Staff sickness in social care doubled during pandemic

While staff sickness increased during the pandemic, vacancy rates fell – but employers are now finding it harder to recruit than they did before Covid

14th October 2021 about a 3 minute read
"The workforce is so important but we know from speaking to employers that the pandemic has had a huge impact on people working in social care." Oonagh Smyth, CEO, Skills for Care

Levels of staff sickness in the social care sector nearly doubled over the course of the pandemic, according to a new report from Skills for Care, the strategic body for workforce development in adult social care in England.

The report, The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England, found that an average of 9.5 days lost were lost to sickness in 2020/21 compared to 5.1 days before the pandemic.

Occupancy levels in care homes have fallen since the start of the pandemic, the report found. This was as a result of two factors: the high number of deaths among care home residents in 2020/21, and the shift in demand away from residential care and towards home care.

Staff turnover decreased during the pandemic

Other findings from the report include:

  • Between 2019/20 and 2020/21 the number of jobs in home care increased by 7.4% (40,000), while the number of jobs in residential care remained broadly the same.
  • On average, 6.8% of roles in adult social care were vacant in 2020/21 – equivalent to 105,000 vacancies being advertised on a single day.
  • Vacancy rates fell during the start of the pandemic, possibly because there were fewer jobs available elsewhere. Since May 2021, vacancy rates have steadily risen, and by August 2021 were above their pre-pandemic levels.
  • Staff turnover rates decreased during the pandemic. Registered manager turnover rates dropped 4.7 percentage points, while care workers’ turnover was down by 3.7 percentage points.
  • Since March 2021, employers have reported that retention has been adversely affected by the opening up of the wider economy. Many say that recruitment and retention is now more difficult than before the pandemic.

Skills for Care’s forecasts show that if the adult social care workforce grows proportionally to the projected number of people aged 65 and over in the population between 2020 and 2035, an increase of 490,000 extra jobs would be required by 2035.

Oonagh Smyth, Skills for Care’s CEO, said that the report was a “stark reminder” of the continuing recruitment challenges, adding: “To help tackle that we need to properly reward and value care workers for their high skill levels and dedication. We know that this is a priority for the new Government White Paper expected on adult social care this year and look forward to seeing the measures contained.”

Social care, she said, was a “fundamental infrastructure”: “It allows people in our families, our friends and people in our communities to be supported to live the lives they choose. And the workforce in social care are the people that provide that support every day, in every single community.

“The workforce is so important but we know from speaking to employers that the pandemic has had a huge impact on people working in social care. The rich data from this authoritative annual report confirms this pressure, as well as showing us longer term trends in adult social care.”