A profession in need of surgery

The crisis in attracting and retaining social workers will not be
solved by individual councils offering enhancements such as golden
hellos and accelerated progress. To offer enhancements in one
authority only leads to social workers moving from neighbouring
authorities, creating a crisis in the workplace they are leaving.
This is no way to create a stable and committed workforce or
enhance public confidence in social work.

The problem stems from a steady and substantial decline in the
number of students applying for social work courses. This, in turn,
leads to a national shortage of social workers applying for jobs.

To attract people into social work, a sea change is needed in the
way social workers are viewed by employers and the public.

The degree-level social work qualification is a good start. It
confirms professional status and is followed by in-service training
throughout the career of a social worker. Unison is keen to ensure
employers play their part in resourcing these welcome

We also need to tackle general underfunding of social work and
negotiate protection guidelines for social work staff. These should
include clear rules on working hours, time allocated to completing
administrative tasks, and a maximum amount of time spent in
face-to-face contact. They should also cover caseload management
and opportunities for career breaks.

We want to sort out low pay once and for all. We support the
national job evaluation scheme as the best way to tackle this and
bring a fair, equality-proof pay system into local government. In
the handful of authorities that have completed job evaluation, the
outcomes have been mainly positive.

Unison does not want to see this equalities exercise undermined by
local pay enhancements for a minority of care staff. We would like
to see a fair deal across the board, not enhancements and
incentives for the few.

The crisis in social care is a campaigning issue we have taken to
the employers and to government. Factors involved include low pay,
low morale, restructuring fatigue and the threat of privatisation.
Even for those of us used to the eternal cycle of reform and
restructuring, the current rollercoaster ride is beyond anything we
have seen before.

And to sort out low pay and low morale, we need major surgery, not
sticking plasters.

Chris Tansley is the chairperson of Unison’s national
social services committee.

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