New data confirms staff shortages in social services across Europe

STAFF shortage social services care

(9 February 2022) The results of a Social Employers survey on staff shortages in social services confirm that urgent action is needed both at European and national level to tackle recruitment and retention rates. The findings reinforce the EPSU/ Social Employers joint position paper on the upcoming European Care Strategy, which calls for measures to ensure adequate, safe staffing levels. 

The results of the social employers survey, which correspond largely with EPSUs data, paint a worrying picture. Of the 47 employers’ organisations and social services providers who responded, from 22 European countries, 85% report facing staff shortages. 30% of respondents report strong staff shortages of more than 10% of unfilled job positions.  

What is worse, the survey shows that staff shortages in social services are increasing. 49% of respondents report some increase of staff shortages (+1% to 10%), and 34% of respondents report a strong increase (>+10%). 

These results are similar to the findings in an EPSU report published last year on the Resilience of the Long-Term Care Sector. It found that growth in the size of the care workforce has lagged behind growth in the demand for care for over a decade, but since the onset of the pandemic, the decline in Europe’s residential care workforce has increased alarmingly. Between 2019 and 2020, 421 0000 care workers left the sector. 

It is clear that urgent action is needed to reverse this trend. In all EU member states, and at European level, issues of low pay, poor working conditions and lack of recognition need to be addressed in order to improve the attractiveness of the sector. Indeed, responding to the Social Employers question, why are workers leaving or not applying for positions in social services, the majority of respondents strongly agreed that low wages are a reason, and half strongly agreed that physical/mental exhaustion from COVID-19 are a reason. Similarly, the EPSU report quotes the OECD: “Low wages, stress, a heavy workload and onerous working conditions all make it hard to keep people in the LTC sector. The poor record in protecting care workers from COVID-19 is likely to make more people question whether working in the sector is for them.”  

The European Care Strategy must address this. We expect it to set out measures that will ensure quality working conditions, appropriate salaries, good career paths and healthy workplaces, in order to recruit and retain employees. At EU level and across member states, this should be based on collective agreements and social dialogue.