Unions seek 12.7% pay rise for council social workers

UNISON, GMB and Unite say above-inflation rise for 2023-24 is only way to recruit and retain local authority staff

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Unions are seeking a 12.7% pay rise for council social workers and other local authority staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland for 2023-24.

UNISON, GMB and Unite today demanded a rise two percentage points above the retail prices index (RPI) measure of inflation, which the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) calculated would be 10.7% in 2023.

The unions said that such an above-inflation increase was “the only way to recruit and retain staff, at a time when local authorities are struggling to sustain the workforce needed to deliver services to the public”.

The workforce pressures on councils were illustrated by a recent Local Government Association survey for authorities in England, which found most were struggling to recruit and retain social workers.

Biggest rise in years but still a pay cut

The claim comes on the back of a £1,925 rise for council staff in 2022-23, agreed in November last year, the biggest increase in cash terms in many years.

This was worth 4% to 6.6% to local authority social workers, a better deal than those accorded to NHS practitioners in England and Wales and Cafcass family court advisers (FCA).

However, it constituted a sharp real-terms pay cut, with inflation having averaged 9.1% in 2022, according to the government’s preferred consumer prices index (CPI) measure, and 11.6% for the unions’ favoured RPI standard.

In unveiling the claim, the unions also referenced the fact that council staff had faced several years of sub-inflationary rises since 2010.

Staff ‘have seen pay plummet’

“Local government workers have seen their wages plummet colossally in real terms in the last dozen years,” said Unite national officer Clare Keogh. “Combined with the cost of living crisis, workers are struggling to survive financially.

“Local government workers need a pay increase that not only matches inflation but also begins to offset years of pay erosion.

UNISON’s head of local government, Mike Short, said that “councils can’t function without staff”.

“Many workers are struggling to make ends meet and unless they’re paid properly, more will quit for better paid work elsewhere,” he added.

Call for additional government funding

“Employers must make a decent pay offer. And the government needs to invest properly in the local government and school workforce to ensure important services are fit for the future.”

Delivering the unions’ claim would likely require a significantly more generous government funding settlement for councils in 2023-24 than is currently planned.

According to think-tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the maximum percentage by which English councils, in general, can raise revenue in 2023-24 is 9.2%, with much of this ring-fenced for social care. Staffing costs make up about 40% of council expenditure.

The unions are also asking employers to consider increasing the minimum wage in local government to £15 an hour over the next two years, from £10.60 currently, a move that would benefit many social care staff.

However, this is likely to prove undeliverable, with employers having regularly reported struggling with the pressures on pay exerted by the national living wage, the UK-wide pay floor due to rise to from £9.50 to £10.42 in April, and to a forecasted maximum of £11.35 in 2024.

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16 Responses to Unions seek 12.7% pay rise for council social workers

  1. Karim February 1, 2023 at 11:21 am #

    Not hard to predict that when it comes to voting on whether we are prepared to strike on this we will vote not to than blame all and sundry for not getting a proper pay settlement.

  2. Carol February 1, 2023 at 5:34 pm #

    Well as usual when Unison look at voting for strike action its everyone, not just ‘social workers’ so that’s why we never go on strike! In most LA’s SW’s are a very small proportion and getting smaller of the workforce!

    • Jadon February 1, 2023 at 9:38 pm #

      Non-social work Unisonbrancheshave been on strike in Northumberland and Stoke last year so this doesn’t hold up. Cleaners, ancillary staff. We choose not to go on strike so unfair to blame non-social worker Unison members.

  3. Sanza February 1, 2023 at 7:17 pm #

    Let’s hit the streets!!

    • Jadon February 1, 2023 at 9:40 pm #

      I can already hear the “can’t strike, what about the service users” excuses so sadly no one will hit the streets. We moan and we blame but we never own and take action.

      • Lindsey February 3, 2023 at 4:18 pm #

        I was really disappointed that the majority didn’t vote to strike this time. People I spoke to said they voted to strike so the result surprised me.

  4. Anon February 1, 2023 at 10:45 pm #

    The Unions can ask for 12.7% all they want but the government are never going to give in. Dont get your hopes up at all. If they gave council workers 12.7% then they would set a precedent for giving all other public sector workers the same and this simply isnt going to happen.

