It is no exaggeration to say that social work’s future is staked
on the three-year vocational degree, which will begin to replace
the two-year Diploma in Social Work from 2003.
An employers’ survey this week finds that three-quarters of
social services departments are struggling to recruit and retain
social workers. Social work posts are second only to benefit
officer posts in being the most difficult to fill in local
authorities as a whole.
Individual initiatives, such as the Community Care and
Local Government Association national awareness campaign launched
last month, will help but they can bring lasting change only in the
light of more fundamental reforms. Training is certainly one of
these, pay is another. Employers have at last shown signs of
admitting that yet another pay increase merely covering the cost of
inflation is unacceptable to their staff, social workers
But even if the possibility of a 3.5 per cent increase, on which
local authority chief executives are now being consulted, becomes a
concrete offer, it will do little to improve the image of social
work as a poorly paid profession held in low regard by the
government and the public.
So in the absence of a government resolve to raise salary
levels, social work must look to better training as the cure for
its ills. A great advantage of the three-year degree is that it
will strengthen the professional status of social work, putting it
on a par with teaching and making the job more attractive to young
people considering career options.
As young people gravitate towards social work, however, the
profession must not alienate the more mature recruits. The cost of
completing the diploma, often emotional as well as financial, was
already too high.
Unless the government funds a system of bursaries, such as that
suggested by the training organisation TOPSS, the degree runs the
risk of making a bad situation worse.