Society needs to value care work

Social workers should be paid more. So should their managers and
their senior practitioners. And so should occupational therapists
and their managers too. It is an outrage that the people who do the
most difficult and demanding jobs imaginable are paid less than
advertising executives or investment bankers. If a top-of-the-scale
social worker can earn the same running a small aromatherapy
business or in landscape gardening (two real examples) it is not
surprising that so many people are giving up the job in middle age.

In London, it has been the case for too long that social workers
and occupational therapists have been paid so little that they
cannot afford a mortgage. So in addition to doing a difficult job
they often have a long commute in from cheaper areas. It is a
scandal that the most important workers in our society were not
sufficiently valued, even by local authorities, until market forces
came into play. I know local authorities can’t really afford it,
but I am glad that market forces are at last ensuring that social
work and social care is leapfrogging its way up the pay ladder.

And local authorities are using different methods to appeal to
staff. Some places are trying temporary pay rises such as golden
hellos and retention bonuses or performance-related pay. But we at
Tower Hamlets prefer to pay higher permanent salaries and plan to
stay at the top of the pay league for as long as we can afford.
Social workers need to know that they are valued all the time, not
just when a local authority is in the middle of a recruitment
crisis. And why discriminate between social workers who work with
children and the rest? Those who work with disabled and older
people must be equally valued.

After all, social workers are the first to be criticised by the
media. The armchair pundits, and the newspaper editors who employ
them, vilify social work and social care every time they get an
opportunity. They ignore these workers’ essential contribution to a
decent, civilised society the rest of the time. When did you last
read that our system of child protection is the second most
successful in the world?

The critics should try a couple of months facing the reality of
inner city social work. They would find out how highly skilled,
caring, intelligent and decisive you have to be and how stressful,
but also rewarding, each day can be. They would not do these jobs
for this money. But our people do. So come on – pay up.

Ian Wilson is social services director at Tower

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