Time for action

It’s the same old story. The recruitment and retention crisis that
has bedevilled social services departments south of the border is
just as big a problem for social work departments in

In many authorities social work departments are facing staff
shortages that threaten services, and social workers are choosing
to move to the voluntary sector or out of the profession altogether
as stress, low morale and low pay take their toll. To add to the
problem, the workforce is ageing- in the city of Edinburgh, for
example, 60 per cent of children and families workers are aged 51
or over – and across Scotland as a whole the number of graduates
choosing social care as a profession is declining and the number of
people applying to become social workers has halved in five

Research published by the Scottish National Party suggested that 80
per cent of local authorities are concerned about recruitment, and
that vacancy levels are most acute where the need is

In February this year, Glasgow Council had 40 vacancies for
children and families social workers, and currently has vacancies
across the board. A council spokesperson said: “There is a lack of
qualified staff, and the situation is no different in Edinburgh or

One of the ways Glasgow is tackling the problem is by looking to
“grow their own” social workers by encouraging unqualified staff to
take the social work diploma and helping them with time off and
funding. It has eschewed so-called golden hellos, or retention
bonuses believing that they simply shift the problem from one
authority to another.

“What is needed is a national strategy to tackle the crisis. Quite
clearly taking social workers from other councils is not the
answer. Everyone realises you can’t sustain the service across
Scotland by simply moving social workers every few years,” the
spokesperson says.

Mike Martin is director of community services at Moray Council, an
authority which has one of the smallest populations and biggest
land areas in Scotland, and he says the situation has become more
difficult over the past couple of years.

“Moray has a relatively low staff turnover largely due to isolation
and the lack of competition from other authorities. Conversely,
however, it is that much more difficult to recruit particularly to
more senior positions where a big lifestyle change is demanded,”
Martin says.

The authority has also found particular difficulty in recruiting
and retaining home care services staff. “Every time a new call
centre opens, or a big supermarket, we have found we lose staff who
are attracted by guaranteed hours and income,” he says.

Moray is responding by modernising home care services, creating
teams of home carers, investing in better training, support and
supervision and moving towards having guaranteed hours.

Martin says they also struggle when recruiting for more specialist
posts. “We recently advertised an adults incapacity post three
times without attracting any applicants. We have now recast the
post into a more senior role and are hoping this will attract more
people. There is also an issue about getting the right balance
between internal promotions and also bringing in some fresh ideas
from outside the authority,” he says.

Promotion opportunities are quite limited in an authority the size
of Moray, so it is introducing a senior practitioner post which
will give its main grade social workers somewhere to move to, and
also take some of the pressure off its social work area

“The key for us is to earn a reputation as being a good place to
work and to create lots of posts and work opportunities that are
interesting and exciting. We are trying to create an atmosphere
that will attract people who want to do things a bit differently.”
He says there tends to be an assumption that the problem isn’t as
big in the smaller rural authorities: “The scale of the problem
isn’t as great, but it is still a difficult and challenging
situation. Because of the size of the place, you only need to have
a few vacancies to find you are close to the wire.”

The calls for the Scottish executive to act to improve social
workers’ pay and conditions, and to stem the tide of people leaving
the profession, had been steadily growing with the Association of
Directors of Social Work, the British Association of Social
Workers, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the
Scottish National Party all demanding action to tackle the crisis.

In April this year the executive responded. Cathie Jamieson,
minister for education and young people, launched the executive’s
action plan for social workers saying that staff recruitment and
morale “must be addressed”. It also announced an extra £3.5
million for local authorities to fund training and support
frontline staff.

The measures contained in the plan included the launch of an
awareness and career recruitment campaign; a new honours degree for
social workers; and the introduction of Return to Learn courses for
social care workers.

Angus Skinner, head of the Social Work Services Inspectorate, says:
“Valuing the service is crucial and this underlines the recruitment
and retention issues. What frontline staff need is a well managed
workload and the skills and support to do the job that confronts

He adds that work on the campaign has progressed well – it is
expected to launch in October and will run for five weeks in the
national media with a refresher burst in the new year.

“We have been pleased with the way in which Cosla, ADSW, BASW and
others have worked with us on meeting the timescales set out in the
action plan and we are well placed to deliver on the pledges
contained within it,” Skinner says.

The ADSW has welcomed the initiative which has been long awaited.
ADSW president Jim Dickie says: “For me the publication of the
action plan shows the minister’s commitment to tackling this issue
and I welcome this. While the ADSW may quibble with bits and pieces
of the plan, we are grateful that for the first time action is
being undertaken in a number of areas in relation to the future of
social work on which the association has long campaigned.”

The British Association of Social Workers also welcomed the move,
but warns that nothing short of a major review of pay and
conditions will solve the crisis. “We are relieved that something
is finally being done, but we must have more staff in post,” says
Ruth Stark, BASW professional officer.

“People are not being treated properly by their employers. They get
dumped on in terms of case allocations because they are
short-staffed, and they’re not getting the support they need.
Social workers are leaving local authorities at the earliest
opportunity to go and work in the voluntary sector because that is
where they are given support, respected for the skills they have
and they are able to do the work they are trained for,” she

She points out that a newly-qualified social worker will earn
£17,000 a year – after a four-year degree course and probably
a year or two of work experience along the way. “When you consider
this, and the demands of the job and the stress that goes with it,
it’s no wonder fewer and fewer people are choosing to work in
social care.”

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