Home care sector ‘close to imploding’ amid staff shortages, says provider

Barry & Nicki

The founder of one of the UK’s top-performing home care companies says the sector is close to imploding in the wake of a “perfect storm” which is driving inflation, staff shortages and an overdependence on the NHS.

Barry Sweetbaum, who co-founded London-based SweetTree Home Care Services in 2002, is concerned the government is failing to recognise the challenges faced by care providers as a result of staff shortages due to Brexit, the pandemic and an increase in demand for care in the community.

While the government is publicly suggesting these challenges will be mitigated by an increase in National Insurance contributions by 1.25% in April and the proposed introduction of a cap on care costs of £86,000, Sweetbaum says that in reality they will have hardly any impact on the already “beleaguered sector”.

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“Most of the £12 billion a year that will be raised from increased taxes will be going to the NHS – but the care sector needs the money too,” said Sweetbaum. “If we can’t care for the elderly and frail in their own homes, then sadly their only option will be to use the NHS which is already suffering from over stretched resources.”

The co-founder explained that SweetTree is struggling to recruit support workers, even after being rated ‘Outstanding’ twice by the CQC and receiving a string of accolades, including being named as one of the UK’s Best Companies to Work For by the Sunday Times.

He added: “The SweetTree team is known for providing an incredibly high quality of care and as a result demand for our services exceeds supply. We could easily double in size if staff shortages were not crippling the care industry.

“I am extremely concerned that this is a hidden crisis as it happens behind closed doors. Staff shortages in other parts of the economy, like HGV and fuel tanker drivers, are more visible, with queues at the petrol pumps and empty shelves in the supermarkets. But the people struggling in the community cannot be seen or heard.”

New immigrations rules have provided an additional supply challenge for the sector. According to a new Skills for Care report, adult social care providers have become increasingly reliant on workers from the EU, with 7.2% of staff holding a EU nationality as of 2020/21, up from 4.7% in 2012/13.

The charity said there has been no evidence of the existing non-British workforce leaving at an increased rate since the new rules came into place. However, with this route of supply no longer available for front line workers, it explained that employers will have to find more staff from the domestic labour market in order keep up with demand.

And according to the founder of SweetTree Home Care Services, mandatory vaccinations have made matters worse.

“Even though carers in people’s homes aren’t yet required to be vaccinated, there is an irreconcilable inconsistency when the government requires social care workers in care homes to get vaccinated but not those in the NHS where people are equally vulnerable,” he said.

“The impact ripples through society and the result is that elderly people won’t be properly cared for and family members will end up on benefits having to look after their elderly relatives, which creates more pressure on the economy.”

SweetTree co-founder and CEO Nicki Bones added: “The government can’t just cut off the supply of staff and expect the economy to reset. They need a strategy to bring more care staff into the sector and ensure they are properly trained, or both private and council-run care services will fail. It is no good the government saying it wants to see sectors like care being well paid if they are not going to fund councils sufficiently to procure services from quality providers like SweetTree who pay team members appropriately.”

SweetTree has committed to its highest single pay increase in its almost 20-year history, paying all team members at least the London Living Wage of £10.85 per hour, in order to overcome recruitment and retention challenges. But this will mean it will be forced to increase its fees.

“This is a bold step in a sector where there is constantly downward pressure on fees. However, unless we do this, we will not be able to recruit and retain the quality of staff our clients deserve,” said Bones.

“We are aware that improving pay has an impact on the fees we charge. However, ultimately, we believe our clients understand that it is important to continue to invest in our care team, in terms of their rate of pay and the quality of training and support they receive from us as their employer.”

Caption: Barry Sweetbaum and Nicki Bones.

Tags : Barry SweetbaumNicki Bonesstaff shortagesSweet Tree
Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke