A large scale review of social work roles and tasks in England will be led by the General Social Care Council, it was announced last week.
The inquiry was launched alongside publication of a report by the government’s Options for Excellence review of the social care workforce. It is expected to have similarities with the 21st Century Review of Social Work in Scotland and the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru’s study, Social Work in Wales: A Profession to Value, written by Tony Garthwaite, ADSS Cymru’s workforce lead.
With so much ground being covered by the other reports, professionals in Scotland and Wales believe they could provide lessons for England’s review.
Recruiting social workers
ADSS Cymru’s research, published in August of last year, focused on recruitment and retention of social workers in Wales. High vacancy rates are a problem across the country.
The ageing population and the drive towards providing people with more personalised services – outlined in the adult social care and health white paper – means more social workers will be required across the UK.
One of the ADSS Cymru report’s main recommendations was for the development of national or regioanl pay scales for social workers. The idea is to stop the 22 councils in Wales from competing for staff by trying to offer more than their neighbours.
It states that this situation is “difficult to justify and unworkable” and must be tackled.
Tony Garthwaite, ADSS Cymru’s lead on workforce and author of the report, says although it would be harder to create national pay scales for England – due to its size and large variations between different areas – the issue is worth exploring.
Garthwaite says if recruitment and retention are covered by the review then pay should also be discussed, as all three are interlinked. His study proposes that until a national pay scale is set up, councils should bring all basic social worker pay rates up to a minimum of £22,265, and maximum of £29,004. It also recommends a top salary of £30,747 for the most experienced and qualified.
Garthwaite says about a third of Welsh councils have now brought their pay into line with the recommendations.
ADSS Cyrmu found that the wellbeing of professionals also needs to be looked at and its recommendations included introducing national minimum standards of working conditions and a common approach to workload management.
Garthwaite says these are ideas which could also work in England.
He says calculating workload levels is difficult, due to some cases being more complex than others and staff having varying amounts of experience. But a common way of working out what is appropriate could help to prevent people becoming overloaded.
“Staff told us that the size and nature of their caseload determined how successfully they could do their job,” he says.
In Scotland the executive has began to turn some of the 21st century review’s proposals into action and published an implementation plan on the same day as the review came out in February 2006.
Launching the English review GSCC chief executive Lynne Berry said: “We want to make sure that those doing the job know how their contribution is different from others.”
Social work skills
But Ruth Stark, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers Scotland, said proposals on how to improve social workers’ practices rather than defining their role would be more helpful.
“What they really want to hone in on is how to use social work skills more effectively. This is much more important than another discussion defining the role of social work,” she said.
Stark says this was one of the strengths of the Scottish review, which recommends giving social workers more autonomy in decision-making and greater involvement in preventive work in order to improve their performance.
She says that the English review could “learn a lot” from its Scottish counterpart and that both of these recommendations could also be applied to the English workforce.
The 21st Century review also outlines the need for social workers to spend most of their time with clients and suggested that a national recognition and pay framework linked to career paths and competences be introduced.
Stark says the need for social workers to have more contact time directly with service users also exists in England and she agrees with Garthwaite that a national pay scale for England should also be explored.
Stark says the English review needs to ensure that it does not repeat the work being done in Scotland.