Implications of labour markets for the social care workforce: report

Independent research on the influence of national and local labour markets on the social care sector.

3 Scotland’s Social care workforce


3.1 This chapter reviews the available data relating to Scotland’s social care workforce which covers a range of service providers and types of services. These are detailed in Appendix A, and are drawn from Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) definitions. This chapter draws largely on published data from official sources about the current composition of the workforce, as well as the forecast workforce requirements and the pipeline of skills relating to the social care sector.

3.2 As discussed briefly in chapter 1, social care sits within the broader social service sector, which also includes social work services. Social services (excluding social work services) cover three main categories:

  • Adult social care (incorporating adult day care, adult placement services, care home for adults, housing support/ care at home services, nursing agencies, offender accommodation services and fieldwork services);
  • Children’s social care (including adoption and fostering services, residential children’s care services and fieldwork services); and
  • ELC (which refers to daycare of children and childminding services which are financed by Government to provide funded pre-school offer of 600 hours currently and soon to become 1,140). The ELC workforce is not covered in this analysis, but instead is discussed fully in a separate report.

The social service workforce

3.3 The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) is the regulator of the social service workforce. It conducts research and collects data on the Scottish workforce annually. Based on this, SSSC produces an annual data-driven workforce report which provides a snapshot of the composition of the sector. The data is collected by SSSC and the Care Inspectorate each December and the reports are typically published in the following August. The most recent report was published in August 2018 comprising data collected in December 2017.[77] The workforce reports include a breakdown of employment by geography, sub-sector, employer type and personal characteristics (e.g. gender and age). Rather than duplicating the data in the most recent report, this chapter draws out the key messages. It is worth noting that SSSC data around ethnicity and disability has a high proportion of unknown responses.

Table 3.1: Social services overview[78]
Number of active services registered with the Care Inspectorate (December 2017)
Childminding 5,257 Care home for adults 1,125
Daycare of children 3,682 Adult day care 479
Housing support/care at home 2,064 Residential childcare 332
Other (Adoption services, Adult placement services, Child care agencies, Fostering services, Nurse agencies, Offender accommodation services, School care accommodation 272
Headcount of the Scottish social service workforce (December 2017)
Housing support/care at home 70,900 Adult day care 7,800
Care home for adults 52,470 Fieldwork services (children) 5,740
Daycare of children 34,020 Fieldwork services (adults) 5,340
Residential childcare 7,920 Childminding 5,260
Other (Adoption services, Adult placement services, Child care agencies, Fieldwork service (generic), Fieldwork service (offenders), Fostering services, Nurse agencies, Offender accommodation services, School care accommodation) 9,980
Workforce age
Overall median 44
Highest Adult placement services 51
Adoption services

Fieldwork services (generic)
Lowest Child care agencies 33
Daycare of children 36
Gender Ethnicity Disability
85% (female) 15% (male) 3% ethnic minority 0-4% across all sub sectors

3.4 The SSSC report published in August 2018 shows that there were over 202,000 people employed in over 13,000 active registered services in Scotland in December 2017. Table 3.2 sets out the breakdown of services by type of employer, and employment. It suggests that, on average, employers in the public and voluntary sector are larger than those in the private sector. It is also worth highlighting that childminders account for around 40% of active registered services, many of whom do not employ any staff. Excluding childminders gives just under 8,000 social service providers in Scotland in December 2017.

Table 3.2: Services and employment by employer type, 2017
Employer type Services Employment
Number % Number %
Private sector 7,920 60% 83,150 41%
Voluntary sector 2,661 20% 56,020 28%
Public sector 2,630 20% 62,890 31%
Total 13,211 100% 202,090 100%

Source: SSSC Workforce Data, 2017

3.5 The social service workforce comprises 18 different sub-sectors as defined by the SSSC[79]. By far the largest of these in employment terms are housing support/care at home, which employs almost 71,000 people (35% of the total workforce), care homes for adults, which employs over 52,000 people (26%) and DCC which employs over 34,000 people (17%). Together these three sub-sectors account for nearly eight in every 10 social care jobs in Scotland.

