Social work drive gets £2m boost

18 Oct 01
Health Secretary Alan Milburn announced a £2m recruitment package for social workers at the National Social Services Conference in Harrogate on October 17 19.

19 October 2001

The funding, to be spread over three years, is designed to improve the profession's battered image and encourage job-seekers to choose social work as a career. There has been a 50% drop in the number of social work students in recent years.

According to a new survey – Care to stay – launched at the conference, many social workers feel undervalued and underpaid for the work they do. Increased stress, caused by higher caseloads, budget restrictions and 'initiative-overload', is a major complaint.

The survey, conducted by the Employers' Organisation, the Local Government Association and other bodies, confirms earlier findings from the LGA and the Association of Directors of Social Services on the sector's recruitment and retention problems.

Nearly two-thirds of social services departments have considerable difficulty recruiting social workers. Almost half cannot find enough home care staff.

Employers' Organisation consultant Belinda Adams told Public Finance that Care to stay tries to focus attention on a neglected sector. 'Social work recruitment has had a much lower profile than, say, the police, nurses or teachers, Yet they're often fishing from the same pool of people,' she said.

Vic Citarella, workforce adviser to the LGA, welcomed the Department of Health's recruitment initiative, but stressed that pay and conditions need addressing too. 'We need to look at the whole 1 million-strong social care workforce, and not just in local government,' he said. 'Local authorities need to develop their approach to commissioning and contracting to ensure that private sector providers improve staff training and conditions.'

According to the report, there is plenty of scope to do this. Good practice, culled from 15 social services departments and more than 150 interviewees, included improved recruitment techniques; counselling and better communication; imaginative training techniques, and more strategic human resource management.

On top of the £41m for social work training announced last year, this year's extra funding is 'part of a three-year drive to increase recruitment in all areas of social care, and change public perceptions of social work,' a DoH spokesman said.


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