Unions seek 11% wage rise for Cafcass staff after chief’s warnings of social worker exodus

Napo and UNISON say soaring cost of living means 'ambitious' rise is necessary, amid management concerns that government pay constraints are driving staff attrition

An illlustration of a salary rise
Photo: Cagkan/Adobe Stock

Unions have called for a 10.8% pay increase for Cafcass workers, after management warnings that it risked a staffing exodus over government wage constraints.

The claim – a 3% pay rise plus the 7.8% retail prices index (RPI) measure of inflation as recorded on 1 April 2022 – was made jointly this month by Napo, the main union for staff at the organisation, and UNISON.

The proposed increase – equivalent to what unions are urging for local authority social workers in England and Wales – would also cover fuel rates and other allowances.

However, the pay rise will need to be agreed by the Ministry of Justice, Cafcass’s sponsoring government department, which is limited by Treasury pay restrictions that are well below the unions’ claim.

‘Appealling treatment over pay over more than decade’

A statement from Napo to members said the claim “will no doubt be seen as ambitious but reflects the facts about the impact of the cost of living crisis, the rise in inflation and the appalling treatment suffered by Cafcass staff on pay over more than a decade”.

The claim follows repeated warnings from Cafcass chief executive Jacky Tiotto  that the family courts body risks losing more and more staff to local authorities that pay more, due to government wage limits.

Cafcass’ freedom to set pay is restricted by Treasury rules relating to its sponsoring government department, the Ministry of Justice.

While local authority social workers gained a 1.75% pay increase for 2021-22 after protracted discussions, social workers at Cafcass were hit by the public-sector pay freeze for that year. Cafcass staff have received a lower pay rise than local government employers in five of the past six years, its January board meeting heard.

Pay offers likely to be well below union claims

Pay offers for the two groups of staff are likely to be similar this year – and well below what unions are claiming. Local government employers are reportedly budgeting for a 2% cost-of-living rise for staff this year.

For 2022-23, the Treasury has allowed government departments to raise overall pay bills by 2% but this includes any increments for career progression, as well as cost-of-living increases. Departments are allowed to increase this to 3% if they can make a strong business case, based on progress against “key long-term priorities”.

Tiotto told Cafcass’s board meeting last month: “We can’t be in the position of having our pay as uncompetitive as it is. We need to get a business case through.”

In its statement to members, Napo said: “Paying staff decently is one of the easier ways in which the government can show that it cares about the Cafcass workforce and that it understands that valuing employees is vital to future performance.

“Failure to reward staff properly sends the opposite message.”

‘Members’ living standards depreciating’

Ian Lawrence, the Napo general secretary, warned that members’ living standards were “markedly depreciating”, with some regions facing particular struggles to attract and hang onto staff amid generally high workload pressures.

The union is “looking for [Cafcass] to show some willing to lobby government with us, to try and make the case” for adequate remuneration to address its recruitment and retention difficulties, he said.

“We want investment, and that’s why we’re looking to ministers to look carefully at Cafcass as a special case,” Lawrence added. “We cannot sustain the sorts of workload problems that we’ve got – people are waiting even longer now for the family courts, and the social difficulties out there among families are huge.”

Fall in social work attrition

In issuing her warnings earlier this year, Tiotto said Cafcass was losing about 20 family court advisers (FCAs) a month, and this could increase to 40.

A spokesperson for the family courts body said it lost 19 FCAs in May but 14 had left, or were due to leave, during June.

They also said workforce stability was higher at Cafcass than in comparable organisations, with a turnover rate of 12.2% in 2021-22, below the 15.4% among local authority children’s social workers in the year to September 2021.

“Cafcass’s staff turnover rate and agency rate are below the average for social workers nationally and also below that for the average of other organisations rated outstanding by Ofsted,” said the spokesperson.

In relation to pay, as of 2021, FCA rates ranged between £38,974 and £43,459, with an additional £4,582 a year for those in London, found Community Care’s annual Total Reward survey of pay and benefits in social work. This was broadly similar to rates for local authority advanced practitioners.

‘Higher pay, as well as more staff, needed’

Besides attrition, Cafcass has faced significant challenges with staff workloads on the back of pandemic-related case backlogs.

