Taking care of the carers: Why good workforce data matters in supporting social care

Friendly nurse supporting an elderly lady

England’s large and vitally important social care sector is facing significant challenges in recruiting and retaining staff. Effective policy interventions will depend on robust workforce data but surveying this large, varied and undefined sector is a stretching endeavour.  Sarah Barrett explains how the ONS is working with central government and England’s strategic workforce development and planning body for adult social care to enhance the evidence base.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a revealing light on the adult social care workforce. Last year’s State of health care and adult social care report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) highlighted rising vacancy rates, staff burnout, and the loss of adult social care workers to other sectors such as hospitality and tourism as major issues for the sector, impacting the quality of care provided.

Skills for Care is the strategic workforce development and planning body for adult social care in England. Today, they published the latest edition of their State of the adult social care sector and workforce in England.  This report is the most comprehensive publicly available source of workforce statistics for the adult social care sector in England, but there is more that can be done and the ONS is working closely with Skills for Care and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to fill in the evidence gaps.

Where are the evidence gaps?

Policy makers are keen to understand more about the adult social care workforce. For example, not enough is known about self-employed carers, a key gap in knowledge particularly when considering carers who work in the community. Another area of specific interest is where staff who leave the adult social care sector end up working, which will provide better understanding of why people are leaving and how to retain employees in the sector; for example, by improving pay and training opportunities.

Collecting this data is challenging. Although nearly half of adult social care providers are represented in current estimates, which provides a good base for creating estimates that can be tracked over 10 years and linked to CQC data, even greater coverage would be beneficial. For example, increasing participation from the independent and non-regulated adult social care sector would reduce the risk of biases in our understanding.

What work is ONS doing in this area?

At the ONS we are working with DHSC and Skills for Care to explore how we can help build the workforce evidence base in terms of enhancing Skills for Care estimates and filling in evidence gaps. The evidence base would benefit from complementary evidence to support Skills for Care’s estimates. ONS owns several good quality data sources to allow us to explore new insights around the social care workforce.

These include the Census, the Annual Population Survey, and the Inter-Departmental Business Register. However, these data sources are not designed to collect data specifically from the adult social care workforce, so we first need to develop a clear definition of who should be included in the adult social care workforce. We can also explore innovative new data science methods using unstructured open data; for example, a data science apprentice recently tested machine learning methods to identify social care roles in job adverts.

Our next steps in this area include:

  • Advising Skills for Care on data collection, such as how to boost response rates, and on methods, such as weighting techniques
  • Collaborating on a detailed methodology article to accompany the report, which will provide further confidence in the quality of their estimates
  • Clarifying who should be included in the adult social care workforce, to create a definition that can be used across different data sources

This work is still in development and we appreciate any feedback that users might have, this can be sent to social.care@ons.gov.uk.


Sarah Barrett is a Senior Research Officer in Social Care Analysis