3.6 A report for the Scottish Government indicates that in 2018 non-UK EU nationals accounted for 5.6% of people employed in adult social care and childcare, which equates to around 9,830 staff[80]. The sectors with the most (in absolute terms) of non-UK EU staff were care at home for adults (3,150), housing support/care at home (2,850), and Day Care of Children (2,290)

Fit of social care with the wider economy

3.7 The social care workforce has some characteristics that set it apart from other sectors in Scotland and the economy as a whole, illustrated at Figure 3.1. The key points to note are:

  • Social care has a much higher proportion of female workers than the economy as a whole[81];
  • The social care workforce, on average, is slightly older than the overall workforce in Scotland[82];
  • There are a greater number of social care jobs relative to other sectors in more rural and remote areas of Scotland (when compared to the national average), and less concentrated in cities and more urban areas[83];
  • There is a much higher prevalence of part-time working in social care than across the economy[84]; and
  • There is a much greater vacancy rate[85] in social care than other sectors in Scotland[86].
Figure 3.1: Comparison of social care workforce and the Scottish workforce [87]
Figure 3.1: Comparison of social care workforce and the Scottish workforce[87]

3.8 By geography, the largest numbers of social service employees are in Glasgow City (13%), City of Edinburgh (10%), Fife and North Lanarkshire (both 6%), which is to be expected given the size of the populations in these areas[88]. However, in terms of staff densities[89], the highest levels are in the island and rural communities of Shetland, Orkney, Na h-Eileanan Siar, East Ayrshire and Inverclyde. This may be partly related to the higher proportions of part-time working in more rural areas. SSSC noted in the study that an issue in assessing density is that a service can be registered in one local authority area but operating in another, which of course is less likely to happen in island authorities. In contrast, the lowest staff density levels are in West Lothian, South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire and Falkirk, which tend to be relatively urban areas outside of Scotland’s main cities.

3.9 People are more likely to work part-time in the social service sector than in the Scottish economy as a whole. In 2017, 50% of the social service workforce worked part-time, compared to 34% across all sectors in Scotland[90]. In the social service sector, part-time working is unsurprisingly most prevalent in agency work – in the childcare agency (92%) and nurse agency (74%) sub-sectors. The expansion of ELC may increase the opportunities for childcare agency work. In sub-sectors with a permanent workforce, part-time work is higher in housing support/care at home (60%) and adult day care (54%). Full-time working is most common in the fieldwork services sub-sectors, particularly with offenders (77%), children (76%) and adults (73%).

3.10 The profile of the social service workforce is not in line with the broader Scottish workforce. In 2017, the overwhelming majority of the social service workforce was female (85%), far exceeding the proportion in Scotland’s workforce
as a whole, which is 49%[91]. At 31%, almost one third of the social service workforce was aged under 35 years, 46% were aged 35 to 54 years and 23% were aged over
54 years. This was slightly older than Scotland’s overall workforce, where 35% were aged under 35 years.

3.11 However, there are significant differences in the profile within sub-sectors. For example, the ELC workforce has a younger profile – almost half (46%) of the Day Care of Children workforce were aged under 35 years. Those employed in the adult day care sub-sector tend to be older than social care as a whole, with almost one third (30%) aged over 54 years. By gender, the vast majority of staff in ELC (97%), fostering (88%) and adoption (87%) services are female, whereas males have a better representation in school care accommodation (39%) and fieldwork services, particularly with offenders (33%). A more comprehensive comparison of the social care workforce and the overall Scottish workforce is set out at Appendix C.

3.12 The SSSC recently published a report[92] which analysed registration data over a 12 month period. This helped them to understand the flow of workers into the social service sector, between different parts of the sector and the career progression within the sector. There were two main limitations to this analysis:

  • The analysis was only able to consider a proportion of those working in the sector, making it very difficult to indicate what proportion of staff left the sector entirely, or examine the movement of people between different social care sub-sectors (for example, someone may have left the SSSC register and moved to a part of the social care sector that does not require registration, so the SSSC wouldn’t be able to identify them as someone who has remained with the sector); and
  • There is a wider issue around identifying those workers who move to different jobs within the social care sector, as people have up to 6 months to re-register with the SSSC after changing jobs.

3.13 This was the first time that registration data has been used to explore the movement of the social service workforce, although not all service types were included in this analysis for the following reasons:

  • The main omission is around care at home and housing support as many of these workers have still to register with the SSSC. Workers in these sectors are required to register by 2020;
  • In addition, the movement of workers between employer types (such as the public, independent and third sector) has not been analysed. The SSSC will examine movement between these areas in future reports; and
  • There are limitations to the analysis, as current registration data doesn’t capture why people leave the workforce, or where they go.

3.14 The SSSC’s intention is that over the next few years as registration encompasses around 80% of the workforce, a more comprehensive analysis of workforce movement should be possible.

