PROBLEM: Social workers’ salaries do not sufficiently reflect their experience and do not encourage practitioners to stay on the frontline, rather than move into management.
RECOMMENDATION: A proposed national career structure to provide social workers with the opportunity to receive higher pay while staying on the frontline. Unions will work with local government employers to ensure social workers receive appropriate pay.
The children and families select committee report into children’s social work training, published in July, said that while social workers’ starting salaries were not considered a problem, the “slow and limited” pay progression within the sector was cause for concern.
According to the Local Authority Workforce Intelligence Group, the average minimum salary for a social worker in England in 2006 was £22,513, and the maximum £30,983. For team leaders, the minimum was £33,386, with a maximum of £37,347.
The select committee report said these pay scales were particularly striking when compared to those for teachers. In 2008, a newly qualified teacher could expect to start on a salary of at least £20,627 outside of London, or £25,000 in inner London. Teachers’ upper pay scale ran from £32,660 to £35,121, while the leadership pay scale ranged as high as £100,424.
In addition, salary limitations resulted in few incentives for social workers to remain in frontline practice, as often the only way to gain a pay increase while staying with the same employer was to move into management positions. This system results in some of the most experienced social workers being removed from the frontline.
Speaking at Community Care Live, Social Work Task Force chair Moira Gibb said: “We need to make it clear that management is not the only path to improving earnings.”
In its interim report, the Task Force noted dissatisfaction among social workers due to differences in pay between local authorities. The Task Force said this could account for the high turnover within the sector, with staff easily attracted by offers from other councils.
The interim report said this problem had led to suggestions that the profession needed a single national framework for pay and other conditions of employment in the statutory sector.
Sue Berelowitz, deputy children’s commissioner for England, emphasised the importance of keeping staff turnover to a minimum.
She told the children and families select committee: “It is absolutely vital that the support and development framework encourages social workers to stay in the profession for long enough, such that they can provide enduring support for troubled children and families.
“Children have told us that they really value their social workers. If we get the training and support right, I will be confident that children will be able to get the enduring support that they so desperately need.”