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The adult social care workforce in England: Summary

Adult social care comprises personal care and practical support for older adults who cannot manage the tasks of everyday life and for working-age adults with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, or physical or mental illnesses. It also includes support for their carers. Most care is provided unpaid by family or friends (known as ‘informal care’). The amount of informal care provided affects the amount of formal care that is needed, provided and publicly funded through local authorities or through people funding their own care privately. Policy choices on eligibility for publicly funded care changes the number of people who qualify, and therefore the number who might need to buy their own care, rely on informal care, or have their care needs unmet.

In 2016-17, net current expenditure by local authorities on care was £14.8 billion. Additionally, around £2.0 billion of funding allocated to the NHS was transferred to pooled budgets with local authorities, through the Better Care Fund, to support care. Local authorities commission most care from the independent (private and voluntary) sector. Around 65% of providers’ income comes from care arranged by local authorities, so public funding is essential to the sustainability of the sector. Care arranged by local authorities includes some contributions from users. Estimates by the Office for National Statistics and Carers UK, respectively, of the value of informal care range from £57 billion to over £100 billion per year. Demographic trends suggest that demand for care will continue to increase and people’s care needs will continue to become more complex. To meet these challenges, the care workforce needs to grow and the nature of care and support needs to transform.

In 2016-17, the care workforce in England consisted of around 1.34 million jobs in the local authority and independent sectors. The full-time equivalent number of jobs was around 1.0 million. This excludes an estimated 145,000 job for personal assistants, employed by recipients of personal budgets and self-funders, and 91,000 people who have care jobs but are employed within the NHS. In our report, unless otherwise stated personal assistants and NHS staff are excluded from our analysis.

The Department of Health & Social Care (the Department), formerly the Department of Health, is responsible for adult social care policy, as it was before its name-change in January 2018. One of the nine priorities in its Shared Delivery Plan: 2015 to 2020, published in February 2016, was to “make sure the health and care system workforce has the right skills and the right number of staff in the most appropriate settings to provide consistently safe and high quality care”. The Department has an objective to integrate health and social care more closely by 2020.

Local authorities commission care. The Care Act 2014 sets out minimum standards of care that local authorities must offer. It places a duty on local authorities to ensure that there is diversity and quality in the market of care providers so that there are enough high-quality services for people to choose from. Local authorities must also step in to ensure that no vulnerable person is left without the care they need if their service closes due to business failure. Most care is provided by independent providers, which are autonomous businesses responsible for employing, training and setting pay, terms and conditions for their own workforces. There are around 20,300 organisations providing care, resulting in a care market that is fragmented with complex chains of commissioning, provision and accountability.

Skills for Care (an independent charity and company limited by guarantee) is the Department’s delivery partner for leadership and workforce development in care. Skills for Care provides practical resources and support to help care providers recruit, retain, develop and lead their workforces. In both 2016-17 and 2017-18, the Department provided £23.5 million in funding for Skills for Care, including around £2 million for maintaining the National Minimum Data Set for Social Care (NMDS-SC). This data set is the leading source of workforce information for the whole care sector, collected from local authorities and, on a voluntary basis, from care providers. We have drawn extensively on these data in our report. We follow Skills for Care’s terminology throughout the report, unless where stated otherwise.