In a week when we realised that the salaries of GP partners had increased by 58% over the past three years, Community Care research revealed that many social workers are struggling to make ends meet.
Few are able to save money, while many are permanently overdrawn and in significant debt. Four out of 10 social workers have taken on a second job to get by.
How many GPs are driving taxis or serving behind bars in their spare time?
But, the most worrying figure is that six out of 10 say pay is a driver for considering an alternative career.
Social work has taken significant steps towards becoming a career of choice in recent years. Degree entry and improved regulation have helped. But the combination of low pay and burgeoning bureaucracy is threatening to undermine this.
After last year’s sub-inflation pay rise of 2.475%, a series of decent pay rises would help restore confidence. Two-thirds of social workers felt the 2008-9 pay rise should be above 5%. And they have a growing appetite to achieve it, with four out of 10 believing strike action should be considered if the offer is too low.
Better representation would help. The government listens to the BMA, but the same can’t be said of BASW. And when it comes to pay talks, the importance of social work gets lost in the wider local government debate.
It’s positive news that BASW is forging closer links with unions and wants more involvement in pay talks.
But retaining – and motivating – social workers isn’t just about pay. Employers have to find ways to maximise their client time and develop more flexible working arrangements that fit in with peoples’ lives.
And these issues don’t just concern social work. More research this week predicts that the social care workforce has to increase by 80% to 2.5 million if the needs of service users in 2025 are to be met. Being a personal assistant is going to have to offer more than just personal reward – the angle once again of the government’s latest recruitment campaign.
Our pay data is symptomatic of a wider problem. Social work remains undervalued. The profession is crucial to delivering prevention and personalisation, which could do so much to improve vulnerable people’s lives. This is changing the role of social work, with an emphasis on navigation, and yet no agency or body is taking a lead in supporting the transition. It’s time to invest in social work.
Poll exposes plight of debt-ridden social workers
Skills for Care predicts huge hike in workforce
This article appears in the 6 March issue under the headline “Social workers seeing red”