The divergence in social care policies introduced and proposed by the four home nations is matched by a similarly inconsistent approach to workforce regulation, writes Gordon Carson
While health secretary Andrew Lansley, in last month’s Enabling Excellence White Paper, ruled out the compulsory registration of social care staff in England, regulators in other parts of the UK are in the process of registering a wider range of workers. Proposals in Wales have also been scaled back, though, by the Welsh Assembly Government in its 10-year strategy for social services, Sustainable Social Services for Wales: A Framework for Action, also published last month.
Here, we outline the registration requirements across the social care workforce in all the home nations, and examine their implications.
Andrew Lansley’s decision last month to rule out compulsory registration of social care staff in England brought to an end a “will they, won’t they” saga involving two governments and several ministers.
The Labour government had planned to register England’s 412,000 home care workers from early 2010, but this had been delayed despite research in 2009 from the General Social Care Council which found that workers themselves supported the proposal.
Lansley’s decision means social workers are the only staff in the social care sector in England who have to register with a regulator, in their case the GSCC (for the time being).
Student social workers are subject to voluntary registration, though in practice the vast majority – 90-95% – do register with the GSCC because registration is usually a condition of employers accepting them onto practice placements.
The detail of the regulation of social workers in England may change, however, under proposals being examined by the Social Work Reform Board. It is considering the case for a licence to practise for social workers and an assessed year in employment for newly qualified social workers, following recommendations by the Social Work Task Force.
Lansley’s alternative for the remainder of the social care workforce in England is a system of “assured voluntary registration” for workers not currently subject to statutory regulation.
The government has also suggested that the Health Professions Council could establish a voluntary register for social care workers by 2013. It will have taken over responsibility for the social care register from the GSCC in April 2012.
And local authority commissioners may be encouraged, under proposals mooted by the government in the White Paper, to “give preference to adult social care providers using workers on voluntary registers”.
In addition, the government is easing the requirements for workers to have criminal records checks, meaning only those with regular, intensive contact with children and vulnerable adults will be subject to checks.
There is concern in the sector that a voluntary registration scheme may just shift costs onto workers because, in practice, employers will require them to be registered and they will have to foot the bill themselves.
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care and social work, says this means lower-paid care workers could end up paying the full costs of registration.
Colin Angel, head of policy and communication at the United Kingdom Homecare Association, says employers will still want to have registered staff because it will show they can offer a professional service, while, for staff, registration will improve their employment prospects.
But he also says that the uptake of registration under a voluntary system can be slow, and highlights the experience before social workers in England had to register with the GSCC; it was only in the final weeks before the introduction of mandatory registration in April 2005 that around half of England’s social workers signed up.
In England, social workers pay a £30 fee to apply to the GSCC register (£10 for students), and a £30 annual registration fee (£10 for students), plus £30 when they have to renew their registration after three years.
Social workers who qualified outside the UK, but who do not hold a letter of comparability or a letter of verification, tend to pay more for their initial application – £155 in England and the same in Wales, for example.
Almost 23,000 social care staff, including 10,600 social workers and 5,450 residential child care workers, have already registered with the Scottish Social Services Council as it increases its coverage of Scotland’s care sector.
Social work students have had to register with the regulator since May 2004, social workers since September 2005, and, since late 2009, managers of residential child care services, residential child care workers and those with supervisory responsibilities, and managers of adults’ day services and care homes.
By September 2015, workers from 24 groups, ranging from social workers to house staff of school hostels and independent boarding schools, will be subject to compulsory registration, and the SSSC is in talks with the Scottish government to decide on the next groups that will have to register.
The SSSC must also receive confirmation that a criminal records check has been carried out for all applicants for all parts of the register.
In Scotland, examples of fees include:
Social workers – £30 application fee, £30 annual fee, renewal (£30) after three years
Residential child care workers – £30 application, £30 annual fee, renewal (£30) after three years
Adult care home support workers – £15 application, £15 annual fee, renewal (£20) after five years
Northern Ireland could well go the way of Scotland if the country’s government and the chair of the Northern Ireland Social Care Council have their way. Lily Kerr, in her first meeting as NISCC chair, backed plans to introduce compulsory registration of the first groups of social care workers, to add to the 6,000 or so social workers and students already registered.
So far, only 7,500 of the country’s estimated 27,500 social care workers (not including social workers) have voluntarily registered with NISCC. But it hopes to increase this to 14,000 by making it compulsory for residential child care workers and managers of residential, day and domiciliary care services to register by 30 September 2011, and social care workers in adult residential or nursing home settings by 15 December 2012.
Compulsory registration for other groups of social care workers will follow by as yet unspecified dates, but they can register voluntarily in the meantime.
Employers of workers applying for registration must confirm that staff have been subject to criminal records checks, and both the employer and applicant are required to provide details of any disciplinary and/or criminal matters they are aware of.
Students taking the degree in social work must register with NISCC; otherwise they would not receive their student funding and would not be allowed on practice placements.
In Northern Ireland, examples of fees include:
Social workers – £30 application, £30 annual fee, renewal (£30) after three years
Residential child care worker – £30 application, £30 annual fee, renewal (£30) after three years
The Welsh approach to registration is something of a halfway house between the systems in England and Scotland. As well as social workers and student social workers, residential child care workers and managers must also register with the Care Council for Wales.
They will be joined by managers of adults’ care homes and domiciliary care services, who must register by 1 June 2011 and 1 October 2012, respectively, while workers in both those types of settings can also register voluntarily.
The Welsh Assembly Government’s 10-year strategy for social services, published in February, said all care services managers would be brought into the compulsory registration system. But this approach will not apply to care workers other than those already covered.
A Care Council for Wales spokesperson says the compulsory registration and professionalisation of managers will have a knock-on effect and raise standards among frontline workers too.
All applicants to the register in Wales must confirm that they have undergone a criminal records check, and those working with children need a new check every three years.
In Wales, social workers pay a £30 fee to apply to the Care Council for Wales register (£10 for students), a £30 annual registration fee (£10 for students), plus £30 (£10 for students) when they have to renew their registration after three years.
Social care managers also pay £30 on all three ocassions, and social care workers below managerial level pay £10.
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