Ready, steady, growth

Every day our social care workforce provides vital care to
hundreds of thousands of people. Every day social workers change
people’s lives and protect thousands from harm. Older people,
disabled people, people in harm’s way, vulnerable people are all
supported by one of society’s most important workforces.

That workforce needs to grow, has to be better trained, has to be
better motivated and has to be respected in our communities.

To this end, the government launched a national social work
recruitment campaign to demonstrate the scope and breadth of a
social worker’s role and reflect the areas in which social workers
operate. So far we have received more than 50,000 calls to the
dedicated helpline with a similar number of people visiting the
website  We
are also beginning to see an increase in applications to study
social work, a rise of 6.3 per cent in 2002-3, reversing the
previous five-year decline. The next phase of the social work
recruitment campaign begins this month; and in January 2004 we
shall look to TV advertising as an integral part of a new campaign
to promote social care workers.

It is encouraging to report that vacancy rates for all local
council social care posts in England fell from 9.4 per cent in 2001
to 6.0 per cent in 2002. However, we still face vacancy rates of
more than 9 per cent among children’s social workers. The proposals
in the green paper Every Child Matters that address recruitment and
retention and other staffing issues will build on previous work and
help to establish a workforce that can provide the services that
children and families need.

Importantly, we should not underestimate the effect raising the
status of social work as a profession could have on recruitment and
retention. The establishment of the General Social Care Council was
a major part of this strategy. It has already published the first
national codes of practice for social care workers and their
employers and is now working on the registration of social workers.
The introduction of a student bursary combined with the new
three-year degree level qualification in social work are also key
initiatives to raise the profile and appeal of this

We also need to completely revamp employment and pay structures and
modernise the social care workforce in the way Agenda for Change is
revolutionising the NHS workforce.

It won’t be easy. Unlike the NHS, the government does not have
direct responsibility for recruitment and retention issues or
direct input to pay negotiations within social care, as these are
the responsibility of individual employers. But what we can do is
to get employers, employees and unions talking about what is
needed, discussing what will unblock recruitment and facing up to
the employment challenges ahead.

Pay and conditions will have to be part of the discussions. The
Local Government Pay Commission (LGPC) is now reviewing the pay
structure in local authorities. The commission’s terms of reference
encompass the agendas of the employers and the trade unions. The
LGPC proposals will be key but can only be part of a solution that
will ultimately have to encompass the voluntary and private sectors
as well. That is why every employer will have to face these issues
and why every employee needs to join the debate now.

The government does have some indirect influence, such as the
setting of council grants and the dissemination of best practice.
It is also working with councils, private and voluntary sector
employers to build upon and share effective employment policies and
procedures, which take account of the whole package offered to

Government has also provided record funding increases for personal
social services. This is money that must be used to drive up the
quality and availability of services as well as making sure that
social care is an attractive career option. That means the debate
cannot just focus on pay and conditions but must also take in key
issues such as commissioning arrangements, service pricing and the
modernisation of service delivery.

I have been a minister for only a few months. In that time I have
been told that an agenda for change for the social care workforce
is vital by directors of social services departments, voluntary
sector chief executives, private employers and union
representatives. If we are all agreed it’s needed we have to get on
and make it happen. Why? Because this is a workforce that society
simply can’t do without.

More pay, but for whom?  

The government is considering Ladyman’s idea of paying more
money to social workers who take on more complex cases. Natalie
Valios gauges responses.  

Malcolm Jarman, senior practitioner, Weymouth and Portland
Community Mental Health Trust, Dorset social and health
services:”It has the potential to be divisive. Elitism could creep
in where some people would be looking for status linked with cases
and that doesn’t feel comfortable. There are risks in defining
tougher cases – is it because of the nature of risk, or
vulnerability of client or complexity of case? I support the idea
of a career grade for social workers. Senior practitioner roles
have become linked with managerial responsibility so the only route
for practitioners to progress is into management, rather than a
more skilled and rewarded practitioner role.”   

Mick Entwistle, social worker, children and disabilities, Bolton
social services department:  “Who would be assessing which were the
difficult cases? It will entail another tier of bureaucracy and
assessment and, to me, it’s a long, drawn-out process. It’s not
just about giving social workers more money and thinking everything
will be rosy, it’s about giving them more support and proper lines
of management – that should be part of the government’s thinking.
They need incentives to recruit social workers and help people who
may wish to do the social work course but do not have the finances.
I was an engineer for 17 years and I had to take a 50 per cent cut
in wages to get into social work. My son has just started the
social work degree at 27 and has had to pack in his job. He has a
bursary but that won’t pay his  expenses, he can only do it because
we are supporting him. If the government provided an indication of
how it was going to support people it would make social work a more
attractive option.”   

Mavis Sawdy, service manager, children and families, Hampshire
social services department: “How do you define a complex case,
particularly when the government agenda is to move towards a more
preventive strategy? You need highly skilled workers to deal with
the non-complex end to stop a case becoming complex. Highly
qualified staff make more demands of my time because they are more
aware of the complexities, so they need more underpinning and
guidance. The nature of the work is such that you need to be clear
about what you are doing and you shouldn’t be doing that in
isolation. I suspect that the idea to pay more money for tougher
cases is to bypass management – the assumption being that if you
pay them more you can leave them to get on with the job. Paying
more money should be enshrined in intelligent career structures. We
should be paying social work staff more across the board and we
need to reduce the discrepancy between salaries for managers and

Lesley Skinner, head of local government services, Employers’
Organisation:  “Pay is really for local authorities to determine.
Most councils are going through a pay and grading review at the
moment and it is likely that there will be differences in pay
between those doing more complex cases and those not. We would
expect pay to reflect this factor. It’s simple to talk about
‘complex’ cases, but grading has to be done by job evaluation to
look at the complexities of that job – the skills needed and the
demands it makes on the worker emotionally. It would be difficult
to have a mix of national pay provision and local decisions. They
don’t always interact well. You wouldn’t expect the same person to
take on all the complex cases, it’s not good management.”

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