A proposed pay deal for NHS social workers in England will go through after unions representing the majority of members gave it their backing.
The government will now implement the deal, which amounts to a 5% rise in pay for this year, backdated to April 2023, in addition to two one-off payments for 2022-23.
UNISON, the biggest NHS union and one which supported the deal, urged the government to ensure the money was paid into practitioners’ June salaries. The Department of Health and Social Care said it planned to pay the money this summer.
What is the deal?
Staff on NHS Agenda for Change contracts, including approximately 3,300 social workers in adults’ services in England, had originally been given an increase of at least 4% in 2022-23, with newly qualified practitioners getting 5.5% (£1,400), for 2022-23. This was well below the rate of inflation, which was 10.1% in the year to March 2023, meaning pay has fallen in real terms for all staff, one of the causes of unions’ dispute.
The deal will:
- Give all staff an additional one-off 2% rise for 2022-23. For a social worker in the middle of band 6, currently earning £35,572, this means a payment of £711.
- Provide them with a further one-off payment, worth at least £1,250, with the precise level determined by experience and pay band.
- Increase pay for Agenda for Change staff by 5% in 2023-24. For a social worker in the middle of band 6, this will take their pay from £35,572 to £37,351.
The settlement follows a protracted dispute that has involved several strikes by nurses and ambulance workers. However, the deal does not carry the support of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which represents most nurses, and Unite, whose members include ambulance staff, still being in dispute with the government.
Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said he hoped their members would “recognise this as a fair outcome that carries the support of their colleagues and decide it is time to bring industrial action to an end”.
Despite the union backing the deal, UNISON head of health Sara Gorton criticised the government’s handling of the dispute.
“Proper pay talks last autumn could have stopped health workers missing out on money they could ill afford to lose,” she said. “The NHS and patients would also have been spared months of disruption.
“This pay deal must be the start of something new in the NHS. There cannot be a repeat of the past few months. Everyone who cares about the NHS deserves better.”
Deal on cards in Wales
Despite the Agenda for Change 2022-23 pay deal that sparked the dispute covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, this deal only applies in England.
However, a settlement may also be on the cards in Wales, where a majority of unions are recommending their members accept a revised settlement for NHS staff, including social workers, from ministers.
This involves an additional 3% backdated rise for 2022-23, above the £1,400 increase already provided, with half of the 3% being consolidated into staff salaries.
As in England, staff would receive a 5% rise in 2023-24 should union members back the deal in consultative ballots that are currently taking place.
No improved offer for Northern Ireland social workers
The news is less positive in Northern Ireland, where most statutory social workers are employed by NHS health and care trusts. Not only has there not been an improved pay offer for staff, but its health budget will be flat from 2022-23 to 2023-24, in cash terms.
Its Department of Health said last week that “therefore makes no allowance for the increasing costs of running services and the rising demand for care across the population”.
“Consequently, 2023-24 will inevitably involve significant financial pressures across health and social care, with a material impact on service provision.”