Chart of the week: The tumbling numbers of social care staff

Each week we present analysis of data in chart form to illustrate some key issues and invite discussion. The care sector has long struggled to recruit and retain staff, but new statistics reveal more about the depth of the workforce crisis in social care right now. Billy Palmer looks at the change in the number of staff across social care settings between April and October this year.

Data story

Published: 01/12/2021

While the much-debated cap on personal care costs may help reduce the exposure of some people to potential catastrophic costs in future, the sustainability of the social care system remains on a knife edge now. Experimental statistics published by the Department of Health and Social Care as part of its pandemic monitoring efforts give us insights into the depth of the workforce crisis in the sector.

The number of staff reported by those providers that submitted data fell by 42,000 in the six months to the end of October 2021 (see blue bars). When adjusting for the fact that a changing number of providers submitted data over this period (which has been done in two different ways, see purple and orange dots on the chart), this estimate increases to somewhere in the region of 50-70,000. These figures equate to around 3% to 4% of the total adult social care workforce, which tallies with other evidence suggesting the vacancy rate had increased by half, from 6% in April to 9% in October.

The nature of the staffing pressures may vary between settings with, for instance, the 16 September deadline for the first dose of the compulsory Covid-19 vaccine only relevant for care home staff as opposed to other social care settings. The precise scale of the staffing falls is also unclear given the gaps in the data, so the figures presented here should be treated as broad estimates (see figure notes for more details). Limitations aside, the signal is clear: social care has a deepening staffing crisis.

Change in the number of staff in social care settings between April and October 2021 01/12/2021



1. The chart is based on Adult social care monthly statistics, England, which are ‘experimental statistics’ published by the Department of Health and Social Care, and not specifically designed to calculate changing staff numbers.
2. Comparisons are between data for 27 April 2021 and 26 October 2021, with the exception of ‘other settings’ which – due to data availability – is to 17 August.
3. Domiciliary care category covers CQC-registered services providing personal care for people living in their own homes. Other settings category includes non-registered providers and local authority employed staff.
4. Not all providers have submitted data, with the proportion who had submitted at least once by the end of October 2021 ranging from 95% for domiciliary care to 99% for care homes for older residents.
5. Two different adjustments were made to account for missing data: using the reported response rates and assuming that those non-reporting providers have similar staffing to those that had submitted data; and, secondly – to mitigate apparent inconsistencies in the reported number of providers including those not submitting data (which affects the reported response rate) – assuming that the total number of providers has remained constant over the six-month period, although this would tend to underestimate a fall if the number of providers has decreased.

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