For a moment, Stephen Ladyman seems stumped. The community care
minister is pondering whether there will ever be enough social
workers to go round.
“We’ll always want more because of the important contribution they
make but I would never take on a counsel of despair and say we’ll
never have enough,” he finally says.
The recruitment crisis in social care is one of the major issues
Ladyman has faced since his appointment at the last government
reshuffle in June.
He has already sent encouraging signals to social services
directors grappling with 20 per cent vacancy rates that the
Department of Health is looking at new ways to reward social
workers doing the most difficult jobs.
That has been taken one step further in the children’s green paper
with proposals for a dedicated pay and workforce strategy unit,
more flexible training and a new recruitment campaign.
Ladyman sees the issue as partly down to perception. “We want to
create a workforce that feels valued and create an environment
where people understand how much they owe to social workers,” he
“Rather than focusing on the one or two bad cases that happen we
should turn the focus on to the millions of people who are helped
He says the debate about the future of the social care workforce
has already started but he does not want to “prescribe how that
will go”. The Association of Directors of Social Services and the
voluntary sector have already been asked to start thinking about
Pay is on the agenda, but it is not the only thing. “We want to
find out what the barriers to recruitment are, what turns people
off from entering the profession and what people feel positive and
negative about when they are in it.”
Despite saying that the “agenda might be different if I were to
open my cheque book”, he believes the government’s record
investment in social care over the next three years should enable
the issue to be tackled in new ways. “This is a good opportunity to
do these things and I don’t think we can bank on that kind of
increase [6 per cent a year until 2005-6] in future years.
“We need to be even more innovative about the way we search for
such people and support those that want to change their careers and
the way we reward people involved in social work and social
However, Ladyman goes to great length to stress that he can only
get the ball rolling and “start off the discussions that will lead
His first of many meetings was with Wigan’s director of social
services, Bernard Walker, who expressed concerns that social
workers could be tempted to move into the health sector because of
the Agenda for Change programme to modernise the NHS pay
“He wanted a similar scheme for care professionals and social
workers,” Ladyman says. “But that is easier [to do] in the NHS
because they are employed by the man down the corridor [health
secretary John Reid].”
Since his appointment Ladyman has been getting his head round a
wide and challenging brief. This includes responsibility for
delayed discharge and the care homes crisis, something the prime
minister has “made clear” he has to tackle.
Despite initial reservations from some quarters about his
appointment and whether it represented a downgrading for social
care – mainly because he came from the Ministry of Defence –
Ladyman seems at ease.
Relaxing into his chair, he says: “If you look deep enough into my
background you will see that I have a background in the things I
cover now. I’ll let my actions be my judge, rather than words.”