3.15 There were several key findings from the SSSC’s first study of the Register and workforce movement. These messages can be summarised as follows:

  • An estimated 40% of new registrations are from people who previously worked in the sector;
  • There were a significant number of new registrations (more than 25,000), although some of this can be accounted for by the introduction of mandatory registration for some staff groups;
  • The median age of new registrations was generally younger compared to the median age for the whole workforce;
  • There is a strong tendency for people to remain in the same type of service such as children’s or adult services; and
  • There is evidence of career progression (for instance from care home supervisors to managers, or ELC support workers to practitioners).

Stability of the workforce

3.16 The SSSC analysis shows that 80% of registered staff did not change post in 2017, which suggests that around 8,400 people moved to a different job during the analysis period. This reflects the findings around staff stability from the SSSC annual workforce data collection for the wider social service sector (which was 77.1% in 2017).

3.17 Research undertaken by XpertHR indicates that the average staff turnover rate in the wider UK economy is around 15%[93]. The SSSC publishes stability index figures for the social service workforce which measure the proportion of staff who have been retained from the previous year. In December 2017 the stability index for social services was 77.1%. This mean that just over three quarters of the staff who were in post in December 2016 were still in the same post as of December 2017. While it is not possible at present to obtain accurate figures for turnover in the social service sector in Scotland, it is possible to conclude from the stability index data that this would be less than 22.9%. In 2018/19, the turnover rate[94] in adult social care rate in England was 30.8%, equivalent to around 440,000 people leaving their jobs over the course of the year[95].

3.18 A significant number of social care providers in Scotland have expressed concern about the challenges in recruiting and retaining staff, particularly affecting the independent sector. This is specifically in relation to care homes, care at home, housing support and day care services for adults. In response to this, Scottish Care developed and ran a survey of their member organisations as part of a number of approaches to help begin to understand the nature and extent of these challenges and to inform national policy and local action in addressing the issues. They found that turnover rates for social care staff working in independent and third sector provider organisations were around 22%, rising to 30% in care at home staff.[96]

3.19 The SSSC study identifies several key messages which are of interest in terms of career development. For instance, there is a strong tendency for people to remain in the same type of service (for example adult or children’s services), and re-registrations in some cases indicate promotion and upward progression within the sector. For example, in DCC, 82% of new registrations as a manager had previously been practitioners. Therefore, it is important to explore in more detail the degree to which staff are moving within the sector (and whether they are moving to different sub-sectors or staying in the same field) and how many are moving to completely different jobs, and what these are.

Vacancies in social care

3.20 The social care sector reports significant challenges in relation to vacancies and hard-to-fill vacancies. Research commissioned by the Scottish Government identified that almost 45% of employers have found recruiting care staff/practitioners had become more difficult in the 12 months to February 2018[97]. Interestingly, the study found that retention was less of an issue than recruitment and had not changed much over the 12 month period. Where employers reported that it had become more difficult to retain staff, it was again, care staff/practitioners. Interestingly, there was very little change in ability to retain non-UK EU staff and no change in the number of non-UK EU applicants.

3.21 The SSSC and the Care Inspectorate published a report on vacancies in the Care Sector in 2017[98] based on the Care Inspectorate annual returns from service providers. Over one third (38%) of social care services reported having one or more vacancies at 31st December 2017. This rate had increased from 2016 when it was 36% and from 2015 when it was 35%. Although the increase is not steep, it may point to an emerging trend[99]. This is much greater than 20% of all Scottish employers that report having at least one vacancy[100] and 8% have at least one hard-to-fill vacancy[101]. Of interest to social care workforce planning, education employers can also find it difficult to sustain their workforce, with 39% reporting having at least one vacancy and 12% saying they have at least one hard-to-fill vacancy. Public administration is similar, at 35% and 7% respectively and the figures for hotels and restaurants are 29% and 12%[102].

3.22 The proportions of services reporting one or more vacancies were highest in housing support/care at home services (62% of services), care homes for older people (59%), housing support services (59%) and care homes for adults (53%)[103]. These are all well above the total proportion of social care services with one or more vacancies, which is 38%. DCC has a relatively low proportion of services with vacancies at 23%, although the expansion of ELC may result in large numbers of vacancies over the next year or two, so this figure is very likely to go up, albeit temporarily.

3.23 By geography, North Lanarkshire, Aberdeen, Dundee and East Dunbartonshire had the highest proportion of providers with one or more vacancies. The proportion of services with vacancies was lowest in the more rural areas of Angus, Na h-Eileanan Siar and Highland.

3.24 Of those services reporting vacancies, almost half (45%) reported having problems filling them, and this is also a small increase from the previous year, when 44% reported difficulties. This is more in line with the Scottish average of 42% of vacancies being hard-to-fill[104]. The most common reasons given by social care services for vacancies being hard-to-fill are:

  • Applicants having a lack of experience
  • Not enough applicants in general
  • A lack of qualified applicants.

