Wales Needs 2,000 Extra Social Workers

{mosimage} Social work starting salaries have risen by more than 6% in Wales since a hard-hitting report warned of the profession’s massive recruitment and retention crisis a year ago. The report’s author last night hailed the figures – up from £20,970 to £22,293 – as a positive response to the dire warnings contained in last year’s research. But delegates at a conference in Llandrindod Wells will hear that much more needs to be done to solve a shortage of more than 2,000 workers across the nation.

Tony Garthwaite, the author of Social Work in Wales: A Profession to Value, said, “There is clear evidence that our report has been taken seriously throughout Wales. We recommended immediate and long term action for tackling some very complex and difficult issues and we are now seeing the first signs of that strategy beginning to work.

“That said, everyone must recognise that vacancies are still too high and there is still too much movement of social workers between jobs. Much more needs to be done if we are to crack this problem but we can now reassure service users and staff alike that we are on the way to doing so.”

Among the main recommendations of the original report were that:

  • Starting salaries should be a minimum of £23,265;

  • The practice of Welsh councils luring workers from neighbouring authorities with short-term incentives should be stopped;

  • More measures are needed to tackle a general vacancy rate running at 14.8% and peaking at 18.6% in children’s services.

Of particular concern has been what has become known as “revolving door syndrome”, whereby local authorities become increasingly cut-throat in trying to lure a dwindling pool of social workers.

Another problem has been the reliance on agency staff, estimated to be costing council tax payers more than £6m a year.

Mr Garthwaite warned such issues were leading to debilitating workloads and increased sick rates for staff, and a lack of continuity and protection for some of the nation’s most vulnerable children and adults.

However, over the past 12 months about a third of Welsh local authorities have improved their pay and conditions, and the general vacancy rate was down to 12.6%, while children’s services vacancies had fallen to 15.1%.

Mr Garthwaite, lead director on workforce issues for the Association of Directors of Social Services, applauded the example of some local authorities. In one case this had resulted in the creation of a cross-authority recruitment agency for social workers.

But trade unions and bodies representing social workers in Wales said there was still a long way to go to address the profession’s problems.

Paul Elliott, Unison Wales’ head of local government, said, “We’re pleased that a number of authorities have adopted the report’s recommendations, but for the report to be effective we need an all-Wales solution and need the other authorities to also adopt the recommendations.”

Penny Lloyd, professional officer with the British Association of Social Workers in Wales, said, “I agree that there have been some positive changes but I think it would be fair to say that there are many social workers in many local authorities in Wales who are very disappointed at the slow pace of change.

“We think key stakeholders like the Welsh Assembly Government and other partners need to actively engage with social workers in partnership or change will never happen.

“They need to recognise more the contribution we make to society and think more about rewarding us for doing a very complex and difficult job with improved pay and conditions.”