Most councils struggling to recruit and retain social workers, finds LGA

Children's social work is biggest workforce challenge for authorities as association warns services are being undermined by staffing 'crisis'

The word 'recruit' spelt out
Photo: patpitchaya/Fotolia

Most English councils are struggling to recruit and retain social workers, with finding and keeping children’s practitioners the biggest challenge across the workforce.

Those were among the findings of a Local Government Association survey, which the LGA said showed that a “workforce crisis” was threatening council services.

Eighty three per cent of authorities said they were experiencing difficulties recruiting children’s social workers, with 72% saying retention was a problem, found the research, conducted in spring 2022 and responded to by 65 of the 152 authorities with social services responsibility.

Worsening workforce picture

The findings add to a growing picture of a children’s workforce in crisis, with:

Children's social worker vacancy rates

Sources: Children’s social work workforce collection (Department for Education) and Safeguarding Pressures Research Phase 8 (ADCS)

Echoing concerns long raised by the ADCS, the LGA said the workforce pressures were leading to increasing use of agency staff, “which is more costly and leave less for children’s services overall”. This was not strongly reflected in the survey results, with just 7% of authorities saying they were responding to pressures across the workforce through increased use of locums, with flexible working the most popular mitigating action (11%).

In relation to children’s social work specifically, 48% of authorities said they had used market supplements – generally time-limited payments in addition to basic salary – to attract staff.

Adult social work pressures

Adult social work was the second most pressured workforce area, with 71% of authorities experiencing recruitment challenges and 57% retention difficulties, and 25% offering market supplements.

The latest official data shows that, as of September 2021, 9.5% of full-time equivalent adults’ roles were vacant in English councils, up from 7.5% 12 months previously, while annual turnover was 15%, up from 13.6% in 2019-20.

Councils had been due to face even more severe workforce pressures with the planned implementation this year of the cap on care costs and associated reforms, which would have resulted in authorities having to deliver several thousand more assessments, reviews and care plans a year.

However, the government has now delayed their implementation until October 2025 – with some commentators doubting whether they will come into force at all – mitigating the medium-term workforce stresses authorities face in adults’ services.

In relation to mental health social work, 60% of councils reported recruitment difficulties, 45% retention challenges and 26% using market supplements.

Government investment in workforce key

Commenting on the survey results, LGA chairman James Jamieson said: “Our workforce changes lives for the better every day and help keep communities running. They care for your family, protect children from harm, ensure your favourite takeaway is safe and keep our streets clean.

“Local workforce shortages are adding to the challenges facing our local services. In the coming years, some services are likely to continue to see a significant increase in demand which they will not be able to meet without an increase in the supply of skilled staff. Government investment in local government and its workforce is key to ensure services are protected and also to delivering its own policy agenda.”


18 Responses to Most councils struggling to recruit and retain social workers, finds LGA

  1. Jan January 20, 2023 at 4:47 pm #

    The problem is that many retired social workers would come back to the profession to temporarily. Because they have de registered, they can’t. Surely there should be some way for them to assist in certain roles without all the red tape of re registering and training, so they can assist. A induction course or intensive training for a short period.

    • L jackson January 24, 2023 at 9:40 am #

      I agree entirely with you. For the last year I have been looking online for a return to social work course/training. There was run once. Some universities offer this but it is often expensive. For years and years I have constantly read that there is a shortage surely it is worth seeing how nany past social workers would return

  2. Cas January 20, 2023 at 8:20 pm #

    It’s not just about pay.
    It’s bullying culture in some places
    Lack of support and supervision
    Children in dangerous situations and social workers told by managers we can’t afford to bring into care
    Working 8/10hrs a day solely typing and closing laptop not much further forward is soul destroying.

  3. Sandra January 21, 2023 at 11:39 pm #

    Paid my fee, completed my CPD and deregistered because I did not click the complete button. Social Work.England said to put me on the register it would bring the register into question. Not sure why and they couldn’t tell me. So a social worker for over three decades now not working. This makes no sense to me

    • LM January 24, 2023 at 10:36 am #

      This was also my experience Sandra, when I was told that I had not clicked the agreements, following me submitting my CPD, which I know I had done but could not prove it because they wiped my record immediately and deregistered me! I was treated in a cold manner with absolutely no regard for my professional standing or career. This should not be happening. I am sure that there are many more cases and SWE should be investigated!

  4. SB January 22, 2023 at 11:50 am #

    No respect and appreciation from management for the social workers who carries on working to serve and work hard for betterment of the families. Bullying and undermining is soul destroying. Management need to stop and think of True Value of Social work.

  5. Dom January 22, 2023 at 1:15 pm #

    It’s all of the above.

    Cas is correct.

    Pay, bullying culture, lack of support, safeguarding the social worker.

    • Jane January 24, 2023 at 10:22 am #

      It is all process driven. They want paper work done where it is not necessary. ‘They’ I mean managers. Too many meetings!!! Not enough time with families. Families are stressed and take it out on SW. Pay rate make no difference if you are stressed/burnt out.

