Unions reject ‘insulting’ pay offer for council social workers

1.5% offer for council staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland well short of 10% claim from unions and likely to amount to a real-terms pay cut

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Photo: md3d/Fotolia

Story updated 27 May 2021

The country’s two largest unions have rejected an “insulting” 1.5% pay offer for council practitioners that falls well short of its 10% claim and is likely to amount to a real-terms pay cut.

Representatives of councils across England, Wales and Northern Ireland made the offer to 1.5 million local authority employees – including social workers – earlier this month, saying it would increase the pay bill by £279m in 2021-22.

The news prompted an angry response from the three unions who negotiate with employers through the National Joint Council for Local Government Services, UNISON, the GMB and Unite.

UNISON, which represents 40,000 social workers across the UK, has now formally rejected the offer – following a meeting of its local government committee – and demanded talks with employers to negotiate an improved settlement. Unite has also rejected the offer.


“This offer simply isn’t good enough,” said UNISON head of local government Jon Richards. “Council and school staff have done so much this past year. They’re understandably feeling more than taken for granted. It’s insulting.”

“Negotiations with the employers are now essential if council and school staff are to get a better deal,” he added. “More resources from Westminster would help relieve the financial pressure on councils and schools and fund a more substantial increase for staff.”

Unite national officer for local government Jim Kennedy said: “Local government workers are sick and tired of the employers’ failure to properly value them. We mistakenly believed that after the last year,  where local government workers have supported, protected and sustained our communities, that the employers would finally offer a fair pay increase.

“Local government workers are increasingly voting with their feet and leaving the sector, this trickle of resignations will turn into a torrent unless low pay is addressed.

“Unite will now work with the other local government unions and their members to ensure that a pay award which meets workers’ true worth is made.”

GMB is due to respond formally shortly.

Successive pay freezes and caps

The unions’ 10% claim was based on the cumulative impact of a series of pay freezes and caps since 2010 which they said had seen council staff’s salaries – including those of social workers – lose a quarter of their value in real terms, using the retail price index (RPI) measure of inflation.

In relation to the government’s preferred consumer prices index (CPI) measure – which tends to be lower than RPI – median adult social worker wages in England were no higher in 2020 than in 2013.

In April, CPI reached 1.5%, up from 0.7% in March, according to the Office for National Statistics, and the Bank of England has predicted that it will rise above 2% before the end of 2021.

This means a 1.5% pay deal would most likely amount to a pay cut for council social workers.

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31 Responses to Unions reject ‘insulting’ pay offer for council social workers

  1. Colin May 24, 2021 at 1:29 pm #

    Not great but a better offer than one for NHS employed social workers.

  2. Lucinda Juliet Walker May 24, 2021 at 2:30 pm #

    This is typical of local government fat cats. I wonder what their pay offer will be? Social Workers always get short thrift pay wise. We’re not respected or recognised to have ‘done our bit’ during the pandemic, and continue to do so to date, picking up the mental health problems adults and children are suffering. Social Workers should go on strike in protest. That saying, I don’t believe local or national governments would bat an eyelid if we did strike!
    Yours, in disgust.

    • StandMyGround May 24, 2021 at 7:55 pm #

      Hi Lucinda 🙂 I completely agree with you. My social worker has went above and beyond to move me to a safer area during the pandemic. I will always be so grateful to her for doing this. Without her hard work to get me to where I’m now living, I’m not so sure that I’d be here. Social workers deserve a much better wage.

    • Anon May 28, 2021 at 3:53 pm #

      Most wouldn’t notice if social workers went on strike after the failings during this pandemic.

      If you can’t zoom or use a telephone safely, reliably or at all, whether excluded financially, or digitally or because of disability then NO contact at all for the most part. And dont forget have to fit in with the social worker’s schedule- God forbid a meeting is actually held to fit in with the vulnerable person or kin.

      There obviously must be some social workers somewhere who have carried on working and actually SEEING clients. But not around here. Not face to face. Despite it being legally required if only way job can be done. Cant help but feel that tne needs of the workforce has been put way ahead of the needs of the vulnerable.

      And it’s NOT the vulnerable person or child or carer that decides the impact of all this is it? No. Of course not.

      How many councils have asked those in need of social work support, those whose care oackages are still unlawfully cancelled, those whose needs were never assessed, those dumped out of acute hospitals to care homes – often STILL there, HAVE YOU HAD ADEQUATE OR ANY SOCIAL WORKER SUPPORT?

      Go ask ANY pt or now offloaded pt, of MH Trusts about contact with their social workers. Ask those with already unlawfully delayed MHA assessments or Best Interest Assessments.

      Ask carers. Dare you.

