Social work vacancies far higher in England than rest of UK

    Social worker vacancies are far higher in England than in the rest of the UK, Unison revealed today as it continued its campaign for improved support for the profession.

    A Freedom of Information request sent to British councils and Northern Ireland health and social care trusts found Scotland had the lowest vacancy rate at 7.8%, Northern Ireland had an 8% rate and Wales a 9.6% rate, compared with an England rate of 14%.

    Social work under devolution

    The survey was issued as Community Care published a special report comparing social work across the four countries of the UK, under devolved government.

    Unison’s request was answered by almost 80% of authorities, making it a reliable picture of staff shortages across the UK, as of 31 December, 2008.

    The England figure is higher than for a similar survey published by Community Care in April, which measured vacancies as of 31 January, 2009. As with our survey, the highest vacancy rate was in Greater London, where Unison found that one in five posts were not filled.

    Detrimental impact of agency staff

    The union said the shortages meant councils were making heavy use of agency staff, to the detriment of service continuity for clients and managers’ ability to plan.

    Unison renewed calls, included in a 10-point action plan to safeguard children published last December, for a planned programme of investment to increase social worker numbers, national standards on acceptable caseloads, better support and supervision and a cull of performance indicators.

    It also called for a revival of qualify-on-the-job schemes, under which social work assistants, care managers and other staff undertake social work training while employed by councils.

    Baby P warning

    General secretary Dave Prentis said: “We need action now to attract more people into the job and stem the flow of workers leaving. Councils need urgent action plans and to work with central government and unions to plug the gaps, before we have another tragedy like baby P.”

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