Unions demand 11% pay rise for social workers

UNISON, Unite and GMB say salary hike this year must at least match rising cost of living, but claim is well in excess of 2% rise budgeted for by councils

Image of payroll file and calculator (credit: vinnstock / Adobe Stock)
(credit: vinnstock / Adobe Stock)

Local government unions have called for an 11% pay rise for social workers and other council staff in response to the mounting cost of living.

The pay claim, for 2022-23, from UNISON, Unite and the GMB, covering staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, would see salaries rise in line with the retail prices index (RPI) measure of inflation in April, which was 11.1%, or £2,000, whichever is higher for the individual.

They will now enter talks with employers. However, the secretary for the employers’ negotiating team, Naomi Cooke, said last month that councils were budgeting for around a 2% rise this year.

Staff ‘will quit unless paid properly’

Mike Short, head of local government at UNISON, which represents an estimated 40,000 UK social workers, said: “If the pandemic showed anything, it was that council workers provide invaluable services to keep communities safe. Time and again they went above and beyond to look after people in their area.

“But they can’t run ​services on thin air. Many ​staff are struggling to make ends meet and unless they’re paid properly, many will decide ​to quit for better paid work elsewhere.

“Employers and the government need to invest properly in the local government and school workforce to ensure the important services on which everyone relies are fit for the future.”

The claim is far in excess of the 1.75% pay rise agreed for council staff in 2021-22, or the 2.75% rise for 2020-21 – the latter being the highest annual increase awarded to employees in over a decade.

It also exceeds the maximum rate of increase in council budgets this year – estimated to be 7.4% by the Local Government Association (LGA).

Councils budgeting for 2% pay rise

And in a letter to chief executives in England, Wales and Northern Ireland last month, Cooke, who heads up the employers’ negotiating team, said authorities were budgeting for around a 2% rise for staff this year.

She said the challenges employers were facing in this year’s pay round were “of a different order of magnitude to recent years”.

Particular issues included having to increase pay at the bottom end to match a significant expected rise in the UK-wide pay floor – the national living wage (NLW) – due next April. The NLW – paid to many care staff in the independent sector – is currently £9.50 an hour but the Low Pay Commission, which advises the government on the rate, is anticipating it reaching £10.32 next year, above the bottom five points of the local government pay scale.

Cooke said: “To secure an agreement will require consideration of more than just ensuring compliance with the NLW; it will also need to take account of other factors such as the wider economic backdrop of rising inflation, cost of living, energy and fuel prices, all of which will understandably be the focus of the unions’ attention in the negotiations. The National Employers are also acutely aware of the recruitment and retention challenges councils are facing.”

Stagnation in social work pay

The pay claim follows longstanding stagnation in social work pay and deepening work pressures. Pay for adult social workers in England in September 2021 was only 2.1% higher in real terms than in 2012, official figures from Skills for Care have shown.

At the same time, social work turnover and vacancies are rising across both statutory adults’ and children’s services in England.

The Department for Education’s longitudinal study of child and family social workers reported in 2021 that pay was the most-commonly cited factor for moving into agency work or self-employment. And in Community Care’s 2021 jobseekers’ research, pay topped the list of temptations to change jobs for the first time, above work/life balance.

25 Responses to Unions demand 11% pay rise for social workers

  1. Alan Thompson June 6, 2022 at 10:23 pm #

    Staff won’t quit, nor will they take action to secure better pay and conditions. Staff will moan, they wil wail how exhausted they. Oh but I can’t possibly take any kind industrial action. Who will protect the vulnerable without me? Vanity over activism is the curse of social workers. Victims by choice. I know, I used to be a shop steward.

    • Louise Morrison June 7, 2022 at 7:24 am #

      The reason we are reluctant to take industrial action is because we already work a 60 hour week….find us that extra 8.5 hours to do the work we haven’t done whilst striking because the fact is it still needs doing!!

      • Alan Thompson June 7, 2022 at 8:57 am #

        And you will continue to do your 60hr weeks by continuing to do your 60hr weeks in perpetuity won’t you. What is the work that “still needs doing” by the way? Your manager telling you you have to do “this” isn’t the same as work needing to be done is it? When your court report is picked apart because you have shoehorned it into your 60hrs and inevitably it’s a bit shoddy who accepts your “overworked” narrative as mitigation? So carry on doing the same thing but please do own that it’s your choice. I presume you never go on holiday either as that won’t give you the extra 8.5 hours to do the work that still needs doing?

