Adult Social Care Workforce

Health and Social Care – in the House of Commons at on 5 March 2024.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

What steps she is taking to help increase recruitment and retention in the adult social care sector.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North

What steps she is taking to help increase recruitment and retention in the adult social care sector.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

What steps she is taking to help increase recruitment and retention in the adult social care sector.

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

Care is a skilled profession and I want care workers to get the support and recognition they deserve. In January we took the next step in our ambitious care workforce reforms, launching the first ever national career structure for the care workforce alongside our new nationally recognised qualification.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

I know the Minister will want to join me in thanking every single person who dedicates themselves to working in the social care sector, including perhaps particularly those who have come to the UK from overseas to do so, but it is not sustainable to rely on incoming workers forever. The Migration Advisory Committee has found that Scotland is now less reliant on migrant workers in the social care sector than England, through the simple expedient of paying a decent wage. That might, by the way, also be a good way to stop doctors in England going on strike; the Minister might want to look at that. Has the Minister asked the Chancellor to provide funding in the Budget so that social care workers in England can enjoy the same pay and conditions as their colleagues in Scotland, and if not, why not?

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we are grateful to all who work in social care, including those who have come here from other countries to care for our loved ones. We also agree that international migration is not a long-term answer to our care workforce needs. That is why we are reforming social care to work as a career, and we are backing that with extra funding—up to £8.6 billion extra for social care over two years.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North

I am afraid the Minister’s warm words about the social care workforce do not meet the reality check for most people. The Government’s own statistics show that there are at least 152,000 vacancies in social care in England alone, leaving my constituents waiting up to 10 weeks to be discharged from hospital. The Government have been using international recruitment to plug the gaps and as a result have filled over 11,000 vacancies in the past few years, so can the Minister confirm whether recruitment and retention in social care will be better or worse due to Government plans to prevent overseas social care workers bringing family members to the UK?

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

As I said a moment ago, vacancies have fallen and the care workforce grew by more than 20,000 last year. We are seeing better retention of care workers as well, but we need to go further. That is why we are reforming social care careers, introducing the first ever national career structure for the care workforce and new qualifications and training.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee), Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

Edinburgh Trade Union Council recently described changes to the healthcare worker visa route as cruel and inhumane. Many of my constituents who have relatives in care share its concerns, as do I. We know the valuable contribution that foreign care workers make to the sector. Ideologically driven change to visas could further exacerbate the recruitment and retention crisis that other Members have so eloquently described. Given that the Government skipped consultation on these changes, will the Minister commit to meeting trade unions and social care leaders in Scotland to understand the impact of these harmful changes?

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am grateful to international care workers who have come to the UK to look after loved ones. Their work has contributed to reducing vacancies and increasing the supply of social care, but we need to get the balance right between international recruitment and our homegrown workforce. We are carrying out ambitious reforms of our adult social care workforce, and therefore it is right, alongside that, to ensure that we have the right numbers of people coming here from overseas for social care. That is why we have worked with the Home Office on changes to visas.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

The managers of the wonderful care home I visited in Dunstable on Friday were annoyed by the number of job applicants for care places who were making the interview stage and then not arriving on the day. Can the Minister have a word with ministerial colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that job coaches are certain that jobseekers are not wasting the time of care homes? It is not fair, and those who work in care homes are busy people with a lot to do.

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I work closely with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions on the recruitment of people looking for jobs in social care, and I will raise that point with my colleague in the Department.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

It was the Minister’s party that promised to fix the crisis in social care “once and for all”. With vacancy rates almost three times above the national average and turnover rates for new staff at more than 45%, it is clear that the Government failed. Labour’s plan for a national care service with clear standards for providers and a new deal for staff will give social care the fundamental reset it needs. The Government have done it with our workforce plan, and they have half-heartedly tried it with dentistry. Does the Minister want to copy our homework once again?

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

Let us be honest, Labour has no plan for social care. Whatever the shadow Minister says, it is unfunded. There is no funding committed to it and it is not meaningful. Those of us on the Conservative side of the House are reforming adult social care. We not only have a plan, but it is in progress.

Photo of Amy Callaghan Amy Callaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I have asked the Secretary of State a number of times how she intends to recruit and retain social care staff, particularly with the visa changes coming into effect next Monday, stopping those from overseas coming to fill skills gaps from bringing their spouse or dependants with them. I ask again: how does the Secretary of State intend to improve the recruitment and retention of staff in the social care sector while her colleagues effectively work to undermine her?

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

We are grateful to international workers coming to support us in social care and improving supply, but we have to get the balance right between international recruitment and our domestic workforce. In England, we are reforming social care careers to make social care work a career for our homegrown workforce, and I encourage her to make sure the SNP does the same in Scotland.