Three-quarters of councils allow flexible working for all children’s social workers

Community Care's latest Total Reward survey reveals employers' approach to social work pay and benefits - and how this matches up to what practitioners are looking for

Woman working at home
Photo: Paolese/Adobe Stock

More than three-quarters of children’s services in England (78%) allow all social workers to work flexibly, finds Community Care’s annual Total Reward survey on pay and benefits.

Flexible hours were the most common form of flexible working, with 15 of the 36 children’s services respondents (42% of the total) saying over a quarter of staff worked in this way. Home-based working was almost as popular, with 14 (39% of the total) saying over a quarter of staff worked entirely from home – perhaps largely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Flexible working remains favourite benefit

Flexible working is the most important benefit social workers look for in a job, followed by the ability to work from home occasionally,  according to the 2021 Community Care jobseekers’ survey. In the past five years of conducting the jobseekers’ research, flexible working has always taken the top spot, with the ability to work from home coming second in all but one year.

Free parking and paid overtime were also among the top five benefits that social workers want, with 2021 marking the first year that paid overtime made it onto this list.

However, it appears from the Total Reward research that the majority of organisations do not offer this as standard, with fewer than half (47%) of children’s services providing free parking to all their staff.

Lack of paid overtime

Paid overtime was even less common, with one in five services (18%) offering it to all staff.

Analysis of comments suggests that overtime is paid in specific, limited circumstances. One respondent stated:

“Suitably experienced qualified social workers from across the teams who take up shifts on the emergency duty team rota receive paid additional hours. Otherwise, overtime is not routinely paid.”

Cost-of-living pressures

The Total Reward research also revealed that social work pay had remained almost static over the past year, with at most a 1% rise in minimum salaries for frontline roles.

At the time the survey took place, there had been no national pay agreement for local authorities in England for 2021-22, so pay across the board had not risen since 2020-21. In February 2022, employers agreed a 1.75% pay rise for staff including social workers.

In real terms, social work wages have declined over the past decade due to pay freezes and below-inflation salary rises. In 2022, this will be exacerbated by the cost-of living crisis affecting fuel prices, energy bills and household goods.

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 the 2021 jobseekers’ research, pay topped the list of temptations to change jobs for the first time, above work/life balance.

Considerable variation in agency rates

The Total Reward research found that the average hourly rate for an agency social worker was £34. However, rates varied considerably depending on the region and the organisation. The lowest was less than £28 an hour, while the highest (at a service in the South West) was more than £40, reflecting the challenge inherent in keeping agency pay consistent across councils.

Adults’ services results

We received limited data about pay and reward in adults’ services, with responses from 13 organisations. The results should be treated with caution, but suggest that flexible working is very common in adults’ services, with 92% of those who answered the question allowing staff to work in this way. Just 17% offered free parking to all their staff, while a quarter paid for overtime.

More on the research

Community Care’s Total Reward survey took place between October and December 2021, with respondents filling out an online questionnaire. The jobseekers’ research took place over June-July 2021 and gathered the views of 3,489 respondents from every region and country in the UK.

This is just a snapshot of the results of the 2021 Total Reward survey. Our full report includes:

  • The average minimum and maximum salaries for roles from newly-qualified social worker to head of service, with further analysis by region, Ofsted rating and vacancy rate.
  • Details about bonus schemes offered by children’s and adults’ services, including the type of bonus and average amounts.
  • Insight into benefits, flexible working schemes and annual leave offerings.

If you’re responsible for monitoring or designing your organisation’s recruitment and retention offerings and are interested in hearing more about the key findings of the report, please contact Ruth Hardy, head of content at Community Care, at ruth.hardy@markallengroup.com

If you would like details of how Community Care can work with your organisation to recruit and retain high-quality and experienced social workers, please contact commcarerecruitment@markallengroup.com.

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