More than half of care providers in the learning disabilities sector have reported a rise in absenteeism relating to mental health since the start of the pandemic.
Independent research commissioned by learning disabilities charity Hft found that COVID-19 has taken its toll on the social care workforce, with 62% of providers reporting an increase in absence rates related to mental health, a 10% rise on last year.
Hft’s annual Sector Pulse Check report also found that three in five providers had to fund mental health first aiders as part of a raft of preventative measures taken to safeguard their staff.
The survey, conducted on 72 providers, highlights a rise in a range of actions that were taken to promote mental health across the board in an effort to protect the workforce, despite more than 56% of providers reporting declining surpluses or already being in deficit.
Nearly all providers (96%) reported signposting to mental health services, up from 67%, while 87% provided mental health awareness training. The number providing in-house mental health first aiders has also risen from 38% to 62%.
The research has prompted calls from the charity to shine a light on the pandemic’s “forgotten workforce” by publicly recognising their efforts and investing in the sector.
An open invitation has been sent to all MPs, offering the opportunity to find out more about the report and the challenges faced by the sector at a virtual parliamentary event taking place tomorrow.
Kirsty Matthews (pictured), chief executive for Hft, said: “Our Sector Pulse report shows that in a year where the social care sector has played a pivotal role on the frontline, providers have gone to great lengths to support staff, who are crucial role to supporting some of the most vulnerable adults in society.
“It’s time to shine a light on the pandemic’s undervalued workforce and publicly recognise their efforts. It is vital the government provides a cash injection specifically to ensure frontline social care staff have the mental health support they deserve, and that it is not at the expense of an already beleaguered sector.”
Commenting on the report, Edel Harris, chief executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “Social care workers have been working hard in extremely challenging circumstances, risking their lives to keep the people they support safe and well. Tragically, some have lost their lives. Far too many are now struggling with poor mental health and exhaustion.
“Many social care providers have been doing what they can to support their colleagues during a very difficult time, but only a significant investment in social care reform will relieve the ongoing pressures on the sector and its workforce.
“Care workers deserve a long overdue pay rise to recognise their huge sacrifices during this crisis. Without investment and reform, we risk people with a learning disability and others not getting the support they need to lead healthy and happy lives. The Government must immediately deliver bold reform and commit to long-term, sustainable funding to fix our broken social care system.”