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More than 8 in 10 councils struggling to recruit social workers

More than 8 in 10 councils are having difficulties recruiting children’s social workers, while 7 in 10 are struggling to recruit adult social care workers.

30/01/23

More than 8 in 10 councils struggling to recruit social workers

Councils have warned that workforce shortages are adding to the challenges faced by local services.

Social work and social care are said to be particular areas of concern as services are projected to continue to see a significant increase in demand over the coming years.

More than 8 in 10 councils are having difficulties recruiting children’s social workers and almost three quarters (72 per cent) are having problems retaining them – councils are increasingly having to turn to agency staff to plug gaps which is more costly and leave less for children's services overall.

When it comes to adult social care, 57 per cent of councils are struggling to retain and 71 per cent struggling to recruit adult social care workers – national adult social care organisations, including the LGA, have called for government to deliver a long-term care workforce strategy and tackle the issue of care worker pay.

England's children’s social work vacancy rate rose to 16.7 per cent in 2021, amounting to 6,500 empty posts and the highest rate since 2017. Meanwhile in adult social services, Skills for Care reported that, in September 2021 the vacancy rate in local authority was 7.1 per cent.

Councils say they are trying to tackle recruitment and retention issues, such as by offering more flexible working, running targeted recruitment campaigns locally and offering accessible training and development opportunities.

However, the Local Government Association (LGA) said the local government workforce has a diverse range of skills, professions and occupations and the workforce challenges each face are equally complex.

The LGA said one clear barrier is funding pressures faced by local government. It can be difficult for councils to make long term plans for staffing and development when they continually have single year funding settlements. It is therefore crucial that councils have long term funding settlements so that local services have a long-term, sustainable future and can confidently make plans to develop or recruit the workforce they need.

“Local workforce shortages are adding to the challenges facing our local services,” Cllr James Jamieson, LGA Chairman, said. “In the coming years, some services are likely to continue to see a significant increase in demand which they will not be able to meet without an increase in the supply of skilled staff. Government investment in local government and its workforce is key to ensure services are protected and also to delivering its own policy agenda.”

There are nearly 1.4 million people who work in around 800 different occupations in local government. Between 2009 and 2022 the English local government staff headcount fell from 2,254,700 to 1,346,400 (full-time equivalent (FTE) totals for the same periods falling from 1,584,200 to 1,022,000).

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