MSPs Briefing - Social Work Review Debate
On Wednesday 14th January 2004 the
Parliament will debate a motion by MSP Brian Adam on the need
for the Scottish Executive to initiate a social work review. UNISON
Scotland welcomes this timely debate in the Scottish Parliament,
particularly given the current problems in recruitment, retention,
job status and pay, along with the increasing pressures facing
social workers in Scotland.
This briefing covers this issue and related matters
that may be raised during the debate.
The need for a Review
We are supportive of the need for a review of
social work, and of the general direction of Brian Adam's motion.
However, a McCrone-type review would take around
18 months to complete. We believe that this length of time to
be extravagant given the current malaise in Scottish social work.
In addition there remains the likelihood that much of the work,
and indeed the recommendations of this review, would duplicate
work that is already being done. For example, the Executive has
recently established a National Workforce Group to look at issues
such as recruitment and retention, education and training and
workforce developments within Scottish social work. In addition,
CoSLA has also recently established their Recruitment and Retention
Group to take forward an action plan produced by the organisation
We also remain unconvinced that a review along
the lines of those proposed, concentrating on pay and conditions,
would be able to effectively address all of the important issues
that currently contribute to Scotland's "crisis in social work".
Instead we believe that a comprehensive and thorough review is
required in Scottish Social Work. It must look at a range of issues,
including pay, recruitment, training, retention and appropriate
resources to enable staff to carry out their job effectively in
safe conditions and with a level of job satisfaction. We believe
that any review should look beyond qualified social workers (QSW)
and consider all sections of the social care workforce, including
the impact on the voluntary/independent sector.
Negative Portrayal of Social Work
A significant issue is the negative portrayal of social work
in the media and the scapegoating of social work staff when things
go wrong. Newspaper editors and politicians are too ready to highlight
individual failings instead of recognising the enormous achievements
of social care with extremely limited resources. Politicians and
the media should recognise that social work staff are employed
in difficult circumstances with the most vulnerable people in
the community. Politicians and the media would be better served
challenging these negative portrayals of the service and do more
to promote a positive understanding of the role of social care
Social work recruitment is low across all sectors of the workforce.
QSW student intake is down and a shortage of graduates is leading
to significant vacancy levels. However the interest in social
work and social care posts is high and evidenced by response to
The general image of the sector and relatively low pay in the
public sector in comparison to the general jobs market, contribute
to recruitment difficulties. Local recruitment initiatives and
market supplements simply seek to attract a limited workforce
pool and cause internal market competition. They do not increase
the workforce numbers, and deal with the main problem.
Initiatives on cost-of-living supplements, location allowances
and other targeted payments have boosted the earnings of groups
such as nurses, police officers and teachers. There have been
no similar initiatives for social workers. Despite a serious national
shortage (caused partly by fewer entering the profession), there
has been no targeting of government money to deal with this problem.
Therefore, social workers' earnings have fallen behind those of
other groups. UNISON Scotland believes that there is a role for
the Scottish Executive on the issue of social workers pay. We
believe that the Executive should bring its influence to bear
by applying pressure on local authorities to address this issue.
Retention of existing staff is not merely a question of pay.
Neither is it an issue for QSW's alone. Other groups in the social
care workforce are finding staff voting with their feet, fed up
with their working conditions. Workloads of existing staff have
grown and some councils report a failure to allocate cases quickly
enough. Staff are becoming stressed and low morale amongst social
care staff throughout Scotland has reached endemic levels. In
some areas there are particular pressures on child protection
teams but similar issues exist across all teams.
UNISON Scotland also believes that in addition to the issues
mentioned above that it is imperative that adequate resources
be made available to enable staff to carry out their job effectively,
in safe conditions, and in a safe environment. Most people working
in social care know that it can be a rewarding and personally
satisfying career. However, they require the pay, resources, support
and training to allow them to achieve these levels and this requires
additional funding from the Scottish Executive.
In addition to the issues above UNISON Scotland believes that
any review must also address the following issues:
- The SSSC should clarify the appropriate levels of supervision,
support and training that staff working in frontline posts can
- The need for a training regime that allows care staff a route
towards a QSW without needing to leave work for a (unpaid) period.
Whilst UNISON Scotland has a number of reservations concerning
the detail of the motion, we are supportive of the overall spirit
and direction of the motion. We think a thorough review is required
in Scottish Social Work. It must look at a range of issues, including
pay, recruitment, training, retention and appropriate resources
to enable staff to carry out their job effectively in safe conditions
and with a level of job satisfaction. We believe that any review
should look beyond qualified social workers (QSW) and consider
all sections of the social care workforce, including the impact
on the voluntary/independent sector.
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