Leaving the social care workforce

3.25 In 2018, SSSC undertook a survey of people who had left the SSSC register[105], gathering responses from around 1,000 individuals. Just over half (51%) of respondents indicated that they were still working in the social service sector, despite leaving the register, meaning they were possibly in roles that do not require registration, such as non-managerial staff in adult day care and PAs. It could also include people who have left their post in the period of the research and taken up a new post, but have not yet registered in the new post as they have up to six months to register. Of the 49% who were no longer working in the sector, just over half (51%) had taken up a job in a different sector. This suggests that a quarter of the respondents who had left the SSSC register were economically inactive, retired or still seeking employment. In the 2018 CCPS Benchmarking Report, 88% of responding organisations (24 in total) undertook exit interviews and the four most commonly cited reasons for staff leaving were career progression, pay, personal reasons and getting a new job[106].

3.26 The evidence from the SSSC analysis[107] shows that people who leave the SSSC register and take up a job in a different sector most commonly move into education, retail or the health sector. These three account for over half of SSSC register leavers who have moved in to employment, as shown at Figure 3.2.

Figure 3.2: Destinations of SSSC register leavers by sector
Figure 3.2: Destinations of SSSC register leavers by sector

Source: SSSC workforce movement report (May 2019)[108]

3.27 In the SSSC survey, around 5% of register leavers who had moved into employment in another sector stated that they have moved into jobs in childcare. They did not provide more specific detail.

Anticipated requirements for the social care sector

3.28 Skills Development Scotland (SDS) commissioned Oxford Economics to prepare employment forecasts for key sectors in the Scottish economy. The forecasts give the anticipated number of jobs by sector over the period to 2029, using 2019 as the baseline year. It should be noted that the Oxford Economics definition of social care is based on Standard Industrial Classification codes, and therefore differs to SSSC’s social service sector definition. The value of this data is therefore limited but it does help to illustrate where social services fits in the wider Scottish economy.

3.29 The forecasts suggest that the social care sector (which includes child day-care activities) is expected to grow by 5%, or 8,000 jobs, between 2019 and 2029[109]. The forecasts include both expansion demand (demand for jobs due to a growth in the sector) and replacement demand (demand for jobs due to the existing workforce leaving/retiring). They suggest that by 2029 approximately 42,500 workers will be required to replace those leaving the existing workforce. They also suggest that an additional 8,000 workers will be required due to expansion of the workforce. In total this indicates that the sector will have to recruit approximately 5,000 people each year to 2029.

3.30 The Oxford Economics projections indicate that the child daycare activities category[110] (a sub-set of social care) is expected to grow steeply by 11,200 jobs from 2019 to 2029, a 37% growth. Given the expansion of ELC by 2020, this is likely to be particularly steep at the start of the period to 2020/21. These projections appear to indicate that although ELC staff number will rise, other parts of the sector will see a decline of 3,200 employees to 2029 which seems unlikely. It may reflect the specific methodology used by Oxford Economics which we do not have access to.

3.31 Table 3.3 shows the Oxford Economic projections for some key sectors that social care compete with for staff. It sets out Tourism as a separate sector, as well as it being included in Accommodation and food services. The data demonstrates the expectation that there will be growth across all of these sectors so employers across the economy will be competing for more staff.

Table 3.3 Estimated employment growth by sector (2019-2029)
Sector Job growth % change
Administrative and support service 32,900 16.2
Financial and business services 21,000 8.7
Tourism 13,300 6.5
Arts, entertainment and recreation 10,000 12.5
Accommodation and food service 9,400 4.8
Social care 8,000 4.8
Wholesale and retail trade 8,000 2.1
Education 4,700 2.2
Information and communication 2,200 2.7

Source: Oxford Economics, Skills Development Scotland

3.32 Some data sources may be able provide relevant data which can further inform workforce planning. For example, Skills Development Scotland can access Burning Glass[111] data subject to request. Burning Glass provides real time, custom job market analysis for example of vacancies within sectors based on recruitment information from multiple sources e.g. job advertisements in a range of media. Whilst Burning Glass was not accessed for this report, it could be a useful source of information for workforce planning

Sectors competing with social care

3.33 Location Quotients (LQs) measure the concentration of employment in a particular sector in a particular geography (such as a local authority area) compared to the national average[112]. An LQ is a simple ratio that is traditionally used to compare an industry’s share of regional employment, although it can also be used for other economic measures (such as value add, imports or exports). An LQ can be more revealing than simply considering job numbers or job growth in an industry sector, as it can indicate the size of an industry sector (such as social care) in an area relative to the national average.

