Social workers need national terms and conditions, including capped caseloads and defined pay scales, to tackle Scotland’s “ever-increasing recruitment crisis”.
That was the message from the Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) as it launched a campaign to tackle practitioner shortages by providing staff with improved – and consistent – terms and conditions across the country.
SASW – the Scottish branch of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) – also called for guaranteed reflective supervision and training, reduced administrative burdens and paid overtime for practitioners.
‘One Deal for Social Work’
The One Deal for Social Work‘s aims were backed by leadership body Social Work Scotland while the Scottish Government did not reject the introduction of national terms and conditions for practitioners.
SASW’s campaign is focused on the majority of social workers who work in Scotland’s 32 councils, of whom there were 6,271 in 2022 compared with a current registered population of 10,997 (source: Scottish Social Services Council).
Though the 2022 figure for council-employed social workers is the highest ever recorded, concerns have been voiced in recent years about both the pressures on practitioners and authorities’ struggles to recruit them.
Social Work Scotland called for indicative caseload limits in 2022 after a report it commissioned, Setting the Bar, found staff were overburdened with administrative tasks and having to work in ways that did not align with their values.
A similar message came through from research with children’s social care practitioners, published last month by the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection (CELCIS).
This found the workforce had “been in crisis for some time with unmanageable workloads and high levels of sickness, absence, turnover and vacancies”.
“Without investment in the workforce, the high-quality relational, strengths-based and trauma-informed practice that children, young people and families value and need cannot be provided,” it added.
The CELCIS report, part of a Scottish Government-commissioned research series, found backing from practitioners for greater parity of pay between services and councils in order to reduce turnover levels.
Significant salary inequalities between areas
Social worker pay rates are set by individual councils, with reference to the pay scales set by the Scottish Joint Council for Local Government Employees. Increases in the latter are negotiated by employers’ body COSLA and unions each year.
In launching its campaign, SASW said this position, coupled with shortages of social workers, led councils to compete with each other on pay, resulting in “several thousand pounds of differences in salaries between similar local authorities”.
The association said this particularly benefited the largest authorities but “served only to move the existing workforce around rather than working to solve the ever-increasing recruitment crisis the profession is experiencing”.
Call for national pay arrangements
To tackle pay disparities, the association called for:
- Pay and conditions for social workers to be set and negotiated independently of those for the generality of council staff, as is the case for the country’s teachers.
- A consistent framework for pay across the country that allowed for increases for rural areas and short-term boosts in areas that were hard to recruit to.
- Recognition and enhancements for additional qualifications and responsibilities.
- Paid overtime if social workers need to do more than their contracted hours.
Cap on caseloads urged
SASW said action was also needed to improve social workers’ working conditions to tackle high rates of burnout, including:
- A national maximum caseload with the expectation that work is equally split between early support, standard and complex cases.
- A reduction in administrative burdens to enable more time for direct work.
- Reflective supervision from a qualified social worker every six weeks as a minimum, distinct from case supervision. provided by a line manager.
- At least five days’ formal training each year.
- Flexible working.
Campaign aiming for ‘sustainable future for social work’
“Social workers need fair pay and the time and conditions to practise their profession as they are trained to, in a safe manner to support and protect people in Scotland, said SASW national director Alison Bavidge.
“Our asks are not a simple answer to the crisis the profession is in, but we believe that without addressing these basic factors, it will be impossible to steer social work into a stable and sustainable future.”
Social Work Scotland backed the campaign’s aims, with a spokesperson saying that its key asks were “critical issues for the profession”, as referenced in its Setting the Bar report.
They said that the leadership body was “keen to work together with partners from across the sector to support these outcomes to be realised”.
Plan for National Social Work Agency
The campaign comes with the Scottish Government developing a National Social Work Agency (NWSA) as part of its planned establishment of a National Care Service for the country.
In response to the SASW campaign, the Scottish Government did not reject the introduction of national terms and conditions.
“We fully recognise the pressures the workforce is under, and whilst national terms and conditions is one of a number of solutions to pursue which may address the current variance, it is important to note that the social work workforce is primarily employed by local authorities – therefore terms and conditions is a matter for employers to pursue,” said a spokesperson.
Agency ‘will tackle workforce challenges’
“The National Social Work Agency is a key part of our proposed National Care Service and will help to champion social work and make sure the voices of social workers are heard.
“The NSWA is to be established to provide national leadership and oversee social work education, improvement, workforce planning, training and development and address workforce pressures.
“It is a unique opportunity to unify the workforce, and work with key partners and employers to find solutions to current workforce challenges around recruitment and retention.”
Council leaders ‘committed to improving social work’
In response to the the SASW campaign, a COSLA spokesperson said: “Local government is a great place to work, where the workforce, who deliver hundreds of essential services every day, are hugely valued.
“Along with Scottish Government and partners, COSLA leaders have committed looking at further improvement across our services including social work and social care “