Both adults and children’s services in the UK report a decline in the number of social work posts from 2011 to 2012, according to Community Care’s annual investigation. Meanwhile, vacancy rates across the country have dropped to a three-year low.
The number of social work posts in the UK has fallen by 6% in a year, the equivalent of more than 2,500 posts across the country.
The average number of posts per council fell from 226 in 2010 and 2011 to 214 in 2012, with the sharpest drop seen in adult services.
There has been a 9% fall in the number of adult social worker posts and a 4% fall in the number of children’s posts in councils..
The findings are drawn from Community Care’s fourth annual vacancy rates investigation, which also shows that social worker vacancy rates across the UK have fallen for the third year in a row.
Average overall vacancy rates in social work teams across the UK dropped from 8.2% in 2011 to 7.2% in 2012. This change is reflected across both adult and children’s services.
Maurice Bates, co-chair of the College of Social Work, warned that improving vacancy rates masked a shrinking workforce. “The falling recruitment rates overall are likely to be largely a consequence of less employment opportunities, due to the economic climate, plus existing staff being reluctant to seek alternative employment and move on in an era of greater job insecurity,” he said.
Unison national officer Helga Pile said fewer social work posts would only make heavy workloads worse.
She added: “Social work cuts now are a false economy. People need social workers now more than ever before but they are only going to get them when things reach crisis point.
“The shrinking of job opportunities will make it tough for newly qualified social workers to get their first posting. This will be a terrible waste of their skills and enthusiasm.”
David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The recruitment and retention of social workers remains a priority for councils and we will continue to encourage more people into what could be viewed as one of the toughest jobs in the country, by doing everything possible to ensure they are given the training, status and support they deserve.”
Regional variation continues
The overall fall in vacancy levels masks big national and regional variations. Welsh councils have significantly reduced their vacancy rates, with the country’s overall rate falling to 3.6% from 6.3% in 2011. Scotland also continues to improve, bringing its rate down to 6% from 6.6% in 2011. England’s rate remains the highest at 8%, compared with 8.7% last year. Higher unemployment levels in Scotland and Wales may be a factor.
In England, average vacancy rates in the East of England have jumped from 8.6% to 16.1%, while councils in Yorkshire and Humber brought their combined vacancy rate down from 7.4% to 5.3% in 2012, suggesting that their recent regional children’s services recruitment campaign was successful.
Bridget Robb, acting chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said local authorities must be more imaginative about the terms and conditions offered to staff and offer better opportunities for professional development, which could help to retain people in permanent roles.
“They then need to work with neighbouring local authorities to see how people can be recruited and kept within the region,” she said. “They need an attitude which acknowledges that social workers are a scarce resource – so need to be supported and nurtured – not put on the scrap heap or treated badly, expecting that there are always more people to recruit to replace them.”
Highest overall vacancy rates in 2012
Highest rates in children’s services
Highest rates in adult services
Community Care sent freedom of information requests to all councils in England, Wales and Scotland, as well as health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland. We asked for the number of posts and vacancies as of August 2012 and received 174 usable responses. Vacant posts are defined as unfilled posts, ie. not filled by any member of staff, agency or otherwise.