OVER 20 per cent of social work and occupational therapy roles in Westmorland and Furness are currently not filled according to a new report.

The report prepared for members of the health and adults overview and  scrutiny committee for Westmorland and Furness Council reveals there is a vacancy rate of 20.5 per cent for social work and occupational therapy roles in the area which is higher than the national average of 11.6 per cent.

The context of Westmorland and Furness with a ‘large footprint’ and a ‘spare population’ presents additional challenges, the report says.

The report states in the Westmorland and Furness council area there is a vacancy rate of 14 per cent for care support workers which is higher than the national figure of 9.9 per cent.

According to the report, 63 per cent of care workers are paid less than the current national living wage nationally as of March 2023 and research from Community Care show that pay is the number one reason for social workers to leave the profession.

The report says while Westmorland and Furness have ‘slightly higher’ pay rates (£12.38-£12.80 per hour) this is still only on a par with roles such as Store Assistant at ALDI (£12.00- £12.95) which may be perceived as ‘easier and less responsible’ than regulated care.

Issues with ‘availability and affordability of housing’ are increasingly a challenge across the whole of Westmorland and Furness, which impacts on the ability attract staff, particularly into lower paid roles, the report states.

It adds: “Furthermore, without convenient transport links, it is hard to attract people to relocate into areas like Barrow which are geographically isolated from the rest of the region.”

According to the report competition from high paying employers also poses a challenge in the area.

The report states: “W&F routinely loses Adult Social Care staff to the NHS, which have a variety of roles which match the skills and experience of our staff, but often with more attractive pay and conditions.

“Recently there has been an increasing trend of Adult Social Care staff in the Furness area leaving for roles at BAE systems, who are prepared to train people with the right generic skillset in roles such as project management, often offering significantly higher pay.”

However, according to the report, following a review of agency use, vacancy data and competitor rates, the market supplement has been amended to focus incentives on hard to fill shifts, now only weekends and nights are enhanced, but at a more ‘substantial rate’ of time plus 30 per cent.

These interventions have coincided with a ‘significant improvement’ in the vacancy position in care services, which has seen the vacancy rate reduce from 24 per cent in August 2023 to 14 per cent in February.

The use of agency staff has also reduced by 52 per cent between April and December 2023, from an average of 5351 to 2787 hours per month across the service, the report adds.

Members of the health and adults overview and scrutiny committee will discuss the report on March 7 at Kendal Town Hall.