Social work risks becoming a two-tier profession, as experienced
staff go independent to escape poor working conditions at
That was the warning last week from Helen Ogilvy, co-chair of
the British Association of Social Workers, who said that, to hold
on to quality staff, councils would need to create conditions that
mirrored independent practice.
She told a conference on recruitment and retention: “Unless
there’s a good reason to stay where they are, more people will work
independently. They will leave a void behind them – they will not
be replaced by people with the same level of competence.”
She added: “If independent social work grew too big you would
end up with a two-tier workforce.”
Ogilvy said independent practice offered more autonomy and
flexibility in work and less stress and greater job satisfaction
than employment in councils. Moreover, it was untouched by a blame
She said: “I’m yet to meet an independent who would want to move
back to their previous working environment. The challenge [for
councils] is to help people stay where they are rather than join us
However, she suggested government policy could lead to more
demand for independents, regardless of working conditions in
councils, with the adult green paper’s call for social workers to
become navigators rather than gatekeepers of services.
Independents are seen as ideal for this role because they would
not have the conflict of interest faced by care managers between
meeting users’ needs and keeping a lid on council budgets.
Kathryn Kelly, senior consultant for recruitment and careers at
the Employers’ Organisation, said retention was a bigger issue than
recruitment at many councils.
Clear policies were needed on supervision and caseload
management as well as a choice of career paths into senior
practitioner or management roles.
She warned: “A lot of existing staff are tired with the changes
that are going on in social services.”