Communities in Scotland have the support of many more social workers per head of population than other parts of Britain, research by Community Care has found.
Scottish councils employ on average one social worker per 990 inhabitants compared with one per 1,100 inhabitants in Wales and 1,430 in England.
Experts attribute the variations to different definitions of the social worker’s role, as well as a reluctance on the part of some staff to move to deprived areas.
“In big cities there is higher demand and the working conditions are often more difficult,” said Shereen Hussein, senior research fellow at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London.
“So, for example, people don’t necessarily want to come down from Scotland to work in Birmingham or London.”
The figures are also consistent with British vacancy rates. In Scotland the vacancy rate is just 8%, compared with 9% in Wales and 11% in England, as revealed in Community Care’s special report last month.
“There is a commitment to social work in Scotland; local authorities have continued to invest in it over the years,” said Stephen Smellie, chair of the Social Work Issues Group for Unison Scotland.
“A lower level of social workers would have huge implications for service delivery. It would mean increasing caseloads for workers, which would mean an increase in risk,” he added.
But Ruth Stark, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers in Scotland, said the figures were not directly comparable because social workers in Scotland had a criminal justice remit: “You’d have to work out how many probation officers there are per head of population in England to compare the two.”
The Britain-wide figure of one for every 1,390 inhabitants compares favourably with other countries in Europe (see above). Britain has twice as many social workers per head than Germany, but in France, communities have one social worker per 300 people. In Sweden the figure is one social worker for every 50 inhabitants.
Community Care submitted a Freedom of Information request to British councils about the total number of social worker posts, and compared the figures with the Office for National Statistics’ mid-year population statistics for 2009. Data for Northern Ireland are collated differently.
Social workers per head
Where the UK sits in relation to other European countries. The number of inhabitants per social worker:
Great Britain 1,390
(Sources: International Federation of Social Workers and Community Care vacancy survey)
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