pay: Problems in social care recruitment and retention often stem from low pay. Social care workers, after all, are among those who receive the lowest pay in general, falling behind other sectors like retail. This is further exacerbated by the cost of living crisis in the country. 

Career Opportunities, Training, and Development: Another possible reason behind problems in social care recruitment is the lack of career progression opportunities. There’s also little standardization of training and qualifications in the field.  

Staff Morale: Worries about low staff morale and burnout also drive problems in social care retention. A survey even revealed that the well-being of social workers at work is lower than other professions

Workload: Finally, another key driver in social care hiring and retention challenges is the workload. In a UNISON Survey in January of 2022, researchers noted that 75% of social work staff reported that their workload is sometimes excessive.

Ways Forward for Employers

Enhance Social Carers' Careers

On top of the support provided by the government, employers may also initiate measures to address social care recruitment problems and improve retention rates.  Based on a survey where social care staff outline actions they would like to see their employers take, you may consider: 

  • Making sure your employees feel valued 
  • Providing a higher pay rate
  • Giving more support, training and development opportunities, and career progression pathways 
  • Offering more flexible working hours 
  • Finding ways to reduce employee stress

And, of course, social care staff are also looking for job stability and security. 

Overseas Recruitment

To address social care recruitment issues, the government has made some changes to bring in more workers from other countries. 

In 2021/22, Skills for Care found that 16% of the adult social care workforce identified as non-British. This is higher than the overall population, where only 8% identify as foreigners. Specifically, 7% of the workforce consisted of individuals from EU countries, while 9% were from non-EU nationalities (excluding British).

It is important to note that historically, there has been limited direct recruitment of migrant workers into the social care sector. In most cases, migrant workers who joined the sector were already residing in the UK.

The government likewise recently made changes to its policy regarding care workers. They made care workers eligible for a special visa called the Health and Care Worker visa and added the occupation to the Shortage Occupation List. This change started on February 15, 2022.

To qualify for the Health and Care Worker visa, care workers need to earn at least £20,960 a year. Some people want to lower this threshold, but others are concerned that it could result in lower pay for care workers.

Since care workers have been added to the Shortage Occupation List, more people from abroad have come to the UK to work in social care. Around 70,000 people were recruited from other countries for direct care-providing roles in 2022/23, which is a big increase from 20,000 in 2021/22. However, experts believe that adding care workers to the Shortage Occupation List alone won't solve the shortage of workers in the sector.

In September 2022, the government also announced that they would invest £15 million to support the recruitment of care workers from other countries. This funding is meant to help employers overcome the challenges they face when hiring internationally.

With these changes, you might want to consider hiring overseas as well for your vacant social care posts. 

Develop new and revised ways of working to improve the work experience

To increase social care recruitment and reduce problems in social care retention, the company needs to add value to employee work experience. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to do this. Employers can build on existing strengths and/or develop new strategies to encourage staff to remain and thrive. 

Some of the areas you can build on include:

  • Fostering a culture of appreciation, as staff want to feel valued 
  • Prioritizing professional development, since lack of career progression is an issue 
  • Promoting work-life balance to reduce stress 
  • Providing competitive compensation package and benefits 

Offering flexible hours and work-from-home arrangements has also become a necessity to adapt to the changing times. By allowing employees the flexibility to work from home or a combination of in-office and remote settings, employers can offer a more accommodating work environment. Of course, this shift in working culture requires modifications to systems, processes, and behaviors to ensure seamless operations and effective communication.

Finally, remember that social care is inherently a collaborative field. Hence, facilitating teamwork can greatly enhance the work life of your employees. Create opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, promote open communication channels, and foster a supportive team environment. Regular team meetings, brainstorming sessions, and collaborative projects can foster a sense of camaraderie, motivation, and shared purpose among employees.

Strengthen your recruitment processes

With the high demands and many vacancies, it can be tempting to prioritize speed and fill the positions as quickly as possible. However, remember the importance of hiring the right people for the job. This is particularly critical in social care due to the sensitive nature of the roles and responsibilities involved. 

One effective way to ensure the right fit is by conducting thorough background checks. Not only does this help you make appropriate hiring decisions, but it also increases the likelihood of retention in the long run.

What background checks are needed in the social care sector?

Background checks in the social care sector are essential to ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable individuals who receive care and support. These checks help organizations hire trustworthy and qualified staff while meeting regulatory requirements. Here are some common background checks typically required in the social care sector:

1. DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) Check:

  - A DBS check is a standard requirement for individuals working with vulnerable adults and children. It discloses information about an individual's criminal history, including convictions, cautions, warnings, and reprimands.

2. Reference Checks:

  - Contacting previous employers or professional references to verify an applicant's work history, experience, and character.

3. Qualification and Certification Verification:

  - Ensuring that an applicant's educational qualifications, professional certifications, and relevant training are genuine and up-to-date.

4. Right to Work Check:

  - Confirming that the applicant has the legal right to work in the country. This may involve checking passports, visas, or other work permits.

5. Adults and Children's Barred Lists Checks:

  - Ensuring that the applicant is not barred from working with vulnerable adults or children. This is a legal requirement for certain roles.

6. Health Screening:

  - Assessing an applicant's physical and mental health to ensure they are fit for the responsibilities of the role.

7. Interview and Assessment:

  - Conducting interviews and assessments to evaluate an applicant's suitability for the role and their understanding of the needs of vulnerable individuals.

8. Driver's License Check:

  - If the role involves driving, confirming that the applicant holds a valid driver's license and assessing their driving history.

9. Continual Monitoring:

  - Regularly reviewing and updating background checks for existing employees to ensure they remain suitable for their roles.

It's crucial for organizations in the social care sector to adhere to legal and regulatory requirements specific to their region or country. The specific checks required may vary based on the nature of the role, the vulnerability of the individuals being cared for, and the relevant legislation. Always consult with legal and regulatory authorities to ensure compliance with current requirements.

Veremark’s Solutions

Veremark can help you find the right people for your social care posts. We can conduct the relevant screening checks to find the best talents with the right qualifications, experience, and background. From educational background checks to criminal records screening,  we can gather the information you need to ascertain not only if they are a good fit for your open positions but also if they have plans to thrive in your company for a long time. 

Simply choose which checks you need, enter your candidate’s details, and customize your requirements. We’ll take care of the rest - from getting their consent to presenting the results of the social care verification. Our easy-to-use system integrates easily into your existing workflow, so you can hire the best talents with speed and accuracy. Partnering with us also improves your compliance as every step we take to collect and present data adheres to the relevant laws and regulations on background screening, 

As evidenced by our partnerships with the world’s best workplaces, you can onboard new social care workers with Veremark. 


The social care sector is an integral part of protecting the community’s most vulnerable.  But, while the demands for social care workers are rising, many posts remain vacant, an indication of the growing issues in social care recruitment. One reason why people are hesitant to become social care staff is the low pay. 

Social care retention is also a concern with hundreds of thousands leaving their roles in recent years. Burnout and low morale are among why staff don’t stay in their jobs. 

To address these issues, the government has allocated funds and crafted policies, such as including social care in the Shortage Occupation List. They have also opened more doors for overseas recruitment. 

Employers can also address social care recruitment and retention challenges by facilitating things their employees want. These include more appreciation, higher pay rates, arrangements for remote work, and flexibility in hours. 

By partnering with service providers, such as Veremark, you can reduce the risk of hiring the wrong people, and help improve retention rates.