      ALL local authorities have whole tiers of poor management across ALL departments earning one hell of a lot more than NHS workers ( for those bleating about lack of parity in pay rise).

      Unqualified senior housing managers earning more than frontline nurses in acute Trusts yet doing what? Various designated senior adult social care roles which seem to be about just holding multiple meetings with NO follow up responsibility.
      No one but no one monitoring s75 delegation.
      No one but no one monitoring contracts ‘ tendered ‘ out to private contractors, that include medical assessors for statutory functions.

      Comms teams whose job is to protect the rep of the organisation instead of the council recruiting the staff needed to ensure legal duties are met. Starting at 38k a year in London. But hey, they send out those glossy mags to residents about how well the council is doing.

      A job with the council is STILL seen as a job for life and often not a hard one.

      No public employee could be furloughed yet hardly a council has opened its doors in the last 14 months nor functions effectively working remotely.
      No homeless section with it’s doors open so failing so many.

      Not a single one of the above at risk of redundancy at this point on time.
      In house recruitment polices making it a closed shop culture.

      Suggest you all argue that instead of everyone getting pay increases you make workforce redundant and use that money for essential statutory workers and enough of them. As the public we dont want our money paying more to overworked, stressed and angry social workers.

      Because we feel the impact. We receive the brunt of your anger.

      What we want are more social workers at the same decent pay you get, so that caseloads are reduced and work actually gets done.
      Because that is the way you retain.

      Enough social workers so that the dead wood can be got rid of . Enough social workers so that we dont have to be burdened with a non representative workforce and a wider range of life experience is drawn from because recruitment is no longer a closed shop as it is now.

      But this is NOT the year for social workers to be demanding large % pay increases given you have been virtually invisible.

  3. Colin May 24, 2021 at 4:57 pm #

    I keep hearing social workers say how health workers are better protected and more valued than them. Not sure how a better pay offer than made to NHS workers squares with social workers getting short shrift and not being recognised for doing their bit. Nasty thing employers, they always find a way of dividing worker from worker. This is what envy rather than solidarity gets us.

  4. Cat Orman May 24, 2021 at 4:59 pm #

    Yet another kick in the teeth for social workers at a time when the government have wasted billions on apps that don’t work and fattening up Boris Johnson and his girlfriend on £27000 worth of takeaways. We already face discrepancies across local authorities in what we are paid, and now a potential pay cut! It would be nice if just once we were recognised for the vital role we play in all our communities. We need to stand together and strike, no change will happen with silence.

    • Anon May 28, 2021 at 4:00 pm #

      As carers and clients we won’t notice and local authorities can then just dismiss you , cut costs and recruit those with can do attitudes and some humility at lower salaries.

  5. Hilton Dawson May 24, 2021 at 6:47 pm #

    Unison have been claiming 40,000 social workers in membership since at least 2009.
    Either they badly need a recruitment drive or the number’s just made up anyway.
    Let’s see them prove it

    • Arthur May 24, 2021 at 10:49 pm #

      Oh dear. Made up or otherwise at least Unison members choose to join. Unlike the pencilling in of BASW members to the polite, let’s not make a wave our bosses are pals with the the great and the good handwringers that is SWU. As a Unite member I could be wrong of course.

    • Simon Cardy May 25, 2021 at 10:45 am #

      Is splitting hairs about the size of UNISONs social work membership really all you’ve got to say on the issue. We have lost 25% of the value of our pay In the last 10 years on top of local reductions in sick pay, car milage allowances, the introduction of 5/7 working, and increment ceilings. Your lack of support for the pay claim or championing public sector workers perhaps part explains why you only got 163 votes in the Hartlepool by-election and remain on the margins.

      • Craig May 26, 2021 at 10:46 am #

        Ironically, promoting property taxes and promising to make Brexit work while vilifying the South East and “that there London” is what did it too. I am sure County Durham poshies are different, but North East regional nationalists tend to conveniently forget that some of us Geordies aren’t sat at Grainger Market fuming but are down south grafting. If social work is such a thing. Re-kindling your old animosity towards Unison does us no favours Hilton. Admittedly my infantilism is probably unhelpful too.

  6. Jenny S May 24, 2021 at 7:56 pm #

    I didn’t think council employees would be getting an inflationary rise this year because of the public sector pay freeze?

  7. Dee May 25, 2021 at 8:40 am #

    The cuts to the local authorities budgets leave them scrabbling round to make cuts, so your looking at posts being regraded to a lower scale together with the continued poor pay awards. It’s highly likely to impact on the people they support.

