‘Dire’ outlook for elderly as carer shortage set to top 1m

Nursing homes and care agencies in England are likely to be short of 200,000 workers within five years as low pay, stress and rock bottom morale take their toll, a new study predicts.

The staffing shortfall could even top one million in the next 20 years unless action is taken now to halt the exodus from the care industry, the report published jointly by the think-tank the International Longevity Centre and Independent Age, the older people’s charity, warns.

Immigration rules severely restricting non-EU workers from coming to Britain to fill low-skilled roles have played a major role in fuelling to the crisis, it finds.

An estimated one in seven carers in England, or 91,000 people, are non-EU immigrant workers.

In London it is thought that three out of five care workers are foreign, 90 per cent of them from outside the EU.

The report, entitled “Moved to Care”, calls for a relaxation of visa restrictions for those seeking to come to Britain as carers to ease pressure in the short term and efforts to fundamentally raise the status of care work in the longer term.

The alternative for vulnerable elderly and disabled people could be “dire”, it adds.

An estimated 71,600 jobs in the adult social care sector – or one in 20 – are currently unfilled, almost twice the rate for the UK labour force as a whole.

But the report calculates that that could rapidly increase through a combination of high staff turnover, an ageing workforce and immigration restrictions while demand accelerates as the impact of the ageing population is felt.

Overall, the staff shortage is likely to increase by 189 per cent in the next five years.

Ben Franklin, head of economics of Ageing at ILC-UK, said: “Enabling migrant workers to fill workforce gaps is one part of the solution, but it is no silver bullet.

“We must ensure that the sector is able to attract more UK and foreign born workers alike.

“This will require a substantive shift in the direction of policy as well as a change in public perceptions about what working in care is like.

“The alternative will be a degradation in the quality of care and an increasing reliance on family carers.

“If this is the future, it will have dire implications for those needing care, their family members and the wider economy.”

Simon Bottery, director of policy at Independent Age, said: “Without action, there is a real risk of care services worsening as providers fail to fill job vacancies and staff struggle to cope with increasing demand.

“That can only be bad news for the older people who rely on these services to carry out basic tasks like eating and dressing.”

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, the Local Government Association’s spokesperson on care issues, said: “A properly paid, skilled and managed workforce which attracts the best people relies on adequate funding for social care.

“While the introduction of the National Living Wage aims to ensure fair pay, the cost of this to councils will reach £1 billion a year by 2020/21 in a social care system which is already chronically underfunded.

“The Government must urgently address this in the Spending Review for the thousands of people who rely on care.”