More people are starting local authority adults’ social worker roles than are leaving, and the profession was the only section of the local authority adult social care workforce which increased last year.
The latest government figures on the local authority adult social care workforce reported that the ‘Professional’ job group, comprised of 84% social workers but which includes OTs, was the only group to have reported an increase in jobs – of 200 – from 2016 to 2017.
The number of jobs in this group fell by only 2% from 2011 to 2017, compared to a decrease of almost a third across the whole local authority adult social care workforce. However, compared to the 8% average vacancy rate across all adult social care, the rate for social worker jobs was higher at 10%.
The figures also reported a 3% drop in adults’ social workers’ median pay in real terms from
2012 to 2017, compared to a 1% rise for occupational therapists (OTs).
Local authorities employ around 85% of the estimated 19,000 social worker jobs across the whole adult social care sector, which also includes independent providers and the NHS.
Although the average number of sickness days for social workers and OTs fell from 10.2 to 8.7 between 2016 and 2017, this was still more than double the UK average of 4.3 days per worker.
However, 6% of workers had more than 40 sickness days, and the report said particularly high numbers “may have an impact on the overall mean”.
AMHP numbers lower than expected
For the first time, the report included figures for the number of Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHP), as part of plans to improve intelligence on this section of the workforce.
Just over three-quarters of councils responded to the voluntary request, reporting a total of 1,300 workers with an AMHP qualification.
However, this is well below figures reported by both the AMHP Leads Network and a Freedom of Information request by Community Care, which found more than 2,900 AMHPs across 120 councils in 2015-16.
The report was published soon after a research paper on recruitment and retention in the adult social care workforce which found concerns among social workers about job satisfaction and morale.
The research by the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London said while social workers and OTs were a “much smaller group numerically” than care workers working with older people, “the consequences of recruitment and retention problems among these professions can be considerable, for example, in the rate of delayed hospital discharges”.
Social workers participating in the study pointed to the effects on job satisfaction and morale of “work intensification”, the increase in the amount of work to be done in a set amount of time or of reducing the time allowed for completing certain tasks.
Funding pressures had accentuated work intensification in adult social care departments, the report said, with social workers reporting problems with recruiting new workers, staff being asked to take on more roles, experienced workers leaving through voluntary resignation programmes, and a reduction in peer support.
The study said there appeared to be “high levels of ‘churn’” among local authority social workers and OTs. Their pay levels, while above the National Living Wage, may be “perceived as incommensurate with experience or workload”.
It added: “In this sense, ‘enough pay’ was seen as just one factor influencing turnover that would be traded off against other considerations such as job satisfaction or feeling valued.”
In addition, with no national pay scale for social workers, there were reports that newly qualified workers were leaving for neighbouring authorities where salaries were higher:
Professor Jill Manthorpe, one of the authors, said while much of the focus in recent years had been on the recruitment of social workers, it was also important to look at retention, particularly across the profession rather than just individual jobs.
She said the reasons for ‘churn’ were not necessarily linked to people’s jobs but could be related to housing costs or problems travelling to work, and while “often cast negatively” churn could, for example, be linked to social workers moving for promotion.
“If we want people to be managers and leaders then there will be movement,” she said.
Competition with NHS
The research highlighted issues affecting recruitment and retention in the wider adult social care workforce, notably “unease about the effects of competition with the NHS”, including workers leaving for jobs in the NHS after social care providers had invested in their training.
“Competition with the NHS for occupational therapists is another area that might benefit from further investigation,” it added.
A consultation on the adult social care workforce will be launched soon by the Department of Health and Social Care and Skills for Care. This comes after a report by the National Audit Office criticised the government’s failure to have an up-to-date workforce strategy which took account of major developments in the sector, including the Care Act 2014, and for its lack of oversight of workforce planning in local areas.