Earlier this month, 60 adults’ social workers and occupational therapists (OTs) from South Gloucestershire Council went on strike over recruitment and retention payments received by children’s colleagues.
The payments comprise a £3,000 lump sum for recruits who have already passed their assessed and supported year in employment (ASYE), on successful completion of their probation, and an equivalent annual payment for those with two years’ service with the council.
In response, UNISON said that the payments should have also been offered to adults’ practitioners and OTs, as the driving factors behind them – recruitment and retention pressures – applied equally to both services.
Social work councils’ biggest workforce headache
The two services appear to be posing councils their biggest workforce headaches, but with children’s social work the more painful, according to a Local Government Association survey carried out last spring.
This found that 71% of councils found it difficult to recruit adults’ practitioners, compared to 83% for children’s. However, only 25% used market supplements to attract adults’ staff, as against 48% for children’s services.
Market supplements and bonuses have long been a handy strategy for businesses to fill hard-to-recruit or retain roles. But are they a good fit for social work?
A Community Care poll, which amassed 443 responses, showed strong support for this approach: almost two-thirds of respondents (64%) said market supplements could “effectively tackle workforce shortages”, while 22% argued that they created “unwarranted inequalities in pay”.
The rest (14%) said they were sometimes justifiable measure – but only within strict limits.
However, comments under our article on the South Gloucestershire strikes painted a more divided picture on the merits of market supplements, with some readers expressing concern about the practice of paying them to children’s social workers, but not adults’ colleagues.
“Watching social worker after social worker leave the team because of the real-terms pay cut that we are living with is so soul destroying, particularly when the complexity and volume of workloads and the technical bureaucracy involved in the job just keep growing,” one social worker working in adults’ services said.
“To then have children’s teams being awarded large cash lump sums to stop their staff leaving is just a level of disrespect too far.”
However, George, a practitioner from South Gloucestershire, felt differently, calling the retention bonus “justified”.
Children’s services pressures are ‘ridiculous’
“Perhaps the reason recruitment and retention figures between adults and children’s services in South Gloucestershire are close is due to these payments,” they said. “Never worked in children’s services myself, however, it looks to be a very challenging area of practice. That said, I respect the right of colleagues to strike for better pay and conditions.”
Amy, who previously worked as both a children’s practitioner and in an adults’ hospital discharge team, shared a similar view, calling the pressure in children’s services “just ridiculous”.
However, a social worker who used to work in children’s services argued that improving working conditions, and not paying market supplements, was the key to retention.
“The retention pay isn’t enough of an incentive to keep children’s social workers. I was awarded the retention pay but, after nearly eight years of working evenings, weekends and my annual leave, I had had enough and wanted a work-life balance,” they said.
“I now work in adults’ services. I don’t work weekends or my annual leave anymore and I can switch off from my work.”
My wellbeing is much improved and I wouldn’t go back to child protection if I was paid a £30,000 bonus with the current working conditions.”
Another reader urged fellow practitioners to focus on “the bigger picture” of uniting in support of the profession.
“I do not think it is helpful to have infighting between adults’ and children’s social workers,” said Amie.
“There is a bigger picture here – it is not just about the money. It is time that we stood up and made our stance, otherwise, things will only get worse.”
Do you think bonuses could help ease the current retention and recruitment issues in adults’ and children’s services? Tell us in the comments below!