Low public esteem, overwhelming bureaucracy and poor pay. This
is the lot of too many social workers and accounts for a
recruitment crisis that has affected nearly two-thirds of local
authorities. Whatever the intrinsic merits of a profession that
aims to support and empower disadvantaged people, potential
recruits are being put off by the immense personal cost of joining
such a battle-weary workforce.
The government’s new national recruitment campaign for social
workers will help to improve the situation. In the government’s
view, the problem is image. In her letter to social services
directors in England, social services chief inspector Denise Platt
blames the “intensely negative image” generated by the media,
fuelled by public ignorance of what social workers do.
This analysis is plainly correct, as far as it goes, and was the
basis of another national campaign launched earlier this year, by
Community Care and the Local Government Association, to boost
public perceptions of the profession.
But the press and radio advertising, supplemented by information
booklets and posters, may only provide a partial remedy. While the
£2 million recruitment campaign will do much to tackle low
public esteem, it does nothing about bureaucracy and poor pay. The
government itself seems to contribute daily to the mass of
paperwork and procedures that has to be borne by social work, while
previous recruitment campaigns for nurses, teachers and the police
have been accompanied by attention to the issue of low pay.
Much of the campaign will sensibly focus on the area where the
recruitment crisis is most severe, London and the south-east. But
this is precisely where inadequate pay stands in the starkest
contrast to the high cost of living. If this campaign is to have
the desired effect, the government – both central and local – must
get real about social workers’ salaries.
Further evidence is emerging that Haringey social services
department was in a chaotic state at the time of the Victoria
As our news story reveals (page 4), staff at the north Tottenham
office warned senior managers that a proposed reorganisation would
be potentially dangerous to service users but the restructure went
The details show that the high court decision to postpone the
disciplinary hearings of Lisa Arthurworrey, the social worker
allocated to Climbie, and her team manager Angella Mairs, was the
Social services director Anne Bristow’s change of mind over the
issue of staff overwork also demonstrates the confusion about what
conditions staff in the department faced at the time of Climbie’s
death. The change was due to the fact that the information on
workloads was not as robust as originally thought.
Only when Lord Laming has completed his inquiry will we obtain a
detailed picture of what was going on in the department. And only
then can we begin to see ways of ensuring such a tragedy is not