Senior social workers are paid nearly 3% less on average than teachers and 11% less than police officers with equivalent levels of experience, a Unison study has found.
The survey showed the average salary of senior social workers in the UK was £33,700 – at least £800 less than some counterparts in police, education and the NHS.
Although the average salary for newly qualified social workers – £26,600 – was better than similar grades in teaching and health, experienced practitioners fell behind significantly higher up the scale.
For example, qualified social workers received an average of £29,650, compared with £30,840 for teachers in England and Wales and £33,400 for teachers in Scotland.
The gap increased between senior social workers, typically paid £33,700, and experienced teachers in England and Wales (£34,650) and police sergeants (£38,000).
The typical maximum salary for senior social workers was found to be £35,300, compared with £39,000 for the highest-paid midwives and health visitors in the NHS.
Unison said preliminary findings of the in-depth study proved the case for a “nationally recognised career structure”, with greater incentives to keep experienced practitioners on the frontline.
Rather than supporting recent calls for a new national pay scale for the profession, which “could take years” to implement, Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social workers, said salaries could be increased by amending existing pay structures.
But Pile, whose union represents 40,000 social workers across the UK, warned that this would have to be backed by additional funding in order to solve the staffing crisis in the profession. Research published by the union earlier this year revealed average vacancy rates in social work positions of 14% in England, with lower rates of 7-10% in the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“There are already serious shortages of social workers, and many more are leaving the profession. It is crucial we start to make social work an attractive profession again, and we need to do it fast,” Pile said.
“Improving pay is a key element, alongside making the job more bearable by tackling working conditions.”
The survey was carried out by external researchers from Incomes Data Services using data current for 2009.
Pile added: “There is no getting away from the fact that this improved system would need extra funding. But with the current social work staffing crisis, it is clear that the cost of doing nothing would be huge.”
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