Story updated 27 July 2022
NHS-employed social workers will get a pay rise of about 4% this year, the government has said.
Ministers have accepted pay advisers’ recommendations to give staff employed on Agenda for Change contracts a rise of £1,400 in 2022-23, with those at the top of band 6 and in band 7 getting a 4% deal – which is worth more.
There are about 3,300 social workers employed by the NHS in adults’ services. Most NHS practitioners are in bands 6 – where pay ranged from £32,306 to £39,027 in 2021-22 – or 7 (£40,057 to £45,839). The £1,400 rise amounts to just over 4% for those at the lower end of band 6, while newly qualified NHS social workers, who are on band 5 (£25,655 to £31,534 in 2021-22), will get a higher percentage rise, of up to 5.6%.
The deal follows a 3% uplift last year for NHS-employed social workers, which was above the 1.75% accorded local authority practitioners and the pay freeze for Cafcass professionals.
11% pay claims
Following the NHS deal, local government employers offered social workers and other staff a £1,925 pay rise for 2022-23, which unions are now consulting members on. This is worth 5-6% to social workers on average pay. However, employers have warned that the rise – worth £1bn – risked cuts to services and jobs.
Meanwhile unions have, separately, put in pay claims of 11% for Cafcass staff. However, the family courts body is bound by a government pay remit that states that pay must rise by up to 2% or – if a convincing business case can be made – 3%.
As with council social workers – should the employers’ deal be accepted – NHS practitioners will be handed a significant pay cut in real terms. Inflation – according to the government’s preferred consumer prices index measure – was 9.4% last in the year to June 2022, and the Bank of England is predicting the rate will stay above 9% over the next few months and reach about 11% in October.
In response to the deal, UNISON, which is negotiating over this year’s pay deals for both council and Cafcass staff, said all social workers, regardless of where they worked, were struggling with the cost of living.
Social workers ‘do not need another pay cut’
National officer for social work Gill Archer said: “What they need is a real wage increase above the rate of inflation, not another pay cut. Proper wages are the only way to stop chronic problems with recruiting and retaining social workers getting any worse.”
Social Workers Union general secretary John McGowan: “The Agenda for Change pay deal is a good starting point for NHS staff in comparison to their public sector counterparts working in local authorities.”
However, McGowan, whose union does not take part in pay negotiations, said that there were other factors of working life that were important to social workers, besides pay, including wellbeing and job satisfaction.
The government had originally budgeted for a 3% rise for staff on Agenda for Change in 2022-23, but the NHS Pay Review Body said ministers needed to be more generous – an argument they accepted.
Need to tackle turnover and high agency staff costs
“[It] is necessary to increase the investment in staff pay to go some way to reduce the risk that pay is a reason to leave NHS service; to protect the service from additional temporary workforce costs; and to protect risks to patient care from the impact of increased vacancies and an overstretched workforce,” said the review body, in its annual report to ministers.
NHS England said that the health service would need to reprioritise other expenditure to fund the pay award.
Announcing the NHS pay deal last week, health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said: “We want a fair deal for staff. Very high inflation-driven settlements would have a worse impact on pay packets in the long run than proportionate and balanced increases now, and it is welcome that the pay review bodies agree with this approach.”