VODG research reveals extent of workforce concerns among disability charity leaders

A recent survey of Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG) members has unearthed stark findings – all the survey’s Chief Executive respondents were found to be ‘not confident’ that the Government’s plan for social care reform will address the huge problems surrounding staffing challenges their organisations face.

The survey findings reveal the perfect storm the layering of Covid 19, Brexit and mandatory vaccinations could have on the continuation of delivery of safe and effective services delivered by charities within the disability sector.

A fifth of responding organisations reporting more than 100 vacancies within their service. A total of 3,500 vacancies were reported across all organisations.

Despite the Government’s recent announcement on social care reform, a further snap poll of VODG member chief executives, launched days after the announcement, found that all responding chief executives are ‘not confident’ that the Government’s plans for social care reform will address the staffing challenges their organisations face.

The research was carried out (VODG, a membership body of more than 100 organisations that work alongside disabled people, gathered the views of member chief executives, who across the whole survey employ 43,774 full-time staff, 32,561 of which work in first line support roles, about the current workforce challenges facing their organisation.

Addressing workforce challenges is a key priority for 94% of respondents, who cited it as a ‘top’ or ‘high’ priority. For the majority, the recruitment and retention of staff continues to be a significant issue, with recruiting new members of staff of particular concern.

More than two thirds found that recruitment of staff has got much more difficult since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. Some reported seeing an increase in turnover alongside a reduction in applications for front line roles. This, for many, is leading to concerns about sustaining high quality care for the disabled people they support. A quarter said they are not very confident or not at all confident in having sufficient staff to deliver current and planned future services. In the past 12 months, 11 organisations have handed back service delivery contracts, with some citing insufficient staff as a reason.

Dr Rhidian Hughes, Chief Executive of VODG, said:

“Disabled people rightly expect to use high quality services, and there is a risk that their support options, and the quality, could very quickly become compromised if these workforce challenges are not urgently addressed.

“The Government must urgently make funds available for the sector, with a significant proportion of that ring-fenced for pay uplifts for care workers. We want to see social care commissioned, as a minimum, at Real Living Wage rates.”

The survey also addressed additional workforce issues including local authority funding, the impact of the UK’s exit from the European Union and the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for care home workers.

Many of the responding organisations felt that workforce issues will be exacerbated by new regulations requiring that all staff working in CQC registered care homes have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of deployment. Furthermore, providers believe that the ongoing workforce pressures will place additional strain on remaining employees and will increase the likelihood of absences and wellbeing issues.

Dr Hughes added:

“The findings of our survey reveal the far-reaching extent of concerns amongst chief executives of disability charities. Our membership is a broad and diverse group of organisations, all of which has been delivering services to disabled people under challenging conditions over the past 18 months. Our survey clearly shows the stark reality many are facing, with a layering of issues that together could compromise the delivery of safe and effective services. Mandatory vaccinations are driving a small but significant group of carers away from the sector, the supply of EU workers is drying up, and insufficient funding from central government means that the majority of local authorities continue to commission care at minimum wage rates.

“Competition across low pay sectors is intensifying and when services are commissioned on minimum wage it is impossible to improve terms and conditions. Members reported that fees received from local authorities simply do not cover the direct costs of providing care and we have now reached the point where they can no longer subsidise contracts. It is simply unacceptable that should have to subsidise contracts in the first place, but a growing lack of provision will be felt by those who need it most.

“The government has options available. We need to continue to encourage vaccination take up across the sector and could consider incentives.

“It’s also imperative that the government understands that social care is so much more than washing, dressing, and helping people have their meals. Care and support services for working age disabled adults enable people to live independent and fulfilling lives.

“Government’s reform agenda must go a lot further and must include a stronger focus on long-term sustainability of services to meet growing demand, supported by investment in helping the sector to secure a high-quality workforce – one that is grounded in the perception that a career in social care is fulfilling, inspiring and well rewarded.”