        • DNG June 10, 2022 at 7:16 pm #

          I agree, its only after I took a break from social that i noticed that one never gets off the social work treadmill.
          Underpaid, unappreciated, overworked to a point u dont even spend enough quality time with yo own family.

          So those who are happy to do it for years and years and years good luck.

          I switched to primary mental health work and the working hours are far better, pay is better. So I continue to work the vulnerable but at the same time looking out for me and my family.

    • AnneMarie B June 26, 2022 at 7:33 pm #

      I will quite happily strike as will many colleagues of mine

  2. Sally June 7, 2022 at 10:03 am #

    Can’t possibly take action for wellbeing, no time in the 60 hour week for that. (Could you approve my 2 weeks A/L request please boss). I love the infinite paradox playground that is social work.

    • Alec Fraher June 8, 2022 at 11:45 am #

      lol … and for cpd on the infinite paradox playground see The Liar and Revenge Paradox by Beale et al 2015…. lol

  3. Andy June 7, 2022 at 10:31 am #

    They will never agree to this, partly because we are not the NHS and the public dont care whether we get a pay rise or not, and partly because employers know that we wont take industrial action. The only way to get a pay rise as a social worker is to leave and work for the NHS or an agency, or to get a promotion. Either way social care loses out!

  4. TiredSocialWorker June 7, 2022 at 2:53 pm #

    If you’re working 60 hours a week, have you opted out of the working time directive then?

    • Jason June 10, 2022 at 6:28 pm #

      It’s not an official 60hrs per week I would imagine. In my time as a social worker (I am now retired at 50 due to incurable cancer) I would sit in break rooms and we would all talk about hours that were taking up family time at home, some more than 60hrs, but when you ask what they have said in supervision about the extra hours, people don’t feel confident enough to tell their line managers. Any social worker consistently working 60 hrs a week needs to look at two things; firstly, the agency/local authority that they are working in, because any leadership who are happy for staff to do that many hours don’t deserve hard workers. Secondly,, where is your family life, your spouse/partner, children etc in your life. You have a responsibility to yourself, I know that now more than ever, would love nothing more than helping children and their families achieving positive outcomes within their lives. It has to be balanced out though!!

  5. Steve June 7, 2022 at 4:05 pm #

    They could give social care and other council staff 22% pay rise and still public sector staff would still be loosing out to police nhs and teachers.

    Council staff have seen their wages increase 1-2% year on year for the last 15 years whilst others in the politicians glory hole thrive

  6. Ossie June 8, 2022 at 9:32 am #

    “The infinite paradox playground”. In the week of the anti-racist justice warriors fawning over their Jubilee Honours too. Brilliant!

  7. Alec Fraher June 8, 2022 at 12:55 pm #

    Social Work, is by legal design meant to be pedagogical; but for who?

    The profession having made advances under State expansion in the 70s is now, also operating as a backdoor route to market and privatisation. Is this the, actual contribution, social work really makes? With most, if not all, the big Victorian institutions gone and adoption and fostering poised for a US buy-out, is Social Work, after all is said and done, merely a trojan mouse now wondering who’s moved the cheese.

    Standing, or not as maybe the case, in solidarity with other local authority public sector workers will be watched as much by US investors and Government officials, who very discreetly get their ducks in a row; as by the very families potentially in need of social workers advocacy.

  8. Hilary Lowe June 8, 2022 at 4:15 pm #

    Foster carers in Wales have been on £1.08 an hour for the last 12 years… We can’t strike as we have the children…

    • Alec Fraher June 8, 2022 at 7:54 pm #

      and that’s the real rub and choke point Hilary; caring is a lucrative business when once it wasn’t….

    • Caroline June 8, 2022 at 8:15 pm #

      Not everyone has to strike. Not everyone is able to strike. Social workers as a body however can.They have safety in numbers. Foster carers can support and show solidarity to those who do. It’s not just about striking. It’s about collective action of many types.

