Social work employers have rejected calls for a national pay scale because, they claim, salaries are not a major issue among frontline professionals.
The Local Government Association, which represents 99% of council social work employers, said the priorities for reforming the profession were to cut “pressures and paperwork” rather than increase pay.
The LGA’s comments came as it rejected a call for a national pay scale from the Association of Professionals in Education and Children’s Trusts (Aspect).
Aspect has asked the Social Work Task Force to recommend an urgent review of local government pay scales for social workers.
Aspect general secretary John Chowcat said local authority grading structures were “not fit for purpose” because they “significantly understate social workers’ skills and responsibilities”.
Urgent action was needed to address the “pay ceiling” which forces experienced social workers to take on managerial posts to achieve higher salaries. He added that poor pay had damaged the profession’s morale, recruitment and retention for years.
A report in July by Incomes Data Services, an independent research organisation, found the average starting salary for social workers was £25,220.
Chowcat said that, unlike the NHS, council pay scales failed to reward highly skilled, specialist posts with considerable professional autonomy but few managerial responsibilities, such as experienced social workers.
The union’s analysis of the local government national joint council scheme showed that it weighted the same level of knowledge at 7% less than the main NHS scheme.
“The gradings are flawed because they fail to reflect the complexity of the job social workers do,” Chowcat said.
He added that the widespread use by councils of additional payments to top up social workers’ salaries, known as market supplements, exposed the flaws.
Use of supplements
However, the LGA said the use of supplements was not “a sign of failure” because they could be useful incentives in social work recruitment campaigns.
“All evidence suggests that for existing social workers, pay is not the problem,” a spokesperson said.
“Few social workers have appealed against grading decisions. Instead, they worry about pressures and paperwork.
“It is better to put limited resources into dealing with these issues rather than into a costly new pay structure that will cause difficulties for the rest of local government.”