news analysis of new survey showing high level of job satisfaction among London`s social workers

New research reveals that eight out of 10 social workers in the
south east are satisfied in their jobs, but low pay is still a
cause for concern. Katie Leason

“When I grow up I want to be a social worker.” It is not a
phrase often bandied around the classroom, with school and
university leavers generally opting for better-paid, more glamorous
careers. Wanting to be a social worker in London is an even more
unusual ambition. The way the profession is publicly portrayed
undoubtedly deters young people from joining the profession before
they even get to know what a social worker actually does.

A recent survey by public sector union Unison of local
government members looked at the main factors that discourage young
people from a career in social work. Nearly six in 10 said the lack
of financial support while training put them off, while just over
half blamed the profession’s negative image. Nearly half said that
poor wages were a reason, with the lack of career prospects and the
difficulty of the job also being cited as discouraging factors.
Fear of violence was also mentioned by both men and women.

Social workers have seemed to be at the end of their tether for
a long time. There were further displays of dissatisfaction over
pay last week with London social workers and their local government
colleagues staging a two-day strike over London weighting, which
Unison wants to see raised to a flat rate of £4,000. The union
is currently balloting staff across the country, including social
workers, to support a national strike on 17 July over local
government pay.

Yet new research by Community Care suggests that in
spite of the challenges, a career in social work is still
satisfying. The survey of 200 social workers in London and the
South East reveals that more than 81 per cent of social workers are
fairly or very satisfied in their current job, with just 3 per cent
saying they are not satisfied at all.

Most of the social workers listed interaction with people,
making a difference to people’s lives and making a difference to
the community as key reasons for why they are satisfied, as well as
the job being challenging and offering a variety of tasks. However,
when it comes to pay just 28 per cent cite salary as a reason for
their satisfaction.

The finding that 81 per cent of social workers are satisfied in
their jobs comes as no shock to Hilary Simon, vice chairperson of
the Association of Directors of Social Services human resources and
training committee. “I feel more and more that the kind of work
social workers and social care workers do is so interesting and
personally rewarding when there are so many jobs that aren’t,” she
explains. “People are realising that the privilege of working with
people in need and making a positive difference makes a career
really interesting.”

Community Care also surveyed more than 160 members of
the general working population in London and the South East to gain
their opinions on job satisfaction. More than a third said they had
thought about giving up their job for one that was lower-paid but
more personally rewarding. With regard to their current jobs,
almost as many respondents said they felt satisfied because of the
difference they made to people’s lives (54 per cent) as because of
their salary (57 per cent).

Simon says she is not surprised that so many workers have
considered changing career. “There’s a whole number of people often
going into a range of careers and after a time they don’t find it
satisfying,” she says. “As a society we have moved away from the
more money earned the more you should be respected and valued.”

The big question then is how to recruit to social work the 39
per cent of London workers who are happy to take a pay cut for more
personal reward. Dick Clough, chief executive of the Social Care
Association, says that accommodation and travel costs are major
issues to consider, as well as the long hours.

“People are working extraordinarily hard with difficult people,
and the only time they are likely to have a public response is when
they have got it wrong. One thing social care had in its favour was
public support. Now the public support is not so obvious.”

Clough believes that people need greater assurance that the
profession is regulated. He says steps are being taken to address
this with the introduction of the General Social Care Council and
the National Care Standards Commission. Better rates of pay and a
distinct career progression are also required to attract people, he

For some people, the rewards gained from becoming a social
worker outnumber the financial sacrifices. Nik Flavell, 28, gave up
his career as a barrister to become a social worker. He is about to
finish his postgraduate qualification at Oxford University and has
a child protection job lined up at Sunderland social services
department. He came into contact with vulnerable people and social
services while he was practising criminal law.

Flavell says that the most difficult thing psychologically was
having to “go back to school” and start over again. It was also a
big step financially – instead of taking up the “nice job offer” as
a barrister, Flavell opted for a £4,500 bursary and part-time
work to subsidise it. Yet despite the challenges, Flavell has no
qualms about recommending such a career move to others.

“I do not perceive it in any way as downgrading. The job is more
intellectually and emotionally demanding than the Bar. There are
lots of things in social work that are profoundly more interesting
than sitting in front of a computer screen,” he says.

But what about the 61 per cent of London workers who said they
had never considered giving up their job for less money and more
personal rewards? Nushra Mapstone, professional officer for England
at the British Association of Social Workers, thinks that more
positive, creative examples of social work need to be presented to
change public perceptions. She believes that more work needs to be
done to give people information, and is in favour of a television

But Mapstone adds that social work in London is facing
particular problems. “London is living in the shadow of the
Victoria Climbie‚ case and that is so difficult. We would
want the government to lead by example and speak up and act for the
social work profession. We need support and backing to put
confidence back in, and then serious money needs to go into the
recruitment campaign.”

Moving from the diploma to the degree is likely to make social
work more appealing to the younger generation, but older people
already working in other careers must also be encouraged into the
profession. Our survey shows that those most likely to consider
giving up their job for less money and more personal rewards are
aged between 25 and 34. But this group is also more likely to say
that salary is very important, so any efforts to persuade them to
become social workers must be accompanied by additional

That 81 per cent of current social workers in London and the
South East are satisfied in their jobs is a positive, if
surprising, finding. But, unless they are rewarded with a salary
that truly reflects their level of responsibility, just how long
can any satisfaction last?

Care in the Capital Week is supported by Celsian.

Key findings

Key findings of telephone surveys with 200 social workers in
London and the South East and 166 members of the general working

29 per cent of social workers in London and the South East are
very satisfied with their current job.

52 per cent of social workers in London and the South East are
fairly satisfied with their current job.

97 per cent of social workers believe their job allows them to
make a positive difference to people’s lives.

39 per cent of the non social workers had thought about giving
up their job for one with less salary but that was more personally

94 per cent of social workers said that salary was very or
fairly important to them.

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