  9. Tahin June 9, 2022 at 10:13 am #

    Let’s see how the world would be now if there was no trade unions and people didn’t stand together to demand improvements in their lives. No Factories Act so children of any age would still be working in any trade, no Health and Safety act so you wouldn’t even get to complain about not having a toilet , a working water tap, heating in your place of work. Oh, and a 60 hour week would be the minimum you would work. Your boss would tell you how much you will be paid, you might not even get your 1.5%, nor would you salivate over a “minimum wage” rate as there wouldn’t be such a rate. No Equal Pay act, no Equalities Act, no Pride Week, no NHS, no “social services” but there would be the Poor House, no prison reform so transportation for your misdemeanours, air pollution never mentioned, slums tolerated, homosexuality still illegal. And more. Trade societies and trade unions and people protesting and demanding together got us where we are today. Asking your boss nicely, smiling politely never would have. I strike and you too get any benefits I might squeeze out. Either way you benefit from a trade union also so there we are.

  10. Theresa June 9, 2022 at 11:13 pm #

    Trade unions achieved none of that actually. We live in a parliamentary democracy and laws are made by consensus between MPs. Social work is profession based on consensus and reconciliation. Trade unions are a disruptive entity in contrast. Our employers are not our enemies and our managers do actually care for our wellbeing. They don’t need to be held hostage to do right by us. I admit that the pay award is below what I was expecting. Maybe though in the aftermath of a pandemic and the amount of money the government has spent saving jobs through furlough it is as fair as it can be. Asking nicely and being polite are virtues so the sarcasm is not justified. To my mind civilised discussions far outweigh so called pay bargaining by unions. If we were honest we would acknowledge that we are relatively well paid. I would never go on strike and have the suffering of my clients on my conscience. I am not alone in believing this.

    • Jim Board June 12, 2022 at 11:21 am #

      I’m sorry – but this is completely untrue and inaccurate!

      All of those safeguards for workers were won after trade unions campaigned and fought for those changes. They may have been enacted by the introduction of legislation in parliament but the notion that concerned MP’s, acting from a place of consensus and care, introduced these things out of the goodness of their hearts is simply fanciful!

      Nobody said that our employers were our enemies! It’s a straw-man argument – but clearly their interests are not the same as ours!

  11. Fed up June 10, 2022 at 5:43 pm #

    They won’t listen to unions sadly. They are reliant upon people working unpaid overtime, and the irony is it goes unchallenged as we are too busy with our caseloads to do anything about it. Social care has always been the poor relation of the NHS and Education. I once worked out that, despite all the stress that comes with social work, along with the degree and thousands of pounds of debt that come with it, the sacrifice to my own mental health and the sacrifice to my own family life…….my window cleaner actually earns more than me.

  12. Kaz June 10, 2022 at 7:24 pm #

    We were here last year unions asking for around the same rise but then at the last minute it was 1.75 percent so we wouldn’t pay the increase NI rates.
    Increased costs expectation to work at home where my costs increase and yes my base is in NHS establishment so social distancing still applies.
    Like others who work in their role recognition is not obtainable. I was told no one can have more than 1 PDR as it’s not possible to enter this on oracle What the heck machine dictates to man what a pants system and it’s time to leave

  13. Juliet Lucinda June 11, 2022 at 1:51 pm #

    It would be interesting to know exactly how much of a pay rise Boris et al recently awarded themselves. Local councillor’s are about to give themselves a pay rise too because of spiralling cost of living etc…….. I feel that Social Workers should be awarded the unions suggestion of 22% however, once the government take off the extra tax earned, will it really be worth it?

    • Andi June 12, 2022 at 11:24 pm #

      Maybe ask how much the pay of Directors in our own profession is going up by. Then ask how much the “performance related” bonus is on top. You might find that our Directors actually earn more than the Prime Minister.

  14. NJC Pessimist June 28, 2022 at 9:19 am #

    And no doubt ‘negotiations’ will roll on all year, eventually leading to a 2.1 / 2.25% rise and the unions will class it as a ‘win’ because it’s higher than the 2% budgeted by most councils.

    We will still have the same holiday allowances and no reduction to working hours, no WFH allowances and mileage rates will remain the same.

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