  8. Paul S May 25, 2021 at 10:28 am #

    Social workers need to stand together but please no strikes. Everyone needs to work to rule. Work the hours you’re paid for. The system will soon falter when people stop working early mornings, evenings and weekends. Striking will only give the privateers the ammunition they need.

    • Dean June 8, 2021 at 2:18 pm #

      Totally agree, employers use our value base against us and know we will work extra hours for no pay, rather than pay rise lets ask to be paid for all the hours we do, then the employers would see how much it would really cost them to provide services

  9. Hilary May 25, 2021 at 12:39 pm #

    Foster carers would love a pay rise for the fees.. Nothing since 2009 where I am, not even during lockdown when we worked 24/7. At least my SW had the annual leave and weekends off. I really with some one would shout for foster carers on about £1.80 an hour 😤

  10. Craig May 25, 2021 at 8:12 pm #

    If we are to indulge in membership bingo Hilton perhaps you can demand the same of SWU. Not just claims, a list with proper names. Oh hang on is there a data protection problem perhaps?

  11. A Man Called Horse May 26, 2021 at 10:26 am #

    I am a long term UNISON member and we should also remember we have been asked to work longer for less pay and we have had our pension agreements ripped up so we get lower pensions. Each and every person in Local Government have had at least £15,000 in state pension also stolen by retirement age increases.

    We can be sure that Austerity part 2 is just around the corner, of course it will be called something else like a “pay pause” but it will be familiar to you all. Restructures, jobs cut and reduction in services, increased service charges and higher Council Tax way above inflation rises are planned for years to come further eroding pay. We will hear the same old tired arguments about “gold plated pensions” “we are lucky to have a job” ” our terms are so much better than the weak none union private sector” We will be told we have to tighten our belts”

    They will use tried and trusted propaganda of smearing public sector workers by stoking resentments, look at those fat cat public sector workers. We will see more of the same 2010 style Austerity. This Government has an 80 seat majority it can get away with anything now and there is no functioning political opposition. We now live in a one party Tory state and you my dear friends and many of your families voted for these criminals to run the country. You will reap what you have sown, enjoy it, watch as the train comes at you full speed.

  12. Lee May 27, 2021 at 9:30 am #

    Under the current circumstances I would say this is actually a generous offer. Most of us have been sat at home pretending Zoom and Teams is social work for a year or more so we should have the good grace to keep quite. 1% for some in the NHS, 0% for the rest. As for Tory voting social workers, they are many. Those of us who sat next to them, have been supervised and managed by them during the Thatcher governments know how shameless they are. Frankly though they are more tolerable than the “I agree with Nick” Lib Dem headbangers that were gloating then but mysteriously are the disappeared of social work now.

    • A Man Called Horse May 28, 2021 at 3:51 pm #

      You are correct only in that they can offer zero and get away with that, what could we do about it? 1.5% will seem like a generous offer only because we have little power to force a better offer. I would say of course that clapping for us really will not cut it or pay the bills. I was also wondering how real term pay cuts fits in with a levelling up agenda? We are in a bad situation with GDP Debt ratio of 100% we can continue to print money, we have the power to do that but obviously will not end well in terms of inflation.
      Maybe the simple truth is that Capitalism is bankrupt and so is the state. I would not agree with the statement working from home is pretending to work, it has mostly worked well and frankly many more Social Workers might be dead if they had been forced to work as normal. We should retain a mix of home and visiting once it is safe again to do so. Social Work is a people job of that there is no doubt, many of us me included think it is necessary to visit and not doing that has diminished the job. We need to strike a balance here and keep what is good, better work life balance, less commuting, less pollution and frankly until it is safe to do the job as we did before we must be allowed to continue with both home working and office, visiting clients. I couldn’t care less if Boris Johnson doesn’t like it, to force us back into the way we worked before would be a simple and obvious abuse of power against staff.

      • Craig June 1, 2021 at 12:29 am #

        Perhaps ask people if not visiting has worked for them? Also be very mindful of validating the remote working trap. If our employers believe face to face work can be replaced and is safe as well as effective, redundancies are inevitable. 6 daily zoom meetings supplemented by a phone call each day as opposed to 3 visits a day is the ‘efficiency’ their workforce consultants will urge them to adopt.

  13. Nigel May 27, 2021 at 9:45 am #

    Off topic here but I had a recovered memory of the spat between BASW and the proposed College of Social Work when reading Hilton and Unison in the same sentence. Toys, prams, hissy fits and 2011 nostalgia. Who says social work doesn’t entertain?

  14. Not My Real Name May 28, 2021 at 3:21 pm #

    So here we are at the end of the pandemic (almost). One dead colleague, numerous dead clients, several dozen hours of unpaid overtime, lots of stress and … a pay cut. Brilliant. For this I went to University twice.

