Social work leaders have called for a major review of the profession's pay, saying the average £32,000 salary reported by respondents to a Community Care survey is "nowhere near satisfactory".
Only 1% of the near-1,400 respondents to the poll, conducted in conjunction with Unison, reported annual earnings of more than £60,000, while a quarter were paid £30,000-£34,999 and a fifth received less than £25,000.
Long service in sector
Respondents had 18 years' experience in social care on average.
A quarter of respondents were social workers, while 18% were team managers or leaders, 9% were senior practitioners, and 3% were directors or their deputies and assistants.
Gender pay gap
Almost three-quarters of respondents were women, earning an average of £31,000 compared with almost £35,000 for men.
Respondents from Greater London reported the highest average salary - £36,600 - while those in the South West earned the least, £30,070.
The average salary for directors, heads of department and area managers was £43,420, compared with £28,740 for social workers and senior social workers, and £19,810 for key, outreach and support workers.
More than one-third of respondents to the survey expected no change or a fall in salary at their next pay reviews, while 60% anticipated an increase of 1-2%.
Job seekers chasing higher salaries
More than a fifth cited a higher salary as a main reason for leaving their previous jobs, while 41% of those now looking for a new job said they wanted to be paid more.
In addition, 97% said salary was very or fairly important when choosing a new job, compared with 90% for access to training, 92% for quality of supervision and 82% for caseload - suggesting that social workers might not be as apathetic about financial gain as is often suggested.
Helga Pile, national officer for social care at Unison, said the average salary of £32,000 for staff with the length of experience reported by respondents "compares poorly with pay in other professions".
£60,000 to retain senior child protection staff
Eileen Munro, reader in social policy at London School of Economics, said that salaries of up to £60,000 could keep more "very senior" child protection staff at the frontline.
Eleni Ioannides, vice-chair of the Association of Directors of Children's Services' workforce development policy committee, said there were indications that social workers in some areas had benefitted financially from pay and grading reviews already undertaken, or currently being carried out, by local authorities.
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