Councils selected to pilot equality standard to tackle ‘institutional racism’ in social work

Chief social workers' scheme designed to help employers better understand the reality of being a non-white employee in social care

African black fist and caucasian white fist raised calling for freedom and equality on a yellow background. Multicultural fists raised. Stop racism.
Credit: Pol Sole/Adobe Stock

Eighteen councils have been chosen to pilot an equality standard designed to tackle “institutional racism” in social work, from April of this year.

The chief social workers for adults, who are overseeing the pilot, said the authorities would be helping the sector “better understand the reality of being a non-white employee in social care, both through data and the sharing of personal experience”.

The authorities piloting the workforce race equality standard (WRES) – an initiative that has already been implemented in the NHS – are a mixture of London boroughs (seven), city-based authorities (six) and counties (five), and the standard will apply across adults’ and children’s services.

The selected authorities are: Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Birmingham, Brent, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Hertfordshire, Hounslow, Kent, Lancashire, Leeds, Liverpool, Merton, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Richmond & Wandsworth, Southwark and Stoke-on Trent.

In a blog post announcing the chosen councils, joint chief social worker Mark Harvey and the chiefs’ policy advisor, Nimal Jude, looked back to a 2017 report by the Adult Principal Social Worker Network that found very low levels of Black and ethnic minority people in leadership roles in the sector.

Harvey and Jude said: “The report as good as stated that institutional racism was present and staring us in the face. Surely a call to action would follow and change would happen. Even if it took a few years, surely the journey would start? Sadly, the pace and visible action has, if we are honest, hardly set the world on fire.”

While the idea of a WRES for local authority social care employers emerged in 2019, Harvey and Jude said the sharpened focus on race within the profession following the killing of George Floyd “highlighted the need to progress this work now more than ever”.

They said the methodology for the WRES would be tested over the year-long pilot, during which the authorities involved would produce local action plans and facilitate a national report.

Workforce inequalities

While Black and ethnic minority practitioners are well-represented in the profession – accounting for 25% of adults’ services practitioners, 22% of children’s social workers and 18% of NHS mental health practitioners in England, compared with population representation of 14% – there are concerns that representation in some areas is not reflective of the communities served by the profession.

In addition, the proportion of Black and ethnic minority practitioners in senior levels of management is far lower than at the front line, while concerns have also been raised about the disproportionate representation of Black social workers in agency work, including in relation to how they have been treated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Representational issues have also been raised among the student population, with significant inequalities between different training routes, ranging from 36% on university postgraduate and undergraduate courses to 22% and 17%, respectively, on the latest cohorts of fast-track providers Frontline and Think Ahead, though these are their highest rates yet.

Fitness to practise has also come under the spotlight with Social Work England saying Black and ethnic minority social workers are disproportionately subject to investigations, though it does not have data as yet on what happens to them once they are within the system.

In the NHS, all commissioners and providers – including independent organisations – are required to implement the WRES through the NHS standard contract. An annual report is published on the NHS WRES, containing data and trends on Black and ethnic minority representation in the workforce, at senior level and on NHS boards, and the relative likelihood of staff from minority groups being shortlisted for roles, being subject to disciplinary procedures and accessing non-mandatory training, compared with white staff.

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20 Responses to Councils selected to pilot equality standard to tackle ‘institutional racism’ in social work

  1. Simon January 5, 2021 at 1:39 pm #

    A year long pilot to test what a report in 2017 said that
    “institutional racism was present and staring us in the face.” The less generous might say our leaders should be spend energy on change rather than repeating the obvious. I look forward to hearing once more that there is institutional racism and underrepresantation. That’ll do it.

    • Grace Easie-Edgar January 6, 2021 at 4:39 pm #

      Here we go again

    • Mark January 6, 2021 at 9:46 pm #

      No mention of pilot in the the CSW announcements. It states first phase. This means starting and growing the expectation and involvement form LAs not a pilot

  2. Chris Sterry January 5, 2021 at 3:04 pm #

    While this is a project which is urgently needed, I would like to know how much involvement from the Non-while sectors there has been and more so, how many non-while persons are involved in the management of the project, especially at a senior level.

    It is stated that ‘an initiative that has already been implemented in the NHS’, and from the experience of COVID-19 in regards to non-white employees in the NHS, there appears to be, still, a long way to go in the Health areas to gain anywhere near a good extent of equality

    That been said it is good to see some movement in this area.

  3. Ernesto January 6, 2021 at 11:27 am #

    I’ve had a look at the referenced report and there is no actual evidence cited that proves institutional racism occurs, apart from the assumption that this is the reason for differing levels of ethnic representation. Shouldn’t we be looking at why levels of ethnic diversity are different at various levels within social care before reaching a conclusion? It seems like whoever is in charge of making decisions about how to best use precious time and resource within public services has decided the cause is ‘institutional racism’ and is now looking for evidence to back this up. It seems like a strange way to go about things. Usually conclusions are reached following the gathering of evidence.

