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MSP's SOCIAL WORK REVIEW BRIEFING
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MSPs Briefing - Social Work Review Debate

Introduction

On Wednesday 14th January 2004 the Parliament will debate a motion by MSP Brian Adam on the need for the Scottish Executive to initiate a social work review. UNISON Scotland welcomes this timely debate in the Scottish Parliament, particularly given the current problems in recruitment, retention, job status and pay, along with the increasing pressures facing social workers in Scotland.

This briefing covers this issue and related matters that may be raised during the debate.

The need for a Review

We are supportive of the need for a review of social work, and of the general direction of Brian Adam's motion.

However, a McCrone-type review would take around 18 months to complete. We believe that this length of time to be extravagant given the current malaise in Scottish social work. In addition there remains the likelihood that much of the work, and indeed the recommendations of this review, would duplicate work that is already being done. For example, the Executive has recently established a National Workforce Group to look at issues such as recruitment and retention, education and training and workforce developments within Scottish social work. In addition, CoSLA has also recently established their Recruitment and Retention Group to take forward an action plan produced by the organisation in 2003.

We also remain unconvinced that a review along the lines of those proposed, concentrating on pay and conditions, would be able to effectively address all of the important issues that currently contribute to Scotland's "crisis in social work". Instead we believe that a comprehensive and thorough review is required in Scottish Social Work. It must look at a range of issues, including pay, recruitment, training, retention and appropriate resources to enable staff to carry out their job effectively in safe conditions and with a level of job satisfaction. We believe that any review should look beyond qualified social workers (QSW) and consider all sections of the social care workforce, including the impact on the voluntary/independent sector.

Negative Portrayal of Social Work

A significant issue is the negative portrayal of social work in the media and the scapegoating of social work staff when things go wrong. Newspaper editors and politicians are too ready to highlight individual failings instead of recognising the enormous achievements of social care with extremely limited resources. Politicians and the media should recognise that social work staff are employed in difficult circumstances with the most vulnerable people in the community. Politicians and the media would be better served challenging these negative portrayals of the service and do more to promote a positive understanding of the role of social care workers.

Recruitment

Social work recruitment is low across all sectors of the workforce. QSW student intake is down and a shortage of graduates is leading to significant vacancy levels. However the interest in social work and social care posts is high and evidenced by response to adverts.

The general image of the sector and relatively low pay in the public sector in comparison to the general jobs market, contribute to recruitment difficulties. Local recruitment initiatives and market supplements simply seek to attract a limited workforce pool and cause internal market competition. They do not increase the workforce numbers, and deal with the main problem.

Pay

Initiatives on cost-of-living supplements, location allowances and other targeted payments have boosted the earnings of groups such as nurses, police officers and teachers. There have been no similar initiatives for social workers. Despite a serious national shortage (caused partly by fewer entering the profession), there has been no targeting of government money to deal with this problem. Therefore, social workers' earnings have fallen behind those of other groups. UNISON Scotland believes that there is a role for the Scottish Executive on the issue of social workers pay. We believe that the Executive should bring its influence to bear by applying pressure on local authorities to address this issue.

Retention

Retention of existing staff is not merely a question of pay. Neither is it an issue for QSW's alone. Other groups in the social care workforce are finding staff voting with their feet, fed up with their working conditions. Workloads of existing staff have grown and some councils report a failure to allocate cases quickly enough. Staff are becoming stressed and low morale amongst social care staff throughout Scotland has reached endemic levels. In some areas there are particular pressures on child protection teams but similar issues exist across all teams.

Resources

UNISON Scotland also believes that in addition to the issues mentioned above that it is imperative that adequate resources be made available to enable staff to carry out their job effectively, in safe conditions, and in a safe environment. Most people working in social care know that it can be a rewarding and personally satisfying career. However, they require the pay, resources, support and training to allow them to achieve these levels and this requires additional funding from the Scottish Executive.

Other issues

In addition to the issues above UNISON Scotland believes that any review must also address the following issues:

  • The SSSC should clarify the appropriate levels of supervision, support and training that staff working in frontline posts can expect.
  • The need for a training regime that allows care staff a route towards a QSW without needing to leave work for a (unpaid) period.

Conclusion

Whilst UNISON Scotland has a number of reservations concerning the detail of the motion, we are supportive of the overall spirit and direction of the motion. We think a thorough review is required in Scottish Social Work. It must look at a range of issues, including pay, recruitment, training, retention and appropriate resources to enable staff to carry out their job effectively in safe conditions and with a level of job satisfaction. We believe that any review should look beyond qualified social workers (QSW) and consider all sections of the social care workforce, including the impact on the voluntary/independent sector.

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Further Information

Contacts list:

Social Work minisite

Joe Di Paola
j.dipaola@unison.co.uk

Dave Watson
d.watson@unison.co.uk

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572