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Pay freeze raises doubts over career structure plans

Serious concerns have been raised about plans to strengthen social work following the announcement of draconian cuts to the public sector in the budget earlier this week.

Fears are being expressed by social services leaders that the Social Work Task Force proposal to establish a career structure and improve pay grades for social workers is particularly at risk.

Local government faces a 25% cut in its budget by 2015, a two-year pay freeze for staff earning more than £21,000, and a ban on raising more money through council tax.  BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson said the pay freeze will “massively undermine” attempts to attract and retain social workers to severely understaffed child protection teams.

Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University, said the public sector was being asked to pay for the “profligacy” of the banks.  Teachers and health workers had at least received better pay and conditions under the last government, but the task force’s pledge to improve the pay of senior social work practitioners must now be in doubt, he said.

“It’s going to be very difficult for employers to extend pay scales for social workers after this budget,” said Professor Jones.  “That would involve additional costs, not cuts.  The recruitment and retention difficulties in social work are not going to be made any easier and steps to change things for the better will be damaged.”

BASW joint manager Ruth Cartwright said she was disappointed that the government had failed to recognise the value of social work.

“I feel sure that local authorities which are desperately in need of qualified social workers will offer recruitment and retention payments to compensate, certainly in children’s services, but I fear that social workers in adult services, who are undervalued, will not benefit from this and their role will be further eroded,” Ms Cartwright said.

“We have to recognise that this is a time of austerity, but the pay freeze and the cuts appear to give the lie to the Social Work Task Force,” she added.  “I would hope that the government has remembered the task force’s recommendations, including on career progression and salary structure, and it’s important that we hear soon what it plans to do.”

She accused this government and its predecessors of spreading “misinformation about the comfortable lives allegedly led by public sector workers” and called for due recognition to given to the poor pay, conditions and pensions experienced by many people in social care.

“We are very concerned for our social care colleagues, many of whom are poorly paid,” Ms Cartwright said.  “Although they may at least get the £250 annual raise for low paid workers, this will not help much with VAT going up and so on.”

Public sector union Unison says that public services “face the greatest onslaught since Thatcher was in power” and that vital services will be attacked.  The union has accused the government of “declaring war” on public services and public service workers.

A Unison spokesperson said that local government had already found 6% efficiency savings and that there was “very little fat” left in social services.  “I don’t know how the task force recommendations can be implemented if you’re going to make cuts on this scale,” she said.  “Some of these recommendations have a cost and it’s hard to see how the government is going to make ends meet.”

Produced by JIG Media