Poll exposes plight of debt-ridden social workers

About 40% of social care professionals have taken a second job on financial grounds, while a majority are considering leaving the profession because of pay levels, an exclusive Community Care survey has revealed.

The poll of 1,785 practitioners, almost half of whom were social workers or senior social workers, showed 36% were “always overdrawn” (see graph 2) at the end of the month and 67% had debts other than a mortgage (graph 3). Of this latter group, 55% owed £6,000 or more and 37% £10,000 or more (graph 4).

Overall, 20% earned less than £25,000 a year and 9% over £40,000 a year (graph 1).

More than 70% felt they did not receive a fair wage for the work that they did, with even 61% of directors and heads of department holding this view, along with 80% of social workers.

Sixty-three per cent of practitioners had considered but then decided not to go on holiday over the past year, while just 18% described their financial position as comfortable, with 58% saying that they “make ends meet” and 17% saying their position was “unsustainable”.

British Association of Social Workers chief executive Ian Johnston said: “I’m not surprised because in a way the level of pay and remuneration and terms and conditions are not commensurate with the demands of the job. The complex nature of the job and the expectations are not matched by the working conditions. For somebody starting out in social work faced with that and the prospect of working for another 40-plus years you’ve got to have second thoughts about the wisdom of doing it.”

Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social services, said: “I think reading it, it very much chimes in with the work we’ve been doing around local government pay this year. It shows the effects of successive years of pay increases not keeping pace with inflation. It’s having a real impact on the family finances it’s a real indication of the state of public sector pay policy. Local government has been left further and further behind other sectors which have had pay restructuring along the lines of Agenda for Change [for health staff].”

The survey’s results came in the same week that Skills for Care published figures in a report on the adult social care workforce showing that social workers earned 84% of the average weekly wage for professionals in the UK, as of April 2007.

They took home £521 a week on average, less than probation officers and all types of teacher, though above nurses.

The Skills for Care report also showed that, as of September 2007, around a quarter of councils were experiencing recruitment and retention difficulties among field social workers for older people and disabled adults, and 35% finding the same for mental health social workers.

Our survey also revealed the extent of the gender pay divide in the sector, at a time when local authorities, which employ three-quarters of respondents, have faced criticism over their failure to implement equal pay regulations, despite a deadline of April 2007.

Overall, 12% of men earned less than £25,000, compared with 24% of women, while 14% of men earned over £40,000, compared to 6% of women.

There was strong support for significant pay increases for local government social workers in the 2008-9 pay round, which is currently under negotiation.

Respondents on average backed a pay rise of 5.95%, well above the government’s public sector pay rise target of 2%, and in tune with unions’ demand of a 6% hike for English, Welsh and Northern Irish staff.

Directors and heads of department backed a rise of 5.47% on average, with social workers and senior social workers favouring rises of over 6%.

Overall, 47% of respondents felt staff should negotiate through unions if they received a sub-inflationary pay rise, with 25% backing strike action, including 26% of directors and heads of department and 29% of social workers.

In total, 64% considered pay as a driver for an alternative career (see graph 6), with those aged 35-44 being most likely to look for work elsewhere (63%) than those in other age groups. Staff in the north of England were more likely than those working elsewhere to consider leaving the profession (61%).

Two-thirds of respondents owned a home (graph 8), ranging from 75% of practitioners working in Scotland to 61% in London and the South East, and from 81% among directors and heads of department, to 62% among social workers.





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Mithran Samuel 

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