Submission to COSLA Task Group
Recruitment and Retention of Social Care Staff
Scope of Review
- UNISON welcomes the focus on social work issues. Perceptions
of crisis are often based upon local experience reinforced
by anecdotal evidence. The COSLA Review will be important
in assessing the issues.
- The review should look at 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. It should look beyond qualified social workers
(QSW) and consider all sections of the social care workforce,
including the impact of the voluntary/independent sector.
However, we recognise that QSW is a benchmark within the service.
- Social Work recruitment is at low levels, across all sectors
of the workforce. Course intake is down and shortage of graduates
leads to significant vacancy levels for QSW. However, the
interest in social work and social care posts is high and
evidenced by response to adverts.
- The general image of the sector and relatively low pay incentive,
within the public sector and in comparison to the general
jobs market, contribute to recruitment difficulties.
- Local recruitment initiatives and market supplements seek
to attract a limited workforce pool and cause internal market
competition. They do not increase the workforce numbers.
- Public sectors pay was held back throughout the 1990s, with
the result that many employees' earnings fell behind those
of employees in the private sector. However, there were higher
rewards for specific groups within the public sector, for
example nurses, which boosted their earnings relative to those
of their public sector colleagues. Settlements for local government
however, under which social workers' pay is set, have been
at the lower end of pay rises in the public sector over the
past few years. And recent initiatives on cost-of-living supplements,
location allowances and other targeted payments have also
boosted the earnings of groups such as nurses, police officers
and school teachers.
- There have been no similar initiatives for social workers.
Despite a serious national shortage of social workers (caused
partly by falling numbers entering the profession), there
has been no targeting of Government money to deal with this
problem. As a consequence, social workers' earnings have fallen
behind those of all these other groups. According to the latest
figures, average gross weekly earnings for social workers
stand at £427, below the averages for nurses, police officers
and teachers, and below the average for all employees, which
stands at £444.
- Looking at basic pay, a ‘typical' newly qualified social
worker in England and Wales would expect to start on just
under £17,000. However, some councils are offering to pay
‘market supplements' (typically £2,000 at least). For most
social workers, it is possible to progress to around £23,000.
However, in an increasing number of councils around the country,
the maximum salary has been boosted above the levels recommended
by the national ‘defined grading scheme' for the profession,
in order to retain experienced staff. With extra experience
and additional responsibilities, a ‘senior practitioner' can
earn up to £26,000.
- Meanwhile, pay modernisation in the NHS and for police officers
looks set to increase earnings for nurses and constables even
further. But the 'single-status' process has yet to bear fruit
in local government, with very slow progress on other local
authority services staff. The key factor underlying this appears
to be the cost councils will face with the introduction of
[Reference Comparative Earnings for QSW 1991-2001
IDS Research Paper Commissioned by UNISON
May 2002 attached appendix]
- Workloads of existing staff have grown and some councils
report a failure to allocate cases quickly enough. Staff are
becoming over stressed with low levels of morale everywhere.
- In some areas this is particularly the case in Child Protection
teams but these issues exist across all areas.
- SWA (Social Work Assistants) and other non-QSW staff are
being used more often to cover for QSW work. Particularly
in non-Child Protection work, SWA may carry complex caseloads,
at some times almost identical to QSW caseloads.
- Residential care continues to be seen as a second service,
to suffer from low morale, staff shortages, lack of resources
and the financial difficulties of the private not for profit
sector. Additional pressures are being exerted on staff by
the closure of children's secure units and the closure of
long-term hospital beds. Violence against staff, lone working
continue to be significant issues.
- Day services for both adults and older people have similar
issues in relation to staff shortages and low morale. Violence
and lone working continues be issues.
- Home Care Services have over the past few years been subject
to Best Value reviews and change to service delivery (move
towards personal care, 24 hour/7 day service) and in some
cases changes to terms and conditions. Continually having
to compare/complete with the private sector for varying levels
of care and service provision. Home care continues to be pressured
and under paid.
- The creation of the SSCC and the introduction of regulation
criteria is moving social work into a new era which further
presents its own challenges. Many staff will require to attain
specific qualifications in order to register. This will add
pressure to individuals and will distort training budgets.
- The introduction of National Standards has implications
for workload management and working practices.
- The union has published some very good material on issues
such as violence to staff, best value reviews etc. relating
to these areas. We had a residential seminar recently which
highlighted some action points to pursue. These need to be
actioned. Similar seminars for Adult Services, Child Care,
Home Care could be organised over coming months to review
experience and identify some action points.
- Any moves to progress the grading of QSW needs to consider
the concerns of another significant group of members, i.e.
SWA's and other non-qualified social workers. Where members
are carrying out duties of a higher grade we argue for equal
pay. It would not be credible for us to argue that SWA's have
duties removed from them, which they have been competently
carrying out, in order to restrict them to duties at their
existing grade simply because they do not have a QSW. Therefore,
as well as progressing with QSW claim we need to look to the
SWA/nonQSW issues also.
- We should pursue a strategy which insists on a route to
qualifications within work for SWA's. UNISON in England has
publicised a work-based route to QSW. We should pick this
National Occupational Standards/Workforce
- There is no agreed definition for a QSW. Some functions
within legislation identify the need for a QSW but these are
few (Chief Social Work Officer, MHO, for example). However
there is a general view that a QSW is required for a variety
of other functions (child protection, court work, etc). When
confronted with the Job Evaluation Scheme QSWs will be evaluated
on the tasks they perform and not their qualifications.
- The Scottish Executive, SSSC and COSLA should agree a definition
of a Qualified Social Worker so that this is a recognisable
and agreed occupational norm or minimum. This would then assist
us in the job evaluation process and ensuring that dilution
- In conjunction with this approach we should also look at
how the Scottish Executive can set standards for the number
of QSWs to be employed in each Council area to carry out the
defined tasks, given each QSW a manageable workload.
- At the same time we should open a discussion on a similar
agreed definition of other posts within the workforce such
as Residential Child Care Workers, Social Work Assistants,
- The introduction of Job Evaluation has been frustrated by
local and Scottish procedural difficulties. However, job evaluation
v.v. national occupational standards is a conundrum which
may add to geographical recruitment problems in a limited
Support for Front-line Staff
- The introduction of National Standards and the SSSC codes
for Employers and Employees have implications for workload
management and working practices.
- Workload management and professional supervision are minimal
due to internal management pressures and staffing levels and
vacancies. This contributes to a cycle and circle with high
absence and sickness rates.
- The application of ICT has often been systems led, may increase
administrative tasks in assessment and reporting procedures
for professional staff (e.g. single assessments, standard
- There is a history fragmentation of different elements of
the services with different classes in a hierarchical system
of training, pay and management profile. There is a need for
an integrated education and training programme, clearly defined
progression opportunities with linked grading, through the
various elements of the wider spectrum of service. These aims
present different challenges for different sectors.
- The degree based QSW is to be welcomed. However the individual
costs of training are a disincentive.
- We should push for a training regime that allows a member
starting as a home help of social care assistant a route towards
a QSW without needing to leave work for a (unpaid) period.
This could utilise R2L, SVQ, Open University etc. until the
attainment of a QSW is achieved. This would provide a long
term and sustainable answer to planning for future recruitment
and retention. However it is accepted that this will require
significant investment in training resources. However we believe
that this is essential for the future of the service and the
For Further Information Please Contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835