14% pay rise for Cafcass social workers sought by unions

    Claim designed to help family court practitioners recover ground lost to inflation and local authority social workers, but unions face uphill struggle to secure it given government pay restrictions

    Man holding up a sign which reads 'salary increase'
    Photo: gustavofrazao/Adobe Stock

    Unions want a 14.4% pay rise for Cafcass staff this year to help family court social workers recover ground lost to inflation and local authority colleagues.

    However, they face an uphill struggle in securing this, with ministers having set a ceiling on average pay rises for government departments of 4.5%, plus an additional 0.5% targeted at the lowest paid, a restriction covering Cafcass staff.

    The scale of Napo and UNISON’s pay claim for 2023-24 was confirmed today after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released inflation figures for the year to April.

    Salary cut image

    Photo: Andrii Yalanskyi/Adobe Stock

    These showed that prices rose by 11.4% over this time, according to the retail prices index (RPI) measure of inflation.

    The unions are claiming a rise of three percentage points above this for family court advisers (FCAs) and other Cafcass staff.

    They quoted ONS figures indicating that RPI inflation had outstripped pay rises at Cafcass in 13 of the past 14 years, in their submission to Cafcass.

    Though the government uses the generally lower consumer prices index (CPI) inflation measure, wage rises at Cafcass have also lagged behind CPI over most of this time.

    Cafcass pay rises lagging behind councils’

    In addition, most social workers in England – those covered by the National Joint Council for Local Government Services agreement – have seen their pay rise more quickly than Cafcass practitioners in each of the past five years.

    Photo: hvostik16/fotolia

    Workforce pressures at the family courts body have increased along with these trends, with its annual turnover rate for social workers rising from 9% in 2020-21 to 15% in 2022-23.

    Though this remains short of the equivalent rate for council children’s social workers – 17% in the year to September 2022 – the gap between the rates has closed markedly since 2020.

    Salaries at Cafcass ‘uncompetitive’

    In their pay submission, the unions told Cafcass: “The derisory pay offers and the uncompetitive pay in Cafcass not only has an impact on the morale, household finances and wellbeing of our members, but it also has an impact upon the recruitment and retention of experienced and highly trained social workers who are needed to undertake this complex and demanding work.

    They added: “Urgent action is needed to stop and indeed reverse these attrition rates as, in our view, they risk the stability and sustainability of the organisation and the work that it does.”

    Cafcass’s chief executive, Jacky Tiotto, warned in January 2022 that its social worker salaries were becoming uncompetitive relative to local authorities’.

    At the time, FCA pay was relatively similar to that of council advanced practitioners. However, FCAs have since lost ground, with Cafcass staff awarded a 2.51% rise, and most councils given £1,925 – worth about 4.5%-5% to advanced practitioners – in 2022-23.

    Call for civil service-style benefits

    Image of the word 'bonus' on top of stacked coins

    Credit: Engdao / Adobe Stock

    The unions told Cafcass that this issue was being exacerbated by councils being able to offer market supplements – which about half are doing in children’s services. Cafcass cannot do this because it is bound by civil service pay rules, said Napo and UNISON.

    Alongside their 14.4% pay claim, the unions also called for annual retention payments and for Cafcass to either be removed from the civil service pay remit or for its staff to enjoy civil servant benefits currently denied them.

    For example, those in the civil service pension system receive an employer contribution of 27.1% to 27.9%, compared with the 19.4% received by Cafcass staff as members of the Local Government Pension Scheme.

    Because it is bound by civil service pay rules, any offer Cafcass makes to staff must be within a pay remit set by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which itself will be bound by the government’s overarching pay policy. 

    Under this, departments like the MoJ may only increase their average pay bill by 4.5% in 2023-24, plus an additional 0.5% targeted at the lowest paid. This limit includes money to fund pay progression and promotions, as well as annual salary rises.

    Cafcass building ‘business case’ for pay award

    At its board meeting last month, Cafcass said it was working on a business case to put to the MoJ for this year’s pay remit.

    Though unions submitted their pay claim last month, Napo general secretary Ian Lawrence told Community Care last week that negotiations with Cafcass were yet to start.

    He said the fact that Cafcass could not sign off on a deal without the MoJ’s pay remit should not prevent talks from getting going.

    “The unions are awaiting a programme for negotiations and we hope these will get underway soon,” he added.

    Cafcass said it was unable to comment on the unions’ claim at this point in time.

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    3 Responses to 14% pay rise for Cafcass social workers sought by unions

    1. Donna Ward May 26, 2023 at 9:07 am #

      Independent social workers pay is supposedly pegged to CAFCASS rates but these have not increased since 2011. Can community care confirm if the LAA have raised rates in line with the pay increases that have happened over the last 10 years – we are not union represented so have no Voice

    2. Carol May 26, 2023 at 1:52 pm #

      This is why Cafcass workers have to look elsewhere to supplement their income. Gone are the days when naive workers work extra hours for free to take TOIL whuch they can nwvwr take. That doesn’t help anyone. It just continues the myth that Cafcass can survive when wages are not competitive. Cafcass has for too long relied on exploiting staff goodwill to work extra hours for no pay. This is how the agency has survived for so long. This claim to being salary up to what it should be is long overdue. Well done unions. Keep going with the good work. If we need to strike so we should and maybe family courts families and the government may pay attention and appreciate the work Cafcass does day in day out…

    3. Andy May 26, 2023 at 2:40 pm #

      It’s time for us all to rise up and say enough is enough! Social workers, everywhere, deserve a decent pay rise. If it’s good enough for our NHS colleagues, then it’s good enough for us.

      A good start would be giving us all the same annual leave as they get in the NHS, along with all the other perks.