Much has been made of the current shortage in carers in the UK.
The latest ONS data indicates a vacancy rate of 8.2 per cent in the care sector, nearly double the national average, and an overall shortfall of 105,000 workers.
Some forecasts even suggests that an additional 627,000 people will be required by 2030 – an impossible target on today’s projections.
Discussing the sector with City A.M. today, Matthew Dunster, MD of Digital Home Visits, said “we all have our theories as to how we got here. Brexit and the pandemic caused many migrant workers to return home – and they are not coming back.”
Dunster pointed out that “other carers might have left the industry in anticipation of the vaccine mandate, which was later overturned. We know that many over 50’s have chosen to exit the labour market entirely.”
Uncompetitive pay, a perception of zero-hours contracts and working anti-social hours has not helped companies sell the sector as a positive career choice.
“We as a country, collectively rely heavily on the incredible people who turn up every day to make vulnerable peoples’ lives better,” he added.
“There is no doubt we need to improve the lives of carers to break down the barriers that deter people from entering this important profession.”Matthew Dunster, MD of Digital Home Visits
The situation in domiciliary care is somewhat better than in residential, and this is the focus of Dunster’s interest as someone who runs a 500-strong domiciliary care business.
“Most people who need care want to stay in their own homes – and their families agree. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that domiciliary care is beneficial,” he explained.
“Of course, more public money is required and it’s not just about salaries,” Dunster continued.
“It’s about reform across the board to improve the business models in care, and drive investment and consolidation in the sector. The domiciliary care sector is a fragmented industry, with over 80% of companies being single site operations.”
Cash flows into care
Last year, Digital Home Visits bought The Care Bureau as its first platform care business acquisition. The company’s mission is to buy domiciliary care SMEs, integrate them and introduce the efficiencies and operational improvements that can be obtained through consolidation.
“This is an attractive sector for investment, with reliable and stable returns – compared to a volatile tech sector where ‘jam tomorrow’ profitability jars against soaring interest rates,” Dunster said.
“We cannot rely on the Government to fund care.”Matthew Dunster, MD of Digital Home Visits
A National Insurance rise, designed to bail out the health and social care sector, will initially be diverted to relieve the pressure on the NHS. And that will hit the lowest paid hardest, Dunster said.
“What the care sector really needs is to encourage investment by radically changing the way it seeks to purchase services.”
Currently care is procured mainly by Local Authorities commissioning individual packages of care. This pay-as-you go approach means that firms pay their staff in much the same way, and usually, many provider companies all operating in the same area.
“That causes huge inefficiencies, but unfortunately the ‘pay by piece’ culture is ingrained into Local Authority DNA, and it is unlikely to change.”
“Imagine your local hospital paid its nurses for each patient they attended to…you’d rightly be quite bemused,” Dunster concluded.