Supporting housing associations to recruit and retain the care workforce we need

G15 Vice-Chair and Chief Executive of One Housing Group, Richard Hill, writes about the need for change to support housing associations colleagues delivering vital care and support services.

The Government’s promise of £500m to develop the adult social care workforce is welcomed and demonstrates that adult social care is higher on its agenda than it was only a few years ago. However, the Government’s approach to workforce reform cannot afford to ignore the vital role providers like housing associations play in the delivery of care.

Care delivered by housing associations sustains and supports huge numbers of people to live independently, relieving the pressure that would otherwise overwhelm local services.

Our survey of G15 members showed the scale of the capacity challenge it faces. Survey respondents told us that on average only 69% of core staff were available for the delivery of care services. Moreover, there was a lack of confidence that the situation will improve within the next six months. Though Covid played a role in generating this pressure, more significant were the underlying concerns regarding pay, benefits and recognition. It’s significant as our members provide both Care Quality Commission-registered and non-registered support services to tens of thousands of people across London, the South East and beyond.

Housing associations, like the rest of the social sector, have seen experienced staff leave and take up better-paid roles in other sectors, with retail proving to be the most popular. Housing associations also face inflationary pressures, with the costs of running care units and paying wages meaning many of us do not have additional resource to help stem the flow of talent leaving the sector.

We need a fair, and standardised, wage and benefits package for everyone providing professional care. We also need the allocation of sufficient long-term funding, likely backed by a comprehensive settlement for adult social care, from the government to deliver it. The financial boost cannot be simply used to prop up the existing system but requires a more transformative approach.

One tangible change would be the opportunity for carers in different sectors to have the same opportunities to develop as other care professionals. The People at the Heart of Care White Paper certainly nods in this direction but we need more detail on how Portable Care Certificates and the registration of adult social care staff will differ from existing arrangements. The unclear discussion of ‘providers’ also needs to be expanded to show the Government is aware of the distinct pressures on the huge range of enterprises, charities, community groups and other types of organisations providing care in the UK.

The Heart of Care White Paper shows the need for the type of collaborative commissioning relationships that we are already seeing in high performing local authority areas to be the national norm. To meet both the long term strategic goals and immediate demands, the Government needs to urgently work with those who will be responsible for translating worthy goals into actionable policy.