Carer shortage: The importance of retaining staff

In the UK there is an increasing need for adult social care and although the care market is growing, the pool of care workers is dwindling. Uncertainty around Brexit and what it means for non-EU workers is already causing some workers to leave the UK1.

For the moment, the Brexit policy on freedom of movement remains unchanged. When the change happens, low-skilled non-EU workers in particular, could find themselves in a difficult situation. This will also put more recruitment strain on you as a care employer.

Retaining staff in the care sector is something that has been an ongoing tussle. Staff retention rates are low, which is not helped by zero hours contracts2, low wages and sometimes unsociable hours.

Recruiting, retaining and paying for staff is becoming a significant challenge for you and the care sector4. It’s becoming increasingly important to keep hold of your existing care staff.

So, what are the issues and how can you keep hold of your employees?

How external influences impact your care workforce

External pressures can make it difficult for your care businesses to meet demand. Some of the most serious influences affecting your business are:
  • Brexit

    Brexit is probably the biggest external challenge facing your workforce in recent years.

    The government has proposed to put restrictions on net migration which means disruption to the flow of low-skilled non-UK workforce4. Non-EU nationals make up 9% and EU nationals 7% of the carers' workforce.

    Uncertainty about Brexit is already having an impact, especially on the recruitment and retention of EU nationals in some parts of the workforce which is contributing to staff shortages1.

    If some independent forecasts are correct and Brexit has a long term negative impact on the economy, there may be less funding for health and social care1.

  • Care budgets

    Local authority budgets have been shrinking and the care sector has been feeling the side effects of this.

    Between 2009 and 2015 the number of people receiving local authority domiciliary care in the UK decreased by 20% and so did the hours delivered by 6.8%6.

    Social care budgets increased by 2.2% in late 20167, yet it still remains to be seen if this is enough, as the strain of an aging population reaches care providers.

    There’s evidence that some domiciliary care providers are considering handing back care packages to local authorities as they’re unable to deliver them6.

  • An ageing population

    The care system is struggling to meet demand and the pressures are only going to increase with the UK’s ageing population.

    The UK’s population is rising and people are living longer. This is increasing demand for nursing and domiciliary care3.

    It’s estimated that if the adult social care workforce continues to grow at the same rate to keep up with demand, there will be another 350,000 care jobs needed by 2030, an increase of 21%5

The big 3: care employer concerns

  • Recruiting staff

    High levels of turnover and churn in the adult social care sector4 means it’s a constant battle to replace your care staff. The pool of available workers is becoming smaller and Brexit it set to worsen the situation. The vacancy rate for adult social care roles is 6.6%, that’s 90,000 vacancies at any one time5, almost twice the rate of the UK labour force as a whole4.

  • Paying staff

    Pressures from the tightening of local authority budgets and squeezed profit margins means the ability to increase staff wages is difficult. Care businesses are looking at cost saving measures to meet operating costs and contract demands.
  • Retaining staff

    Zero-hours contracts, which are attractive to some, are very undesirable to others. Uncertainty about working hours is a real issue for those who want to be able to ensure a regular and stable income. Also, employee benefits might not match expectations and the needs of the workforce.

    In 2016, 350,000 staff members (27.68%) left their roles in the adult social care sector5.

How to keep your care staff

As we’ve discovered, the shrinking pool of care candidates and tight profit margins mean it’s more difficult to recruit new staff in a sector that already has high staff turnover. Recruiting new staff can be an expensive process, it’s more important than ever to make sure you look after those who already work for you.

To improve staff retention, take a look at your employer engagement levels and make sure you’re reaching your workforce in a way that works for them. You should also take a look at what employee benefits you offer and review if they meet the needs of your workforce. This may apply to both your permanent and zero-hours contract employees.

Good employee benefits tools such as an employee assistance plan and workplace financial education can be beneficial in supporting employees, leading to a healthier workforce and less absences.

Employee benefits can be easy to roll out and could be tax efficient. A considerate review of employee benefits and regular employee communications about what’s on offer can benefit not only you as the employer, but also your employees. Meaning they’re likely to stay with you for longer.



1. Kingsfund Publications, Implications Health and Social Care https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/articles/brexit-implications-health-social-care
2. Nursing Times, One in five nurses in care sector on “zero hours” contracts https://www.nursingtimes.net/news/workforce/one-in-five-nurses-in-care-sector-on-zero-hours contracts/7023184.article?search=https://www.nursingtimes.net/searcharticles?qsearch=1&keywords=carer+shortage
3. GOVUK, Partial Review of the shortage occupation list (Nursing) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/510630/Partial_review_of_the_shortage_occupation_list_-_review_of_nursing.pdf
4. Ilcuk, Moved to Care http://www.ilcuk.org.uk/images/uploads/publication-pdfs/IA_Moved_to_care_report_12_11_15.pdf
5. Skills For Care, Workforce Intelligence https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/NMDS-SC-intelligence/Workforce-intelligence/publications/The-state-of-the-adult-social-care-sector-and-workforce-in-England.aspx
6. Domiciliary Care Market Overview 2015 http://www.ukhca.co.uk/pdfs/DomiciliaryCareMarketOverview2015.pdf
7. GOV UK, New stats show councils prioritising adult social care https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-stats-show-councils-prioritising-adult-social-care

This article is provided for the purposes of general interest and is not intended to apply to specific circumstances. This article does not constitute legal or regulatory advice. We are not qualified to provide, and will not provide, legal or regulatory advice. We recommend that you obtain your own such specific legal or regulatory advice on matters such as Brexit from relevant professional advisers.


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