    When viewing diversity as a panacea, shouldn’t there at least be a debate around what we want diversity of? Ethnicity, gender, class, thought, age, sexuality, disability etc are all important and focussing on one, seemingly at the expense of others, seems a pretty cynical attempt to take a trendy ‘radical’ stance on an issue currently gaining a lot of publicity. In the case of social care it looks like white middle class professionals self flagellating due to their backgrounds in the hope of highlighting their progressive credentials.

    If anything social care is most representative of communities it serves in terms of ethnicity, as the article points out, but is entirely unrepresentative in terms of gender, class and probably political attitudes. In the hierarchy of oppression, these categories are conveniently overlooked.

    • Helen January 6, 2021 at 6:59 pm #

      It seems you don’t understand that being an ethnic minority you automatically will face multiple discrimination as you will belong to several over groups that are also being discriminated against. The fact is apart from race, you can disguise or refuse to divulge any information that may lead to you being discriminated against on those grounds.

      It needs to be set apaet and looked but it needs to be done properly and the recommendations for actual positive change followed.

      • Ernesto January 6, 2021 at 10:00 pm #

        In terms of automatic discrimination of all ethnic minorities, this is your opinion and not an accepted fact.

        Given how obvious people profess the issue to be, it is strange that it’s so difficult to articulate a coherent argument with actual evidence which proves racism is the cause of all ills.

        Gender, certain disabilities, class (accent), age are all characteristics that are difficult or impossible to hide which could be a cause for discrimination. I don’t understand your point about race being the only one you can’t refuse to divulge.

    • Mark January 6, 2021 at 9:43 pm #

      I think it is a reasonable conclusion that despite the significantly diverse make up of social care the report shows a ridiculously low representation. Of diversity at a senior or leadership level. Institutional racism is clearly a driver. If we deny that we will never truly understand the need for anti racists action.

  4. Alice January 6, 2021 at 1:29 pm #

    If the way forward is to have more and better representation, how many of the senior managers in these authorities are willing to step down to create the opportunity?

  5. Helen January 6, 2021 at 6:52 pm #

    Hmmm not this again, why do we have to go round the houses.

    In social work it is clear to see in most Local Authorities the most difficult teams i.e. Child Protection, Court snd Duty and Assessment ethnic minorities are over represented. However, they are usually agency social workers and strangely enough even when they apply for permanent positions in those teams they are passed over…

    Why not do a quantitative analysis, let all LA’s give the numbers of ethnic minorities on each individual team and publish.

    This will give a clearer picture and ask ethnic minority worker’s if they apply for jobs in the other teams.

    • Mark January 6, 2021 at 9:40 pm #

      That’s what a WRES is but with additional expectation and required action

      • Seb January 6, 2021 at 10:14 pm #

        Don’t share your confidence Mark. NHS had had a WRES process since 2015, not many senior managers there.

  6. Harry January 6, 2021 at 8:45 pm #

    Well said Alice. It’s in their interest to turn everything into a future (in)action than share or give up their power, privileges and the handsome salaries.

  7. Trevor January 6, 2021 at 10:32 pm #

    Not sure just employing more persons of colour into senior roles tackles the racialised experinces of us workers. My son had a job in John Lewis but the appointment of a black female chairman, her definition, did not save his job. In fact most of the young minority ethnic collagues have been made redundant under her. It’s the insidious privileges that senior jobs come with that we need to get rid of. Sadly not every senior person of colour challenges the establishment. Some are very comfortable with maintaining and reinforcing racist power structures. How many of our supposed role models continue to accept honours on behalf of the British Empire while professing their anti-racism? Change comes from us workers acting in unity and solidarity against the structures that support racism not from managers that look like us but sack us anyway.

  8. Carter January 7, 2021 at 9:50 pm #

    A year long “test of our methodologies” sounds like a pilot to me. If it’s an end point strategy why the need for starting and growing of expectations and wider LA involvement?

  9. Anvule January 12, 2021 at 2:43 pm #

    Nothing changes….. same old refrain since my university days in late 80’s/ early 90’s …. same old statistics and same old promises and same old results dressed in different terminology… and the wheel continues to turn towards a place called nowhere

  10. Nikki January 16, 2021 at 12:50 pm #

    We didn’t have to wait too long for the ‘commitment’ to crumble did we? Perhaps our leaders and the anti-racists of BASW can explain how selecting a white male without a competitive interview process is tackling institutional racism? Strange that no other suitable candidates exist to review a care system in which the needs of non-white children are so poorly met. Can someone please remind me of Frontlines record in training and retaining social workers of colour again?

  11. Ake January 17, 2021 at 1:38 pm #

    Nikki, BASW is no longer the “professional voice of Social Work. Their new vision on anti-racism is: The Sound of Silence.

  12. Tarae January 18, 2021 at 10:15 pm #

    I just read the ‘statement’ from BASW on the Review. Truly pitiful and spineless. Disappointed that Wayne Reid having eloquently outlined the shortcomings of leaders in tackling racism and oppressive practices in social work, has remained mute on this crony appointment. I believed in his thesis but hadn’t realised NO MORE QUESTIONS meant silence rather than action. Have just given up my BASW membership to salvage some personal dignity.

  13. Ros/Char February 2, 2021 at 9:14 pm #

    The Staff College is better suited to deal with this.