      My advise, take regular breaks if you can. Managers should do your job whilst you are away and not leave it until you return!

      The other thing, there is a serious email culture in Social Care. Some people come to work to respond and write emails all day long. They should be with the children and families. The managers should also do frontline duty work and do joint visits to clients. Some have lost insight to SW front line practice so they have become desensitised.

      The departments blame their funding issues on Locum. That is ridiculous. They can’t manage simple. They take cases to court where sometimes not having worked the case and supporting families.

      The SW are so stressed and do not have good support from the managers and due to managers not having good oversight, they resort to methods than can be debilitating to families and SW. They should thank Locums who come and hit the ground running. Please If you don’t need locum, don’t employ them. If you do, don’t make their lives miserable as they would leave. Practice genuine kindness and use words that help them feel appreciated. Do not patronise. People know this instinctively.

      Locum before joining a team find out the ratio of permanent to locum staff. If it is more of locum, then think seriously before you join.

      • SB February 2, 2023 at 9:38 am #

        Said it all!!!

  6. Ahmed January 22, 2023 at 2:37 pm #

    My reason for leaving the children SW was primarily because of the lack of support given to agency staff. Unfortunately, its easy to say that locum workers are not a benefit but if you see many LA do not have time to recruit and then 6month the line the worker having to leave. I have now moved to Adult and can honesty say that I feel valued and supported by the team.

  7. Micheal Goodison January 22, 2023 at 4:26 pm #

    There are many within social care that have gained a lot of relevant on the job experience but either lack the academic qualifications to begin a career as a Social Worker, or lack financial/ employment support to get the qualification.

  8. Roryboy January 24, 2023 at 8:05 am #

    Society is ill 12 years of minimal intervention into the family has brought dysfunction. Social workers are being scape goated for the change brought by politics. Those same free market politics/ ideology is being blamed for the cost / price of the rise in locum social workers.

    I am a front line social worker of many years, the families I work with appreciate me, however the press don’t, wider public don’t, social work managers use bullying tactics to try and get results to please the ofstead inspections… we advise parents to use high warmth and low criticism social work managers of all level should try taking this approach apposed to low warmth high criticism I am proud of my profession but it’s hard going and getting harder as good practitioners walk away.

  9. L jackson January 24, 2023 at 9:48 am #

    I worked for 15 yrs on child protection. I was a good social worker. I was bullied and scapegoated by several managers for there incompency. Though I have to say prior to me leaving due to lies and bullying I have also had excellent managers who cared about families and the social workers. I miss social working but am too nervous to return due to the bad experience. There must be lots of social workers who have kept for similar reasons who are good workers. Also the work load and case holding are extremely high and I know some social workers also leave for this reason. Years and years the same issues are reported and the government ignore and nothing is done.

  10. Tatenda January 24, 2023 at 6:43 pm #

    I am also a victim of bullying and racial discrimination from my supervisors. Being an international social worker, coming from Africa where social work practice environment is different from social work in England. I was not provided with support for me to adapt to the new environment, no induction, no mentorship. I was not sure whether i was going or coming. The few months I worked for this local authority were the worst days of my life. I even regretted migrated to this country. The hostility is on a certain level. There is too much racial discrimination, bullying and witchhunt . I was thrown in the deep end???. My emotional well being was affected. Some local authorities are pit of hell especially to international social workers.

  11. Ndaizivei January 26, 2023 at 8:49 am #

    I am an international social worker myself,
    Racism, discrimination, bullying, case overload its unrealistic, you a carry the job at home, u have to meet deadlines, abusive clients, abusive managers and you expect people to stay. Im happy l am leaving running away with my life. The job exploits everything in you l am left with nothing to give to this profession, you have no time with your own family, your mind is never at rest, you are anxious all the time. I never understood about mental health or depression until l became a social worker in the UK LA.

  12. Andy January 29, 2023 at 8:12 am #

    I left my 25 year social work career within the past four years because I was fearful of a dramatic downturn in my health if I remained in post. I’ve used my considerably broad transferable skills and abilities to develop a new career which I now thoroughly enjoy. I’m afraid I’m struggling to imagine what would attract new recruits into social work.

  13. Nicola January 30, 2023 at 11:37 am #

    It is wrong to make the focus of this problem all about pay. Yes social workers are underpaid and undervalued, but in my experience social workers leave the LA due to the toxic blame culture, lack of support, high caseloads, lack of resources and services to help families, and the impact all this combined has on their health and wellbeing.

  14. H January 31, 2023 at 2:04 pm #

    I am a social worker, but the cost of living is and will cause many of us to leave becuase we won’t have enough money to pay mortgages and bills that are going up beyond our pay.
    This government are not sorting out reasonable pay… But then staff go locum or agency roles due to pay and then the Council have to pay out more anyway.
    I think the government need to tax these multi billion businesses and sort it out before this country hits the floor.. Oh dear it already did!