Record vacancies and higher caseloads as social work posts remain unfilled
The government’s latest social workforce survey shows higher caseloads, record vacancies and a fall in the numbers of social workers in permanent posts in England.
The figures, published last week, show that the number of children and family social workers in post has dropped by 2.7% from the same point (30 September) in 2021. It is the first time the workforce has shown a decrease since the annual survey began, in 2017.
More social workers are leaving children’s services in England, than are coming in to replace them. In the past year, 5,400 so-called whole-time equivalent (WTE) social workers left their jobs – an increase of 9% on previous year. This too was the highest figure recorded since 2017.
One third of LAs in the country responded to the survey, and most said that recruitment and retention were their major concerns. This latest report shows that at 30 September 2022, 31,600 full-time equivalent (FTE) social workers were in post – a decrease of 900 compared to 2021.
The level of vacancies had also increased to a higher level than before: 67.900 FTE posts are vacant, up 21 % from last year.
Caseloads have increased – up from 16.3 in 2021 to 16.6 in 2022. Sickness absence has also reached a new high; at 3.5 %, this is an increase of 0.4% over the past year.
The British Association of Social Workers said, ‘Sadly, these figures are not a surprise. We know social workers are dedicated to supporting children and families but over the past five years we have been warning Government that their working conditions have been deteriorating year after year. Time and time again the reasons our members have given have remained consistent: unmanageable caseloads, not enough staff support, and a lack of resources to truly help families, especially in early preventive services.’
BASW added that the current situation was pay was another contributory factor, and quoted recent research by the right-wing policy and research company Public First, which showed that since 2010, social workers experienced the worst pay growth in the public sector, which had overall fallen a long way behind those working for private companies.
‘Without urgent action we are risking highly motivated and experienced social workers leaving the profession, as well as risking the loss of newly qualified social workers early in their careers as they are not being supported enough to stay in the sector,’ BASW said.
‘What compounds our concerns is that the funding allocated in the Government’s recent response to the independent review in children’s social care (IRCSC), was a mere £200m, compared to the £2bn the review insisted was needed. Without sustained, long-term funding we fear these workforce figures will worsen, with the impact being felt most by vulnerable families.’
Steve Crocker, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services was equally damning. ‘The latest social work workforce statistics are deeply worrying but equally unsurprising given the pressures all local authorities are facing each and every day, not just in social work but across other areas such as residential care and early years settings.
‘We now face a perfect storm of fewer social workers, a rapid rise in vacancies and consequently caseloads increasing. That said, these national figures will likely mask some significant variation across the country, particularly regarding caseload sizes. At the same time we have been seeing more social workers turn to agency work than ever before whilst the associated costs are spiralling. ADCS has long raised concerns about the significant recruitment and retention pressures in the system but this is now very clearly a crisis.
‘The children and families who we support rely on a stable workforce with a consistency of worker who knows their story and can meet their needs. ADCS research shows that more children are coming into contact with children’s services, we must have a sufficient, permanent workforce that can meet this rise in demand.’
However the survey also showed a significant increase in the numbers of agency staff: 6,800 FTE social workers in children’s services were employed by agencies, an increase of 13%. BASW said that this was especially worrying given the DfE’s plans to cut the costs and use of agency social work. ‘This will have the potential unintended consequence of depleting this already diminished workforce further…Whilst many welcome some of the proposals, they should not be implemented without addressing the reasons why people choose locum work over permanent positions, which are varied and complex and not simply related to rates of pay.’
Children’s Social Work Workforce: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/children-s-social-work-workforce/2022
£38,223 to £40,221
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