Recruitment and retention of staff is a continuing problem in
social care, the chief inspector of social services has admitted,
writes Clare Jerrom.
“Recruitment and retention of appropriate staff is the most
critical issue that faces social care services in all sectors,”
Denise Platt revealed in her 11th annual report.
Platt said the key factors which affect recruitment and
retention rates are the image of social work, poor human resource
management, low pay and poor career development and job
While all groups of staff are affected at some level, the
greatest recruitment and retention problems nationally are of
foster carers and field social workers, with shortages of
domiciliary care workers and approved social workers also having an
The government launched a £1.5 million recruitment
campaign last October. The first part of the campaign was hailed a
success by health minister Jacqui Smith, at the beginning of the
year. The newspaper and radio advertising encouraged nearly 14,000
calls to the information line and more than 11,000 people visits
to the website.
“The response that we have had in the first six weeks of the
campaign has exceeded our expectations and I am confident that we
can build on this success over the three years of the recruitment
drive,” Smith said at the time.
The second phase of newspaper and radio advertising was launched
in May, backed by £600,000 of government funding. But early
indications show the success of the first phase has not been
According to a spokesperson from the department of health,
between early May and the end of July there were around 8,700 calls
to the helpline, and 9,400 new visitors to the website.
As it is a three-year campaign, a third phase is planned, but as
yet there are no details as to what it will entail or when it will
be launched, the spokesperson added.
The campaign has faced a constant battle with ongoing problems
in the social care field.
Firstly there has been a lot of media attention surrounding the
Victoria Climbie inquiry, much of which pointed towards failings
within social services.
Unison’s national officer for social services, Owen
Davies, believes this “fear of blame” can deter people from wanting
to come into the profession.
There have also been reports of high stress within the
profession. Earlier this month a social worker, Maureen Pratley,
tried to sue Surrey council after claiming her 100-hour-a-week
workload resulted in her suffering a stress related breakdown.
A high court judge dismissed the claim, stating the council
could not be held in breach of duty, but such cases are not a good
advertisement for the profession.
Also schemes to help public sector workers such as the starter
home initiative tend to leave social workers out in the cold.
Earlier this year, it was announced that two thousand key
workers in areas of high housing costs outside London would benefit
from £10,000 equity loans towards their first home. But while
one thousand health care workers and 700 teachers benefited from
the scheme, social workers were left to fight for 80 places
alongside fire fighters and prison service workers.
Hilary Simon, vice-chairperson of the ADSS human resources and
training committee, admits: “There are a number of things around
the public service which are quite challenging.”
But she said that as the line between health workers and social
care workers becomes more blurred, it could open up more starter
homes to social workers.
Lastly, there has been an ongoing pay dispute within local
authorities that has resulted in strikes, demonstrating unrest
within the sector.
Unions and employers representatives agreed to recommend their
members accept a recently offered pay package, but 76 per cent of
visitors to Community Care’s website this week said
in a survey the pay offer was not fair.
Davies said: “If your poll is accurate, it won’t be an
acceptable solution to the dispute. Some early indications have
shown it will be accepted, but it is a democratic decision.
“We are not ruling out returning to industrial action if the
members aren’t happy with the solution,” he added.
But Simon said it was encouraging the pay discussions had
recognised the lowest paid workers. “You have to compare with other
sectors and it is not madly out of line with those entering the
teaching or nursing profession.”
She insists social services staff should be properly rewarded,
but pay should not be the only priority. This was backed by recent
Community Care research, which found great levels of
satisfaction among social workers. So at least job satisfaction can
be a selling point for the profession.
Can the recruitment campaign work against this back-drop of
negative media publicity, strikes and pay disputes?
Paul Read, team manager for recruitment consultancy Social Work
Solutions in London, said: “In comparison to other public sector
areas, the campaign doesn’t seem to have been very high
profile, particularly if you take recent campaigns for teachers,
nurses or the police into consideration.
“To date, we haven’t experienced any impact from the
government’s initiative, there’s been no variation to
the usual seasonal demand levels for staff,” he said.
Ian Johnston, director of the British Association of Social
Workers, said: “The recruitment campaign was welcome, but it
doesn’t go far enough. Recruitment and retention is a huge
problem and it needs more investment.” The campaign “momentum needs
to be upped”, he said.
So, there is a long way to go. Owen Davies from Unison said that
people could be discouraged from entering the social care
profession. Whereas financial inducements are provided for teachers
and nurses in training, equivalent financial support is not
available for those training for social work, he said.
He is adamant that pay plays a large role in the recruitment
crisis. “As long as salaries are seen as poor in comparison to
equivalent groups such as teachers and nurses…, all the
clever advertising in the world will not pull people in to the
* Go to www.socialworkcareers.co.uk
for details of the government’s recruitment campaign, and the
helpline number is 0845 604 6404.