way forward for Scotland's Social Work
August 2004: UNISON is the union for social work
and social care workers, representing the majority of the
social care workforce in local authorities and the voluntary
sector. This leaflet has been produced by UNISON's Social
Work Issues Group which is made up of members working in
It is UNISON members who care daily for the vulnerable
in our communities; the elderly, the disabled, children
and young adults, people with mental health difficulties
and people with drug and alcohol problems. We also achieve
amazing results by empowering many of these people to change
their lives for the better.
However. we are also on the receiving end of verbal and
physical abuse more than most other workers. It is we who
struggle with a lack of resources and shortages of staff
to deliver quality services. We are often on low wages and
some of us need to work extra hours to make ends meet and
keep services running.
It is also us, UNISON members in social care, who are blamed
and criticised when things go wrong. When a vulnerable child,
a disabled or older person is harmed, too many people in
politics and the press use us as the scapegoat. And, yet,
these people are never there to praise us when things go
Our union, UNISON, campaigns for an end to the crisis in
social work and for a better future for social care workers,
the services we deliver and the people we support.
The crisis in social work
UNISON has pointed out that the crisis in social work in
Scotland is far wider than the shortage of qualified social
Non-qualified social workers and social work assistants
working in Community Care and Children and Family teams
are increasingly used to cover the gaps created by the shortage
of QSWs. This has meant them taking on more complex cases
with no consequent increase in training or pay.
Many residential services are so inadequately staffed,
that they are dependent upon extensive overtime working
to maintain staff : resident ratios. There are high levels
of absence as a result of stress and violence. Morale is
low and resources stretched. In residential, day services
and home care low wages create a difficulty in retaining
The question of pay - to care or to stack shelves?
No one joined social work to earn big money. Throughout
the workforce low pay is a fact. This is the case in local
authorities, the voluntary and the private sector.
Social workers have watched as other professionals with
similar training backgrounds like teachers and nurses have
received consistently higher pay awards and can earn more
money. Social care workers in residential and day care services
regularly work constant overtime, sometimes to cover for
unfilled vacancies, in order to earn a decent living.
Home helps, providing high level personal care, working
shifts and weekends, earn wages that are often less than
what is on offer in their local supermarket.
There is no question that social care work is undervalued
in our society and by our employers.
UNISON has launched a pay claim for a £6 an hour minimum
wage and a thousand pound flat rate rise for all staff in
local authorities from April 1 2004 with a 5% pay rise the
UNISON has agreed a method of job evaluation that, when
implemented, will address the issue of equal pay for work
of equal value within local authorities. The employers however,
have delayed the introduction of this scheme. UNISON will
fight to introduce this as soon as possible.
The response to the crisis
The Scottish Executive has established a National Task
Force to look at a range of issues across social work. They
have also sponsored the Association of Directors of Social
Work's (ADSW) Supporting Frontline Workers initiative. UNISON
welcomes these initiatives and will participate fully in
However, at the same time social work continues to come
under threat from the Government. Proposals to remove Criminal
Justice Social Work services from councils to form a single
agency with the Scottish Prison Service will have a serious
impact on social work. Comments by Ministers that child
protection needs to be sorted out "or else", only damages
morale in the workforce.
Politicians and the media must recognise at the highest
level the fact that we work with risk and give the corporate
support and resources to do so.
There should be a consistent approach to inquiries, with
a standing system that covers social work, health and police
issues as well as resources. Inquiries should focus on lessons
to be learned rather than a blame-based approach. Local
authorities should also have defined investigation procedures.
The pay of social care staff is outwith the remit of the
National Task Force. The responsibility for pay rests with
the employers - COSLA, the 32 local authorities and the
Attempts by the employers to compete with each other for
QSWs through 'golden hellos' and 'handcuffs' whilst at the
same time holding down the wages of the lowest paid staff
will not resolve the recruitment and retention problems.
Often where councils have increased pay, the money has come
out of other existing services. Additional funding must
be secured to pay all social care staff a wage that reflects
the true value of their work.This is a national crisis and
the Scottish Executive should be providing funds to address
The crisis for social workers
The shortage of qualified social workers has led to a crisis
in child protection, unsustainable case loads and demoralised
staff. Many experienced social workers have decided to leave
the frontline leaving the high levels of stress for slightly
better resourced areas.
The response from individual local authority employers
has been to offer inducements to students to take jobs in
their area (Golden Hellos), one-off payments to existing
staff to stay in post for 3 years (Golden Handcuffs) or,
in some cases, improving the grade of social workers. This
means councils competing with each other for the scarce
resource that social workers are.
There is also increasing use of non-qualified staff to
do jobs previously done by QSWs. UNISON will continue to
argue against this and for systems that ensure that only
properly trained staff undertake complex work such as work
with children, vulnerable adults and older people.