The MoJ increased Cafcass’s 2021-22 budget by £2.3m in January 2022, to £138m, to tackle this, with the move taking its budget for that year to 8% above the £127.8m originally allocated for 2020-21. Its revenue budget for 2022-23 is £138.7m.

In its statement, Napo said investment “cannot just be in the form of additional staff, although we obviously acknowledge this is essential to address the workloads crisis in Cafcass, it must also involve a substantial increase in the value of Cafcass pay”.

The MoJ declined to comment during ongoing pay negotiations.

, ,

More from Community Care

11 Responses to Unions seek 11% wage rise for Cafcass staff after chief’s warnings of social worker exodus

  1. Keith Uytendhal June 24, 2022 at 6:57 pm #

    If Cafcass get that much, there would be a Local Authority exodus. Come on unions.

    • Louise June 25, 2022 at 8:41 am #

      Cafcass won’t get that much and neither will LAs unless staff are prepared to strike, which in my view is needed as part of these pay negotiations. Social work is overworked and undervalued yet the government rely on the good will of caring staff not to strike. Napo couldn’t secure a vote to strike last year which meant that essentially we accepted the pay freeze!

  2. Anon June 24, 2022 at 10:52 pm #

    I’d be betting local authorities and cafcass are losing staff because agency agencies are paying near double the LA/CAFCASS salaries…

    Perhaps both Councils and Cafcass should increase their SW salaries and stop paying agency workers so much.

    • Opal Lady June 27, 2022 at 9:49 pm #

      …It’s not as simple as that is it ‘anon’?!

      If we didn’t have agency staff most LA’S would collapse.

      If agency staff don’t work, we ‘don’t get’. There’s no such thing as ‘sicky sicky’ for us. Not all that glitters is gold.

      Stop being so judgemental and come out of your ‘comfort zone’. If you can’t beat us, join us.

  3. Derek Mowbray June 26, 2022 at 3:05 pm #

    Independent social workers advising Family Courts and have the pivotal role in the Family Court process are paid at the minimum of Cafcass current level, which, because independents are self-employed, is much lower in real terms. On top of this, the Independents haven’t had a pay rise for 13 years, and are not on the recognised list of expert witnesses, yet are the key expert witnesses on whom judges rely. It’s a crazy and deeply unfair World for Independent Social Workers – little wonder there is a backlog of serious cases which the Independents undertake because others aren’t skilled and don’t do.

    • Tahin June 27, 2022 at 10:12 am #

      And so, predictably bang on time, the pitching of one set of social workers against other social workers begins. Blame the people who decide how much you are worth rather than your colleagues for your lack of pennies. Perhaps you might even get your pay rise then.

  4. Belinda Orchard June 27, 2022 at 2:44 pm #

    Social workers aren’t leaving local authorities because of pay (although I am sure more would help). They are leaving because of untenable caseloads, impossible expectations and being undervalued and respected. With manageable caseloads, good reflective and supportive supervision, good CPD training and their views listened to and respected, far fewer social workers would be leaving the profession they love.

    • Opal Lady June 27, 2022 at 9:51 pm #

      Could have put it better myself Belinda!

  5. Julia June 30, 2022 at 9:47 am #

    I am leaving social work because I no longer can tolerate “initiatives”, “reorganisations”, “innovations”, “efficiencies”, ” new ways”, “listening weeks” and the never ending meaningless missives insanely wittering on about “cultures”. There’s more to life than the soul crushing banality that passes for “leadership” in at least my bit of social work. Money matters because it’s a measure of how we are valued but after 18 years it gets harder to block out the innanity. Name and shame the self aggrandasing if only through the platforms offered us by Community Care.

  6. Richard M July 4, 2022 at 9:20 am #

    Staff won’t get 11% of course, it’s a negotiating position, but the point is that anything less is a further pay cut in real terms given the way inflation is heading. This is after 12 years of pay freezes, below-inflation and non-consolidated pay awards which add up to a 20%+ pay cut since 2010..

    Cafcass is running on empty and unless there is a serious pay review in the near future risks being completely broken. Local Authorities, especially in the London area, experience ‘musical chairs’ and compete for staff, especially when agencies enter the fray. Cafcass experiences the dead hand of the Treasury, which variously treats staff as civil service one minute and Local Authority the next, whichever is the most disadvantaged.

