Poll reveals high level of long-term sickness among social services staff

An estimated 20,000 local authority social services staff were
signed off work for a period of two months or more last year, an
exclusive poll by Community Care of English councils has

The figure, extrapolated from responses from 100 of the 149
top-tier councils in England for 2004, has raised questions about
working conditions at councils and the success of the government’s
efforts to boost social care recruitment.

Public sector union Unison said high turnover rates and
long-term sick rates could be attributed to high levels of stress
caused by under-staffing. “This then leads to extra
responsibilities affecting the work-life balance of staff,” a
spokesperson said.

In January, the Department of Health launched the second phase
of its drive to recruit more people into the social care sector. It
claims that its 2004 campaign generated over 80,000 inquiries –
although it is unclear how this figure translated into numbers
embarking on jobs or courses.

Retention also remains a critical issue. Responses from 112
councils to Community Care’s request under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 (see panel, right) reveal a 12.7 per cent
average turnover of council social services staff in 2004.

A spokesperson for adult social care training body Skills for
Care said that boosting employees’ confidence in their ability to
do their jobs would help reduce the likelihood of them succumbing
to stress-related illnesses and leaving the sector prematurely.

“Significant progress has already been made on this,” he said.
“That’s a combination of the national training strategy we have
been promoting since 2000 and the impact of the Care Standards Act
with its requirement of various levels of training. But there is
much further to go.”

He said it was critical for managers to develop the skills to
recognise when their staff were under pressure and when that was
likely to lead to people ending up off sick with stress.

British Association of Social Workers director Ian Johnston said
he was not surprised by the figures. He called for improved working
conditions, including more opportunities for sabbaticals and time
off to care for relatives. 

Most councils aware of act

Most councils in England are meeting the requirements of the
Freedom of Information Act 2000, which came into force in

Community Care’s written request for specific social services
workforce statistics for 2004, sent under the new law to England’s
149 top-tier councils, achieved a 78.5 per cent response rate.

However, only 57 per cent of the responding councils completed
all of the survey, with the rest claiming questions about
individual groups of workers required information that was not
already collated or would be too expensive to provide. Several also
breached the 20-day rule for providing the information.

Under the act, members of the public are entitled to ask
councils for any recorded information, regardless of who created

Councils are expected to provide the requested information free
of charge within 20 days, providing the estimated cost of collating
the material is less than £450.


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