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CRITICAL ISSUE: Council struggling to recruit social workers

CRITICAL ISSUE: Council struggling to recruit social workers

Middlesbrough Council is struggling to recruit enough social workers for adult care

An inability to recruit social workers for adult care is becoming a critical issue for Middlesbrough Council, according to the head of the department.

Erik Scollay, the director of Middlesbrough’s adult social care services, said that a neighbouring local authority pays around £3,000 more per year to social workers at the start of their career which is contributing to a recruitment issue.

Currently, the starting salary for a social worker in Middlesbrough is £27,041.

Mr Scollay added that the local authority was exploring potential solutions to the pay gap, as it is struggling to recruit social workers, including those who are on their assessed and supported year of employment (ASYE).

Social workers should receive extra support during their AYSE, as the aim of the year is for them to develop their skills, knowledge, and professional confidence.

Speaking at the Adult Social Care and Services Scrutiny Panel, Mr Scollay added: “To be perfectly honest, in recent months, we can’t even recruit ASYEs, we have gone out to recruit social workers and we are getting next to no applicants, or no applicants and that has become a critical issue for us.

“One of our neighbouring authorities does start social workers on a salary that is £3,000 or thereabouts higher than we do. In that particular instance, at about mid seniority in their careers, the salary scales do even up.

“But if you are a, hypothetically, 22-year-old graduate starting on your career in social work and someone is going to start you off £3,000 further up the salary scale you are going to go with that, so that’s become a real issue for us.

“I think we are exploring a number of things, there is no silver bullet to this. I would love to be able to arbitrarily raise the salaries of everyone in adult social care but that’s an unrealistic thing to do I think.”

He also said that, after a long period of stability, a substantial number of social workers were reaching retirement age which has caused a lot of turnover.

Denise Monks, a professional officer and registered social worker at the British Association of Social Workers, said that this was a country-wide issue and not unique to Middlesbrough.

Talking about the situation nationally, Ms Monks added: “Social workers are working in an environment where they are dealing with crisis and dealing with communities that have been impacted by more than 10 years of austerity.

“At times, it very much feels, that social work, in general, has been seen as the poor relative alongside the NHS.

“That takes its toll as it feels like an area that is not invested in and the government frequently doesn’t think to acknowledge or recognise the need for social care to be held with the same level as health. The whole system doesn’t function if one part isn’t functioning.”

In 2018, 60% of social workers were looking to leave their current job within the next 15 months, while 40% wanted to leave the profession early, according to research conducted by BASW.

Therefore, people wanting to leave the profession is not a new issue, but Ms Monks said that Covid had played its part in making it more difficult to retain social workers.

She said that working from home, which has benefited some people, had posed further challenges for other social workers, especially around accessing support after having difficult conversations with families.

Furthermore, attempting to conduct assessments virtually provided extreme difficulties for staff during the pandemic.

Ms Monks also added that local authorities only have access to a finite amount of qualified social workers, and in some instances, this can lead to competition.

She added: “There is a lot of competition at the moment so local authorities are pulling on a very small pool of staff, which we are seeing across the NHS as well it isn’t just social care.

“At times, local authorities are almost in direct competition with their neighbouring authorities to try and recruit agency staff, so it’s a really difficult landscape at the moment.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are working to ensure we have the right number of health and social care staff with the skills to deliver high-quality care to meet increasing demands.

“Care homes and home care providers will benefit from a new £162.5 million workforce retention and recruitment fund to bolster the dedicated care workforce.

“We also recently launched our ‘Made with Care’ recruitment campaign to encourage people into a career in care.

“This follows the announcement of £5.4 billion of additional funding to reform social care over the next three years, including £500 million to support training and career development for the workforce.”

 

Words: Emily Craigie, Local Democracy Reporter


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