The worst kept secret in social care was finally revealed last week when the Local Government Employers offered a measly 2 per cent pay rise to staff in England and Wales.
Inevitably it has prompted outrage – last month, the public sector unions called for a 5 per cent offer.
With the retail prices index currently at 4.6 per cent, it’s hard to see the offer as anything other than a pay cut. The average social worker salary would rise by about £50 a month, a pre-tax amount easily swallowed up by council tax hikes and rising mortgage rates.
Local Government Employers claim they have carefully balanced affordability to the tax payer and councils with making local government an attractive place to work.
Another development last week in the Budget brings clarity to their thinking. Education received a 2.5 per cent increase in funding between 2008 and 2011 compared to 1.9 per cent for the public sector as a whole. It means that social care’s prospects for a favourable funding settlement in this year’s comprehensive spending review are slim.
‘Yes’, this offer looks affordable, but low pay and an under-funded service are hardly the hallmarks of an ‘attractive place to work’.
Social work has seen a dramatic improvement in new entrants to profession since the development of the degree course. But, how long are the graduates going to stay when making ends meet becomes a permanent struggle?
The public sector unions are talking tough, and have refused to consult with their members until a better deal is on the table. And the very fact that Local Government Employers are prepared to negotiate suggests that a better deal might be attainable.
Let’s hope so. Few want to see this escalate towards collective action, with its ability to severely compromise service users.
In the short term, social workers should leave their representatives, employers and government in no doubt about what they think of this derisory pay offer. But, going forward, there’s an important role for us all in raising social care’s profile and demonstrating its effectiveness. Once its importance is better appreciated by the public and politicians alike pay offers will be more favourable.
Surely, one of these years, the government is going to realise that if it wants a preventative approach to health and wellbeing, with personalised services provided closer to home, it’s going to take a talented and motivated social work profession to deliver it.
Council pay offer sparks union anger
Community Care wants to know what you think about the 2 per cent pay offer. Would you be prepared to strike? E-mail: Simeon Brody
This article appeared in the 29 March issue under the headline “Shortchanged on pay”