Skills for Care

An update on the workforce strategy for adult social care

18 Dec 2023

3 min read

Oonagh Smyth and David Pearson

  • Skills for Care
  • Policy

In October, Skills for Care announced plans to develop a workforce strategy for adult social care. Our CEO Oonagh Smyth and Sir David Pearson, who are co-Chairs of the strategy share why a strategy for the sector is so important.

Social care is a fundamental part of our lives, our communities and our economy, and the workforce is a fundamental part of social care.

We know that we have a huge number of people working in social care – more than 1.5 million – accounting for 5% of all jobs in England. An increasing number of us are living longer with long-term conditions or a disability, and without changes to the way services are delivered, we know we’re going to need a lot more people working in care to meet future needs. From our latest data we estimate we will need up to an extra 440,000 posts in social care by 2035.

But we also know that while we need more people tomorrow, we don’t have enough people today (with 152,000 vacancies) and we lose too many people each year – 390,000 people leave their posts each year.

We have a leaky bucket and too many good people, with the right values and skills, are falling through the holes.

That’s a lot of statistics – but as Clenton Farquarson, Chair of the Think Local Act Personal and a disabled person with lived experience of health and social care always reminds us, data has soul.

Behind the data is a collection of individual stories, experiences, and lives, and the impact of these statistic is felt in real life by the people we support and their families.

When we can’t get the people we need to support us to live our lives or they don’t stay in their roles, we have to keep building relationships with new people and we have to tell our stories again and again. There are also the baton changes between health and social care when the systems aren’t aligned.

That’s why we need to get this right – we need to be building the workforce of the future and we need to start that thinking and planning now. 20-year-olds who will start working in social care in 2035 are aged 8 today – what they expect from jobs in social care will be completely different to today.

Social Care Future says that social care is not just underinvested in, it’s underimagined – let’s imagine something different in terms of our ambition for the workforce. We owe it to the people being supported today and we owe it to all of us who will be supported in years to come.

This is why we’ve come together as the joint Chairs of the workforce strategy for adult social care to lead this conversation. We want to build on the work that’s been done and is being done as part of the Government’s social care workforce reform programme and we want to reimagine the workforce of the future.

We’ve started to explore the opportunities that exist with leaders and people who can make change happen within their space to come together and pull in the same direction. It’s fair to say that this has been met with an incredible amount of positivity, excitement, and passion from everyone we’ve spoken to. We’re all emboldened and excited to think about the possibilities and take practical action together to build the current and future workforce.

We’ll be developing the strategy in two phases, an evidence-led and practical one to five year phase, plus an ambitious, vision-led five to fifteen year phase. And we’re drawing on a range of data and expertise to help us form that. A number of expert working groups are being set up to focus on topics such as technology, artificial intelligence, science and pharmaceuticals, integration, recruitment and retention, skills development, and leadership.

We’re also taking an approach to exploring different parts of the adult social care workforce and where there are distinct differences. For example, those who work with people who are of working age or working with older people, or differences in the work in the community or in residential settings.

Although we only kicked off in October, we’ve hit the ground running and we’re moving at a serious pace, with the intention to publish in the summer of 2024. It’s ambitious but achievable with all the parts of the sector pulling together, advising, and supporting.

Which leads us nicely on to finish by saying that there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. The expert working groups will use a range of approaches to gather insight and information from across the sector to develop the recommendations for the strategy and we will share more as their plans are set out.

We want everyone in adult social care to own and be responsible for making this happen.


Find out more on about the workforce strategy for adult social care.

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