  15. Arthur May 30, 2021 at 12:19 pm #

    Entertaining it may be but BASWs disgraceful sabotaging of the proposed college and their collaboration with Tory ministers paved the way for the incompetents of SWE. Power grabs overriding ethics and obsession with doing Unison down for personal score settling drove me to end my BASW membership.

  16. Becf June 1, 2021 at 11:53 am #

    I think in the current circumstances it is a realistic offer. I work in the community with adults and the only visits I did not carry out over Covid were to the couple of clients I had in residential placements. For my clients at home I continued to visit throughout as if anything their needs increased due to isolation so they needed me more. Visits were the only thing I left home for as had shopping delivered as I didn’t want to risk catching Covid in the shops and taking it to my clients.

    I think we have to realise how fortunate we were that we weren’t furloughed and so didn’t lose 20% of our income. I know it has been difficult- my workload is 50% higher than it was – but I still have a job and can afford my bills which many haven’t been able to. Refusing this pay rise just shows how out of touch some people are with real life – so we may not be able to afford the extras but there are many who can’t afford the basics and it is them we should be advocating for.

    • A Man Called Horse June 1, 2021 at 4:04 pm #

      Thanks for that contribution Boris Johnson. Really you are doing Social Workers no favors with such a comment. That you still have a job you should be grateful Tory mantra wearing a bit thin. You may be able to afford your bills, pleased for you but many of us are doing more for less pay and groveling to the levelling down agenda does none of us any favors.

      I would also say while I care about my job, really not sure I wanted to lose my life to keep it. I’m not sure what your job is but we had strict orders as Social workers, that only in exceptional circumstances should we attend a home visit or go to the office. Happy to return to visiting now had two jabs and have maximum protection from the covid virus.

      • Becf June 2, 2021 at 2:21 am #

        Your response couldn’t be further from the truth. Never voted Tory and can’t see that ever changing. The reason I feel grateful is because I have seen the impact that losing 20% of their earnings has had on people I know both inside and outside of my job role. I know that if I had been furloughed as a single parent I would have struggled to put food on the table after my bills were paid. The impact Covid and the lockdowns have had on many peoples mental health has been tremendous and working enabled me to have something else to focus on. You say I am doing no favours to social workers with my comment, when I am saying we should be advocating for those who can’t afford the basics. As social workers I strongly believe that this is what we should be doing advocating for those who need us to and I’m not going to apologise for thinking that.

        As for visits, when you are working with people who are isolated and find it difficult to engage with services and have complex issues there is no way you can apply a blanket decision not to visit. Our teams which dealt with non-complex cases didn’t visit but we had many clients on my team that this was not viable for. I’m glad you were able to not visit until you had had your two jabs but that wasn’t the case for all social workers. We had risk assessments in place and I honestly felt safer doing my visits than on the very rare occasion I had to go to the shop as couldn’t get a delivery slot.

  17. Carlton June 1, 2021 at 1:37 pm #

    Who looked after us social workers when we risked our lives visiting people or were being abused on line for not visiting? People demanded more of us because they were scared not because their needs increased. We need to change the narrative of us being the only ones who can help people but who don’t need caring for. Sacrificing social workers has become a fetish when we all know that most of the people we visit can cope without us if we stopped mollycoddling them. My GP practice shut its doors for over a year. I haven’t heard of one patient dying because appointments were rationed and telephone consultation became the norm. We need to stand up for ourselves in the same way. If we are not worth a pay rise than we shouldn’t bust our guts looking after everybody who demands to see us.

  18. Mary June 2, 2021 at 12:29 pm #

    I bitterly regret training to become a social worker, I cant wait to leave this horribly under funded and abused profession for good. The state of the social care system is only going to get worse and all employers and governing bodies do is blame the social workers and put more procedures and regulations in place so we get even less time to spend with those who need help.

    I cant wait to get employed elsewhere with less stress and more pay, where I can actually make some difference in people’s lives.

  19. Anon June 3, 2021 at 4:30 pm #

    I started my first social work job in jan 2020 and in that time have worked in a community team and a CMHT. Its been a hard slog over that time with the many changes, ofteb daily, with provedores, trying to figure out the job alone at home the stress if sitting alone with problems and concerns and lack of work/life balance. Theres a definate lack of understanding of what we do and the load we carry. Ive been visiting the majority of service user for the past year, not many service users with a mental health diagnosis want to undertake an assessment over the phone, its anxiety provoking. I think we should get equal recognition during the pandemic to other professionals. Just because we are doing paperwork from home doesnt mean we arent visting, working flat out, working extra hours and dealing with an increase in more complex issues atound service users, exacerbated by the pandemic. Weve all worked really hard