3.34 When measuring the LQ of social care workers in Glasgow for example, we are considering the share of all jobs in Glasgow that are social care jobs, compared to the same figure for Scotland. An LQ of greater than 1 indicates a greater degree of concentration in the social care sector in that particular area compared to the national workforce. The higher the score, the greater the relative concentration. Similarly, an LQ of less than 1 indicates a lower degree of concentration, or under-representation, when compared to nationally.

3.35 The local authorities in Scotland with the largest and smallest concentrations of social care workers, when compared to the Scottish average, are shown in Table 3.4.

Table 3.4: Largest and smallest concentration of social care workers (2017)
Largest concentration of social care workers Smallest concentration of social care workers
Local authority LQ Local authority LQ
East Dunbartonshire 1.75 Aberdeen City 0.59
East Renfrewshire 1.74 City of Edinburgh 0.76
Clackmannanshire 1.73 Glasgow City 0.79
East Ayrshire 1.71 West Lothian 0.80
North Ayrshire 1.67 Stirling 0.86

Source: SSSC Workforce data (2017) and Business Register and Employment Survey (2017)

3.36 There is a clear trend here. Typically, the larger cities and urban areas are under-represented in the relative concentration of their social care workforce compared to the Scottish social care workforce average, while more rural areas are over-represented. This is unsurprising given that large urban areas and cities are more compact and likely to benefit from economies of scale in their workforce i.e. fewer social care workers per population due to a smaller number of sites/settings and a more concentrated geography.

3.37 Evidence from previous research, stakeholder consultations and the survey results shows that social care tends to compete most closely with the health, retail, education, hotels and hospitality and cleaning sectors when recruiting and retaining workers[113]. The following analysis shows the highest LQs of competing sectors, for each of the local authorities with the smallest concentration of social care workers.

Table 3.5: Competing sectors in areas of low social care worker concentration (2017)
Local authority Competing sectors with highest LQs
Aberdeen City Human health (1.23)

Food and drink (1.05)
City of Edinburgh Food and drink (1.30)

Education (1.26)

Accommodation (1.10)
Glasgow City Office admin/support (1.38)

Human health (1.35)
West Lothian Retail (1.21)
Stirling Accommodation (1.67)

Education (1.25)

Food and drink (1.15)

Source: Business Register and Employment Survey (2017)

3.38 Tables 3.4 and 3.5 reflect the local economies and illustrate the importance of different sectors to different areas. The analysis suggests for example, that the social care sectors in Edinburgh and Stirling may be competing with the strong tourism (accommodation/food and drink) sectors. However, in Glasgow, the business services (office work) sector is more prevalent and therefore might compete with social care, whilst in West Lothian, the retail sector is stronger – probably due to a high proportion of retail relative to other town centres, reflecting the presence of The Centre and Livingston Designer Outlet in Livingston.

3.39 When looking at other local authorities, there is a clear trend of concentrated employment in the tourism industry in more rural areas. This is shown by very high LQs for the accommodation sectors in Argyll and Bute (3.15), South Ayrshire (2.86), Highland (2.77) and Perth and Kinross (2.72). Tourism may therefore be competing more prominently with social care jobs in more rural parts of Scotland. Elsewhere, business services jobs are particular prevalent in North Ayrshire (2.67), East Ayrshire (2.63) and Inverclyde (2.16), which are areas closer to larger urban hubs.

Provision of social care education and training

3.40 There are a number of education and training routes for those looking to move into, or already working in, the social care sector in Scotland. Some of these are set out at Table 3.6, with numbers for the most recent year. These include nearly 11,000 Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) registrations, the majority of which were for Social Services and Healthcare SVQs at SCQF Levels 6 and 7, c.4,000 Modern and Foundation Apprenticeship starts relating to social service sector frameworks, the majority of which were by female apprentices, and over 13,000 enrolments on relevant courses at FE Colleges.

Table 3.6: Social care education and training provision in Scotland
Education/training Date Number Other information
SVQ provision 2017/18 10,775 registrations 7,996 certifications
Modern Apprenticeships 2018/19 3,318 starts 90% female

10% male

73% achievements
Foundation Apprenticeships 2018/20[114] 684 starts 90% female

10% male
College provision 2016/17 13,219 enrolments Most enrolments for national awards e.g. SVQs, NCs, HNCs and NQs

Sources: SQA Annual Update Report; Skills Development Scotland; Exploring education and training to improve our understanding of social service career pathways (SSSC, 2019)



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