  7. Chris Sterry July 5, 2022 at 7:55 am #

    Unfortunately, many in the UK are well underpaid, some much more than others and this has been caused by lack of Government management over many years and not only from one political party.

    This and many previous Governments keep saying that The UK economy can’t afford this and that, but, is it not surprising that money can always be found for ‘so called’ Government pet projects.

    Money was found in 2008 for the Banking Crisis, https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/news/2018/september/the-financial-crisis-ten-years-on, for many instances of MPs pay, ‘fat cats’ of industry and Chief Executives, COVID pandemic, helping Ukraine in this offensive war by Russia on Ukraine and more.

    Not that some of the above was necessary for in many ways it was, but that does not help in the means of living for the many in the UK.

    Benefits for the vulnerable have not kept pace with the costs of living, so as the salaries for many in the public sector and also many in the private sectors.

    For years much of the UK work force have been receiving less than inflation pay rises or no pay rises at all, while work demands have been increasing, so in effect most of us have been working and doing more for much less monetary reward.

    While it goes without saying that substantial pay rises are required, also required is a reevaluation of the gap in pay from the lowest paid to the highest paid in the UK as a whole, but also in many different companies and organisations. In this there should be some factor that the highest paid are not paid more than a stated percentage above that of the lowest paid, tax treatments that reflect on the means to live, so much less on the lower paid and slightly more on the higher paid.

    The Inland Revenue also have a part to play, in that when looking at unpaid tax or tax avoidance that they don’t solely concentrate on those easiest to monitor, but also much more on the hardest to monitor, be they be individuals or multi national organisations. Tax treatments need to be much more equalised than currently they are in all aspects of tax calculation and collection.

    But most of all the most underpaid should be a priority and while most in the UK are well underpaid, some are more so than others and have been for much more than I care to remember.

    Here the article is looking at social care in the public sector and I agree that pay is not what it should be and also the excessive workloads due to lack of staff, increases in concerns arising from lack of social care in the UK population due mainly to inactions of all previous Governments.

    In my view Social care within the community has, not only been underfunded for years, but has never been, really, sufficiently funded since, at least 1948, when the NHS was formed. A grave mistake was made in 1948, in that, social care was not, anywhere near fully associated with health care. For way too long as there been much duplication in work, insufficient working together and too much active confrontations, especially in who finances what.

    In addition is the pay for care workers and their status in the realms of working. They are deemed to be unskilled workers, when to provide good quality care they need to be well skilled, for it is not just doing the bare minimum without considering the individual to whom care is being given. We are all individuals no matter what age we are and we all have individual needs and most of all should have choices which should be considered. For way too long the concept of ‘one fits all’ as been the way forward, for that does not, in anyway, follow the concept of choice, just the opposite. For years, not only has social care been seriously underfunded, but also seriously understaffed, of which pay is only one consideration for there are many others. These to include, working conditions, sick pay, travel expenses, holiday entitlement, unsocial hours payments, and much more

    This and previously Governments have done little or more correctly nothing to rectify this and in many instances have made it much worse by not viewing the problems, or not wishing to understand the problems, after all they are caring for the elderly, children and adults with disabilities, the poor and those with ill-health who many, if not all Governments have viewed as being an inconvenience and not to be really bothered with. This is until there are safeguarding concerns and even then these are viewed in isolation by the Government and regretfully much of the UK population. The years of Government inactions are not considered, but the lack of ‘Duty of Care’ of Social Work departments and Social Workers are, when in many respects the departments and social workers are doing the best they can with the meagre resources available, but to years of Government underfunding for Local Authorities, then on top the 10 years of austerity cuts and followed by, at least, 2 years of additional COVID expenditure.

    No wonder mistakes are made, when there are insufficiencies of social workers, extremely excessive workloads, maybe lack of sufficient management and supervision, as LAs try to save money and too much pressures being brought on from above.

    So, I don’t begrudge the current salary demands, but in doing so, do consider your fellow workers, for it is not their faults and they maybe in a much worse financial position as you are.

    Striking, is not really the best option, as this only affects or much more affects the persons who are there is care for. It is Government you need to go for and go for directly and not indirectly as will be by striking.

    What there needs be is compulsory arbitration by a fully independent body of Government control and be binding on all parties. Ideally also a Government who is prepared to listen and then take the appropriate actions, nit for the Government but for the parties who are raising their grievances.

    We should all be working together.