Social work staff numbers

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have released
their social services workforce surveys for 2003. Keith Hassell and
Keith Sellick examine the changes in staffing levels in the four
countries over the past year.

The latest social services workforce survey for England
paints a picture of a local authority sector still struggling to
overcome recruitment and retention difficulties in key social work
fields, and a growing problem in attracting and keeping staff in
the poorly paid home care sector.

The report of the 15th annual Social Services Workforce Survey
found a total of 276,960 (whole time equivalent 211,970) staff
employed in September 2003, a decline of 0.1 per cent on
2002. Forty-seven per cent were full-time and 53 per cent
part-time. Just over half of these were based in
“areas” and a quarter in residential settings.

Three-quarters of local authorities reported recruitment
problems, but fewer reported retention difficulties.

Children’s social worker vacancies fell from 12.6 per cent
to 11.8 per cent, while annual turnover fell to 12 per cent.
Two-fifths of SSDs had improved pay for this job group. But
improving pay is a less common solution to overcoming shortages in
other fields.

There was a slight rise in adult social worker vacancies from
9.2 per cent to 10.2 per cent, with turnover falling by 1.1 per
cent to 9.4 per cent.

The highest vacancy rates were recorded in Greater London (about
one-fifth were vacant) and the West Midlands (roughly one in seven
posts). Elsewhere, vacancies were less than 10 per cent.

About 4,500 FTEs posts, about 2 per cent of the total social
services workforce, were long-term agency staff; this figure rose
to 10 per cent in London.

Overall, 81 per cent were female and 90 per cent were white.
More than half of staff were aged 40 or over.

Although overall employment declined in the previous year by 0.1
per cent the number of field social workers increased by 4.0 per

The average vacancy rate for all posts covered by the survey
increased from 8.4 per cent in 2002 to 10.7 per cent in 2003. Most
of this increase is attributable to increases for home care staff
(from 5.8 per cent to 11.2 per cent and care staff in elderly
people’s homes (from 6.9 per cent to 9.2 per cent).

The most commonly adopted measure to overcome the shortage of
social workers were the training-up of social work assistants to
become qualified social workers – 75 per cent of SSDs.

– The Social Services Workforce Survey 2003 from

In contrast to England, the number of staff employed by
Scottish local authority social work services increased quite
substantially in the year to October 2003. The total then stood at
39,429 whole time equivalent (WTE) staff up from 36,415 in the
previous year.

This comprised 23,462 full-time staff and a further 26,657 staff
who were employed on a part-time basis.

The increase was across all sectors, but field work staff, which
includes social workers, saw an extra 1,500 staff recruited during
the year to 11,164.

There were 4,102 (WTE)  qualified social workers – an
increase of 85 on the previous year.

Twenty-nine percent were domiciliary staff (mainly home carers).
A further 16 per cent worked in residential establishments for
adults and 9 per cent were located in day centres for adults.

Local authorities reported 2,940 vacancies in social work
services. Of these, 603 (13 per cent) were for qualified social

The shortage in social workers has led the Scottish executive to
take a number of measures such as greater investment, fast tracking
of graduates and the setting up of review into social work.

– Staff of Scottish Local Authority Social Work Services 2003
from Scottish executive.

The total whole-time equivalent (wte) number of staff directly
employed by social services departments at 30 September 2003 was
18,844, an increase of just over 1 per cent compared to 30
September 2002.

Area based staff accounted for 61 per cent of the total, while
25 per cent were employed in residential establishments and a
further 14 per cent in the provision of day services.

Social workers accounted for 3,193 (WTE) of the total. More than
95 per cent of social workers  had a listed qualification but only
24 per cent of the 922 social work assistants.
The largest number of part-time staff work in the provision of home
care, where there were 8,176 staff of whom 7,095 were part-time.
Home care staff, including home care organisers, made up 31 per
cent of the social services workforce by number, but only 23 per
cent of the whole time equivalent.

Seventeen per cent of staff were reported as Welsh speakers,
meaning those who are able to use the language to conduct their

–  Local Authority Social Services – Staff Numbers
September 2003 from Welsh assembly.

Northern Ireland
There were 53,824 people employed in the health and social
services on 30 September 2003. Using whole time equivalent the
workforce stands at 46,145.

This is an increase of 14 per cent from 40,403 in 1994 when the
workforce statistics were first published. But there was a drop to
38,823 (wte) in 1997.

Of these, 4,566 (4,175 wte) were social services staff. This is
an increase of more than a third in the past decade. Four out of
five social services employees are women and three-quarters of
staff work full-time.

Forty six per cent of women employees were under the age of 40
and four out of 10 men under 40.

The 4,566 breaks down into:

  • 575 social work senior practitioners and team leaders
  • 1,712 qualified social workers.
  • 262 unqualified social workers.
  • 397 social work assistants.

The rest were management, care staff and rehabilitation workers
for the sensory impaired.

Vacancies among social services staff run at 4.3 per cent, which
is a decrease on the previous year. The largest vacancy rate is 8.2
per cent in the South and East Belfast Health and Social Services

The figures do not include domiciliary staff.

– Figures from

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