The Scottish Executive has introduced the "fast-track"
scheme to enable graduates to train as social workers in
under 2 years. They have launched publicity campaigns to
attract young people. Unfortunately, while welcome, these
will not address the current shortfall of hundreds of vacancies,
never mind the anticipated departure of hundreds of social
workers who are due to retire in the next 10 years.
We argue for an increase in the numbers of people being
trained and for a scheme to allow more of the current unqualified
staff to be "fast-tracked" to become qualified without needing
to leave their job. Thousands of staff with years of experience,
many with SVQs, HNCs or other qualifications should be given
the support to become qualified social workers.We need work-based
routes to learning, training and qualifications, including
routes leading to QSW. These must be available to the whole
Violence - we don't have to take it
Many of our members face the threat of violence daily.
Members have been punched, kicked, spat on, had their hair
pulled, been threatened with knives, and bitten. Working
in residential, day care, as a lone worker visiting service
users' homes or sitting at a reception in a busy office
can all be dangerous.
For too long employers have tolerated gross underreporting
of the abuse. They must face up to their responsibilities.
UNISON members are not prepared to accept this as just
a part of the job. We demand that proper risk assessments
are undertaken, additional and more appropriate resources
are made available and training is increased.
The Scottish Executive's proposed legislation on the protection
of emergency workers does nothing to assist social care
workers. UNISON argues that the scope of the legislation
should be extended to include all public service workers.
UNISON has produced a number of guides on health and safety
at work, including:- Handling Stress; Workplace Violence;
A guide to Risk Assessment etc. These are available from
local UNISON branches and from the address below.
Registration of the workforce
UNISON welcomes moves towards regulating and registering
the social care workforce. This will enhance the quality
of the services we provide and raise the value of our skills.
The Scottish Executive proposes to register the title of
'Social Worker', making it illegal for anyone not so registered
to describe themselves as one. This should mean more than
just a qualification, and should also define the specific
tasks that should only be carried out by properly qualified
and registered social workers.
For large sections of the workforce, to register will require
enormous investment in training to achieve the necessary
qualifications. Many of our members have had little opportunity
to study or train since they began working in social care.
For some the task of achieving an SVQ and HNC is quite daunting.
That is why UNISON launched the Return-to Learn (R2L) courses.
These are designed to introduce members to learning, developing
skills and building confidence.
Employers need to put in place the necessary resources,
including replacement costs, to allow staff to study and
achieve the required qualifications. UNISON has made contributions
to this and we will continue to press the employers - in
line with their responsibilities outlined in the Scottish
Social Services Council's code of Practice for Employers
- and the Executive to ensure that all staff are able to
Registration of the workforce is not the same as the professional
registration of nurses, teachers and occupational therapists.
All staff in social care will require to be registered in
order to work in the sector. This is why UNISON has argued
that the employer should pay the annual registration fee
and 3-yearly disclosure fee. We will continue to press both
CoSLA and local councils on this issue.
The threat to Criminal Justice Social Work
The Scottish Executive has launched a consultation on the
future of Criminal Justice services including Social Work
services in this field. They have talked of a "single agency"
and a "single approach" to tackle the problem of re-offending.
UNISON welcomes an examination of the issues surrounding
re-offending and the development of community based alternatives
to prison. In fact UNISON members in this field are involved
in some of the best initiatives to address these issues.These
include intensive work with offenders with alcohol and drug
problems, diversionary youth work and programmes working
to address offending behaviour.
We argue that additional resources should be directed at
providing suitable alternative options for the courts. Criminal
Justice social workers alongside other professionals would
then be able to use their skills working with offenders
to address their offending behaviour.
But we are clear that the removal of Criminal Justice Social
Work from local authorities to place them in a "single agency",
a quango with the Scottish Prison Service, would do nothing
to address these issues. It is likely to diminish the ability
of social work to make a contribution to the issue. Individual
social workers are likely to opt to stay in local authorities,
further undermining the aim of addressing re-offending.
Please see UNISON's response to the Justice 1 Committee
on these proposals for more. www.unison-scotland.org.uk/response/rehabevid.html
Continuing the pressure
UNISON Scotland will continue to press the Scottish Executive
and the employers to take appropriate action on the issues
in Social Work. This will require additional resources,
support and training for staff. Pay will need to be improved
across the sector.
The Social Work Issues Group would welcome any comments
from members on any of the issues above.
Please send them to the address below.
For further Information, or to join the union that fights
for Scotland's Social Work service and those who deliver
them please contact Joe Di Paola, Scottish Organiser (Local
Government), UNISON, 60 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3UQ.
Tel 0845 355 0845.
Keep up to date with the campaign, and with UNISON's briefings,
press releases and comments on government proposals by checking
the UNISONScotland website.