Behind the headlines

New health minister Stephen Ladyman has floated what may be the
government’s latest hope of a cure for the recruitment and
retention crisis – better pay for social workers who do the
toughest jobs. While there has been no indication that the
government is prepared to stump up more money to pay for local
authorities’ increased salary bills, the Department of Health has
said that the plan is at the “very early stages” of development. It
proposes to begin discussions with local authorities in the autumn.
More pay for the toughest jobs could become part of the growing
armoury of initiatives to get the social care workforce up to
strength. A DoH spokesperson said: “The government is aware that
there are problems in recruiting social workers and, although we do
not have direct responsibility for recruitment and retention, it is
something we are taking seriously and we are working with employers
to tackle the problems.” Vacancy rates continue to run at high
levels throughout the country, reaching up to 50 per cent in
children’s services in parts of London.   

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“This is not so new – in 1979 social workers were placed on one of
three levels depending on the complexity of their cases. Of course,
it makes sense to recognise experience, skills and post-qualifying
awards by considerably enhancing career progression for front-line
practitioners. How else will excellent workers stay on the front
line, protecting our most vulnerable clients and ensuring that
social work is a true profession?”

Karen Squillino, primary prevention co-ordinator,

“My initial reaction is to consider what constitutes a ‘tough
case’. I can understand that, for example, a complex set of care
proceedings may warrant the label of ‘tough’ but seemingly
straightforward work can develop into ‘tough cases’. In practice,
I’m not sure how this is going to work. The government is
attempting to address the recruitment and retention crisis, but it
is not just poor pay that is stopping individuals from entering, or
remaining in, social work. Stress due to excessive workloads, poor
supervision and inadequate training needs to be tackled.”

Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers

“The proposal to increase remuneration for front-line social
workers with significant high-risk caseloads is welcome. However,
it has to be accompanied by increases in government funding –
otherwise levels of service elsewhere are threatened. Shortage of
funding is already driving back-door privatisation, which is both
more expensive and delivering poorer levels of service. Ad hoc
measures will be counter-productive unless the funds are

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“Drastic problems need radical solutions, but differential pay only
exacerbates the underlying difficulties across the social work
profession. The answer is not to pay more to the few, but to
revitalise the whole profession by improving standards, and with
them the terms and conditions for all. Learning from the
government’s agenda for transforming youth work, vision, status,
expectations, resources and standards need to advance together. Let
the three-year degree starting in September usher in this new

Julia Ross, executive director for health and social care,
London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

“This is an interesting idea, but who defines ‘tough’? What’s tough
for someone might not be for someone else. What should happen now
is that the toughest cases go to the most experienced workers, and
they are usually better paid because they’re more experienced.
Maybe we should look at whether that really happens in practice,
and ask those practitioners whether the best way of supporting them
is to beef that up. Recent research showed that 80 per cent of
women would go for more flexibility at work rather than more

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