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Submission to COSLA Task Group

Recruitment and Retention of Social Care Staff

Scope of Review

    1. 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.
    2. 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.


    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.


    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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 single status.

[Reference Comparative Earnings for QSW 1991-2001

IDS Research Paper Commissioned by UNISON May 2002 attached appendix]

Retention Issues

    1. 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.
    2. In some areas this is particularly the case in Child Protection teams but these issues exist across all areas.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. The introduction of National Standards has implications for workload management and working practices.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. 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 up vigorously.

National Occupational Standards/Workforce Planning

    1. 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.
    2. 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 is ended.
    3. 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.
    4. 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, etc.


Job Evaluation

    1. 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 labour market.

Support for Front-line Staff

    1. The introduction of National Standards and the SSSC codes for Employers and Employees have implications for workload management and working practices.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 hearing reports).

Professional Training

    1. 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.
    2. The degree based QSW is to be welcomed. However the individual costs of training are a disincentive.
    3. 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 workforce.



For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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