    • LW February 9, 2023 at 11:04 am #

      Fire Fighters just got 12%… 7% back paid and another 5% coming in June … they went on strike!

  5. Jade February 3, 2023 at 8:26 pm #

    For me, personally, striking is not the answer…

    By large the new recruits from university are awful. Education/Training must improve. The disparities in pay between permanent staff and agency needs to balanced out – we should never be dependent on agency staff. And the lack of support services around us as social workers is another problem that is making our jobs untenable

    Let’s not jump up and down about a pay rise being a quick fix. I’d be happier with my current pay, if I worked 37 hours.

  6. Lin Newton February 4, 2023 at 9:36 am #

    First point let’s think about the language being used here as in “asking for” and “give” because this is important. Working rights in this country have been hard won following action by workers demanding better working conditions, pensions and wages. Last year neither Unison nor Unite nationally showed any leadership at the top to promote industrial action in support of an inflation level pay claim. The result was a further pay cut for all. Low paid workers getting the higher % increase are now getting clobbered by higher pension payments. This is being repeated again with this year’s claim so its time to take over and demand our Unions show proper leadership with a determined campaign for a No Vote in the indicative ballot and move to a STRIKE BALLOT. I was out on continuous strike action for four months in 1978/79 and as a social worker did not take that decision lightly. We provided “life and limb” cover which the Tories now call minimum service levels and are using to destroy our rights to strike and indeed our Unions.
    The public are supporting the strikes. We need to strike to protect services for us all through better wages that help with recruitment and retention.
    So what to do? Hold your own workplace union meetings to discuss and get support at grassroots level, contact your local union branch and demand they organise a No Vote rejection of the employers offer. Above all have these conversations everywhere
    Enough is Enough

  7. MaxP February 7, 2023 at 8:46 am #

    Whilst a pay increase would be very welcome; it’s not the issue most social workers identify as the most pressing. Work conditions are far more important. A happy team is a performing team – social work unfortunately has a culture of cliques and favouritism to promotion, and bullying towards those standing in the way. This just promotes a demotivating effect on the majority observing it. High staff turnover and use of agency staff is a sign of this – and higher management need to recognise the team managers in those teams are demonstrating their inability to manage effectively. It’s also a paradox that there are a few long term social workers in teams who managers turn a blind eye to when their behaviour is a problem because they are typically the backbone of the team, however they are very often the problem of staff retention also.
    More money is nice – better work environment is better.

    • Jade February 7, 2023 at 6:52 pm #

      Couldn’t agree more!
      As a Team Manager with a stable team, I’ve recieved bullying from other team managers. And shockingly my own manager told me to lower my standards to not make other managers feel inadequate.
      Most managers get their job on favouritism rather than merit

      • K Khan February 24, 2023 at 7:14 am #

        Yes to favoritism than on merits. Furthermore any position above that are selected by a new AD or Director a leadership team. I have witnessed this time after time. LA will go through the motions of interviews but person selected will be one the Director wish to appoint into his/her leadership team. As consequence the entire team is unfit to run the organization as mostly they are yes people….

  8. Robert Patterson February 8, 2023 at 5:36 pm #

    12%, Lol. In what world! Way more than nurses. I am a social worker and social workers need to wake up and see what they already have in front of them.

  9. Frasierfanclub1 February 10, 2023 at 11:05 pm #

    The nature of our job means that in striking we forgo our pay, but still have to do the work. We also miss out on a significant proportion of our. paid leave because of the preparation beforehand, and the extra work upon our return, usually done during unpaid overtime.

    • Paul Jones February 22, 2023 at 5:13 pm #

      Stop doing unpaid overtime then. This is one of the main causes of the problems with understaffing and heavy workloads; everyone working ‘free hours’ and masking the problem that we actually need more staff and that staff cannot realistically manage their huge caseloads within their contracted hours. Please everyone stop being part of the problem and once you have worked your contracted hours, stop! Or take the time back later on and take the first part of your annual leave as time owed. I see this a lot and all it does it let everyone down. I’m very strict with my hours but it ends up looking like I actually do less work than others because they are working another 10% for free.