Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a
topic in the news.

may be too few people to fill social care jobs, but what about
social care courses? If new figures on social work qualifying
courses are anything to go by, the situation is equally worrying.
The number of people applying to be social workers fell again last
year – there were just 4,703 applicants to the social work
admissions system, which processes 60 per cent of the total number
of applications, compared with 11,526 in 1995. This equates to a
fall of 59 per cent. That news came as Edinburgh University
somewhat inopportunely announced the closure of its social work
degree course because of a severe drop in applications. Other
social work training will continue at the university, but only
jointly with criminology. The move comes at a time when the numbers
graduating with degree qualifications in social work have fallen by
a third in Scotland since 1996. The figures pre-date the Department
of Health’s recruitment campaign for social care, so hopes for an
improvement will be pinned on that. This year’s intake figures will
be scrutinised keenly for signs of an upturn.

Felicity Collier, chief executive,
BAAF Adoption & Fostering

“Let’s get real about the problems. The public appetite for bashing
social workers seems insatiable and is often not helped by
politicians or the media. In other countries social work is a
respected profession. If we want recruits, then a new culture has
to be modelled from the top, ie the government. Doctors are not
vilified because some make mistakes, so why are social workers?
Teachers and nurses get special packages and salary deals, so why
not social workers? And please let’s have an amnesty for mature
social work students who end up moving out of social work to pay
off their student loans.”

Julia Ross, social services
director and primary care trust chief executive, London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham

“We should all be deeply concerned at this news. The solutions will
depend on whether the cause is a lack of confidence and interest in
public service work or whether it is specific to social work. My
experience working across health and social care suggests that
there are currently serious issues in both sectors. We may need
short-term to come up with different models of working which will
both try out a new way of working but also help deal with the
immediate problem. Otherwise the downward drop will

Martin Green, chief executive,
Counsel and Care for the Elderly

“I am not surprised that so few people are going on social work
courses. This is the result of many years of concerted attacks on
the profession in the media and countless inquiries that have
identified inadequacies in the system. Perhaps this recruitment
crisis might force the profession into re-evaluating its role and
doing something to improve its image. One thing is certain, if the
profession does not act to defend itself, nobody else

Karen Warwick, senior
practitioner, Barnardo’s

“That social work is no longer an attractive career option should
come as a surprise to nobody. Poor pay coupled with the low value
that society now attaches to the need to work for the “common good”
have resulted in the drop in applications. The media also have a
part to play: how often do we see social work in a positive light
on the TV or in the news? The job is still very narrowly defined by
the public. Let’s educate people in the wide-ranging opportunities
offered by social work training.”

Bill Badham, programme manager,
Children’s Society

“Too little, too late’ may be the epitaph for the government’s
social work recruitment drive. You can hardly expect to turn around
an underfunded and under-valued profession by a bit of cheap
publicity, especially one that has been the butt of government and
media scapegoating for years. A friend of mine is currently on a
social work course. His despondency at the irrelevance of 90 per
cent of it may identify part of the problem.”


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