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Social care crisis: How to keep the carers we have and attract a million new ones

Care worker with elderly ladyFor anyone involved in social care, there’s a feeling of relief that the crisis in this sector is currently so high on the agenda. But while much of the conversation has been around how future care will be funded, there has been far less focus on another critical issue: how to attract and keep enough staff to keep the system working in an age of austerity.

And while there isn’t an easy way to fix the wider issues the sector is facing, a new Timewise report, Caring by Design, highlights a solution to this specific problem: compatible flexibility. That is, designing jobs and schedules for care workers that are compatible with the rest of their lives.

The gap between flexible perception and reality

As our report notes, there are currently 1.5 million people working in the social care sector in England, of which 82% are women. And the combination of an aging population and the associated increase in the number of people with disabilities means that, by 2025, a further 1 million carers will be needed.

Add to this the fact that, at 27%, staff turnover in the social care sector is more than twice the average for other professions in England, and it’s easy to see the scale of the problem that care providers are facing.

So why are care workers leaving? Well, although the social care industry is billed as being both local and family-friendly, the reality is very different. As our report highlights, unpredictable rotas, unsociable hours, large chunks of downtime in the middle of the day and the need to travel long distances between clients all take their toll.

How compatible flexibility offers a solution

Here at Timewise, we believe that compatible flexibility is the answer – and we’ve shown that it works. As part of the work that went into our report, we ran a pilot with Rathbone, a London-based community support provider, to test whether a geographical, team-based approach to scheduling could address these issues.

The outcomes were very positive, with the reduction in travel time freeing up time for regular team meetings. This allowed carers to have more input into scheduling, as well as reducing their sense of isolation, improving teamwork and making the system feel altogether fairer. The meetings also allowed team members to share information about clients and their needs, which in turn improved the quality of care.

Next steps for the care sector – and others

Our report recommends some key actions that care providers and policy makers need to take if they’re to deliver truly compatible flexibility. Overall, the learnings delivered by this report are a great starting point, with the potential to have a huge impact on care staff recruitment and retention – but much more needs to be done.

So we’re calling on social care providers and policy makers to change the way the sector operates, and make it work for its army of carers. That’s going to require radical thinking, further research and widespread action; but we know it’s possible.

And we’re also calling out to those of you who work in other sectors which could benefit from a flexible strategy injection. As our report shows, we know how to use flexible job design to transform the working lives of a group of employees – and we’d be happy to do the same for yours.

To find out more about our consultancy and training services call 020 7633 4444 or email

You can read the full report here: Caring by Design

Published June 2017

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