Councils will be able use a £15m international recruitment fund to source social workers from overseas to work in adults’ services, the government has confirmed.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), while the main emphasis of the fund should be on the recruitment of care workers, it is also permissible to utilize it for locating social workers, occupational therapists, or nurses.
In response to the increasing staff shortages in adult social care, the DHSC has announced the availability of a fund in 2023-24, as vacancies across the sector in England have increased by 52% in 2021-22.
The reason for the rise in staff shortages has been linked to multiple factors such as heightened competition from other low-wage sectors such as retail and the NHS, Covid-induced staff burnout, and decreased availability of workers from Europe due to Brexit.
Sector leaders, the NHS, and the government consider staff shortages to be a significant contributor to issues like lengthy waiting lists for social care assessments and packages, as well as a high number of delayed discharges from hospitals.
Reducing recruitment barriers
The primary objective of the international recruitment fund is to alleviate the obstacles that may hinder the recruitment of staff from overseas, especially for small or medium-sized care providers, such as high administrative complexity and expenses.
According to the recent guidance released by the DHSC, regional or sub-regional partnerships should be established by councils and providers to manage the resource, with a lead local authority designated to receive the funding.
It said partnerships could use the fund to
- help providers attract overseas candidates;
- create a shared recruitment resource that looked at the whole region’s needs;
- provide an advice or checking service for sponsorship license or visa applications;
- help new arrivals to access affordable housing;
- assist recruits with work travel requirements, for example, helping them gain a UK driving license;
- provide pastoral support, such as buddying schemes.
The DHSC has established a maximum funding limit for each of the nine regions in England, with lead local authorities required to submit applications by February 24, 2023, outlining the amount of funding required and its intended usage. The lead council is responsible for ensuring that the application represents a collaborative view.
It remains uncertain to what extent the recruitment fund will be utilized to recruit social workers. While vacancy rates increased for council adult practitioners in 2020-21, rising from 7.5% to 9.5%, the levels were lower than those for nurses (14.6%), personal assistants (13.1%), home care staff (13%), registered managers (12.8%), and frontline care staff overall (11.8%), as of April 2022.
More overseas social workers applying for registration
The launch of the fund comes amid a rise in the number of practitioners from overseas applying for registration in England.
Social Work England said it received 411 applications from overseas in October to December 2022, a 30% rise on the 314 received in the same period in 2021, in a paper to its board meeting last month.
It said most had come from social workers from South Africa, Zimbabwe and India.
Due to the increase in application numbers and a rule change in July 2022 giving practitioners up to 28 days, rather than 14, to respond to requests for further information, the median number of days the regulator took to process applications rose from seven to 34 days, from April to December last year.
Social Work England said it was allocating more resources to its overseas applications team to address the issue.
Source credit: communitycare.co.uk