Rewards matter

Picture the scene. Several policy wonks are gathered together in
the wee small post-pub hours, somewhere in the bowels of Whitehall,
equipped with the backs of numerous envelopes and some old bus
tickets someone found in their pocket. Their mission: to square
circles, turn base metal into gold and, most challenging of all,
improve front-line services (these may seem like three separate
tasks, but they are in fact inter-related).

Silence descends as frantic scribbling (and quite a lot of
doodling) commences. Eventually someone shouts excitedly “I’ve got
it! We could raise taxes”. The meeting is suspended for two hours
until the hysterical laughter has subsided enough to continue. The
next suggestion, “How about charging service users?” is greeted
with a round of enthusiastic applause, until some party-pooper
points out that they don’t have any money. Suddenly there is a
flash of lightning and a strange, unnaturally pale fellow with
pointy teeth, (a rising star at the Treasury) is heard to utter
“Well, why not get the people delivering the services to pay for
them?”. Gasps of astonishment echo round the dismal chamber. “But
won’t they mind?” inquires one brave soul. “Not if we don’t tell

As you may have guessed, the above is sheer fiction. I have neither
the information nor the mathematical skill to work out whether the
amount of new money to be invested in Sure Start and children’s
services in any way equates with what will be saved through the
below inflation pay offer to local authority employees. I do know
that when governments appear to be putting their money where their
mouth is, while it may be their mouth, it is not necessarily their

What I also know is that it is ridiculous to expect improvements to
front-line services while undervaluing and demoralising those
responsible for delivering them.

Why work in local government social care? It involves spending long
hours in a bottomless pit of needs and demands. The public, and
quite possibly your clients, will regard you with suspicion if not
downright hostility. You may be condemned for intervening and for
not intervening. If you do a good job, the chances are that no one
will notice or care. But, if you get it wrong, clients may have
their lives blighted (or even extinguished altogether) while you
risk finding yourself branded public enemy number one. In return,
you’ll get your pay cut. Perhaps this will make you more

Insufficient attention is paid to the obvious connection between
motivation and performance. While those who do well (and it is
helpful for there to be consensus about what this means) might
receive recognition, people also need recognition in order to do
well. This does not always have to mean money. Neither does it
necessarily mean being taken out for meals, having your membership
of the local gym paid for and gold stars in your homework book,
although all of these can help enormously. It is also about having
a job that can be done and is flexible, and the training to do it
well. It is about having your commitment to your clients valued,
and not just in order to work out how low your wages can go before
you strike or quit.

One of the problems is that the public has such a hazy notion of
what social workers actually do, apart from interfere. They
understand what a good teacher or policeman or nurse is, and the
consequences of having a bad one, but what does a good social
worker look like? What would happen if there were no social
workers? This may help explain disparities in pay scales but it is
no excuse. It does, though, suggest that much remains to be done to
identify and communicate to the public, and sometimes even to
social workers, what is positive and important about social work.
But, even if public and employer support for pay rises for social
care staff existed, it does not mean this will come to pass. There
is money from government, which is not enough, and money can be
raised from council tax, which is also not enough.

The circle is a long way from being squared -Êand there is
little progress to report from the “turning base metal into gold”
task force. We will not get improvements to front-line services
without valuing those delivering them. Contrary to what the
pointy-toothed fellow may think, bleeding ’em dry is not the

Sally Witcher is a freelance consultant and

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