Community Care have published a special report into social work vacancy rates in the UK. The report finds that 1 in 10 social work posts in the UK are currently vacant according to information that they have put together following a Freedom of Information request.
There has been a big push towards social work recruitment over the last year, indeed, the article states that
In England, where the government has invested £11m in recruitment campaigns and at least £28m into the reform programme, vacancy rates have risen from 10.9% in 2009 to 11.3%.
I would expect it’s too early to see the benefits of these investments as a lot of the push was towards social work training so it may be interesting to see any changes in the amount of people applying to study social work degrees has changed but it’s still a very high rate.
The breakdown of figures shows that the highest vacancy rates are in the East of England at 15.3%, running slightly ahead of London at 15%. The lowest vacancy rates are in Northern Ireland.
It’s interesting that Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have lower vacancy rates than England. England is less cohesive and there are more variable elements. The GSCC seems to have lost its way somewhat and there is less of a shared identity across the whole of England perhaps.
Social Work according to another article in Community Care, has a different status in Northern Ireland where it seems to be (or at least, that’s my inference from the article) more highly respected and sought after – meaning that universities can be more selective and that vacancies are more likely to be filled by competent applicants.
In Scotland, the example is given that the workforce may not be as mobile and that social workers are more likely to live and work in the same areas.
The problem is, well, one of the problems is that the higher the vacancy levels, the worst the strain is on the current workers and the more likely they are to burn out or leave – leading to the problem existing in a cyclical nature.
There doesn’t, from my brief glance, seem to be a definite trend as to whether the vacancies are in adult services or children services.
For example (using London as it is what I am familiar with)
Waltham Forest has vacancy levels at 47.8% in children services and 16% in adult services whereas Richmond Upon Thames has children vacancy rates at 26.1% and adult at 43.1%.
(come on Richmond, you must be able to do better than that !)
Those are just a few of the examples.
These figures don’t surprise me. We knew as much last year and this is not a situation which is going to solve itself within a year. The changes I, personally, have seen in the year – well, we’ve had people leaving our team whose posts are not going to be recruited to. Reconfigurations have meant that those posts have now ‘officially’ disappeared and therefore wouldn’t show up in any statistics on vacancy levels but they are vacancies because there are fewer people to do the same amount of work.
On a real level, that means quality slips, mistakes are made and increased pressure makes a less healthy and potentially more expensive (sick leave) workforce.
But this isn’t news to anyone. This is common sense.
Going back to the initial article and report there are a few things that worry me and I am speaking from my position as a social worker particularly in adult services.
Tim Loughton has written a piece for Community Care pledging to bring down vacancy rates in Childrens Social Work. He is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families. But – he has also been tasked with overseeing the social work reforms. Of course his priority will be seeing to the childrens’ services. That is where the political capital is to be gained.
Again, Community Care emphasises this explaining
English councils can now access a share of the £23m local social work improvement fund for children’s services promised in March.
Other programmes aimed at children’s services in England include the development of an advanced social work professional status, due to be launched by the Children’s Workforce Development Council next month. Keith Brumfitt, director of strategy at the CWDC described this as “a retention and reform measure to keep experienced people in frontline jobs so they can share their expertise”.
Where is the input regarding Adult Services – where in there any government minister showing an interest or pledging that social work in the adult sectors will be injected with cash or promoted or that our services are actually vitally important.
It shouldn’t need to be a competition but my worry remains that with the money and the focus on vacancies in childrens’ services, adult services which are suffering equally and more silently, will be slowly sucked dry of any expertise.
Community Care teams will be replaced by Support workers who validate self assessment questionnaires as they come in but the underlying principles, training and theoretical base is lost and Mental Health teams slowly replace social workers with ‘mental health practitioners who can come from a wide range of disciplines of which social work is one’.
Social Work has a lot going for it. It is a lot more than administration.
To me, this is the ultimate legacy of the NHS and Community Care Act and the advance of Care Management to the stage that there is no longer any need for a professional background to carry it out as it increasingly becomes more about ticking boxes.
Hope remains in the form of the Reform Board though and possibly developments attached to the establishment of the College of Social Work.
Things can only get better.