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The average social worker in England is 46 and female

An assessment of 11 years in the life of the soon to be deceased General Social Care Council has shown an overwhelmingly female profession in England, a mixed racial background and an average age of 46.

The GSCC’s report, Regulating social workers (2001-12), showed women making up 78% of all social workers on the Social Care Register and 8% trained outside the UK – 75% of these were trained outside the European Economic Area.

The parting shot from the GSCC, which hands over the regulatory reins to the Health Professions Council on 1 August, revealed that it refused registration to 1,177 applicants between 2003 and 30 September 2011. Nineteen social work students were refused registration and ten were granted registration subject to conditions.

In producing the report the GSCC made a number of assertions about the lessons learnt from more than a decade of regulating social workers. It insisted that the role for a regulator is to focus on public protection and eschew any move towards becoming ‘a champion’ for the profession.

The GSCC also emphasised the importance of joint working with regulators across the UK and repeated its recent assertion that students should remain on the register, which the HPC has confirmed will not be the case from August. The document states: “Registering social work students has been important to protect the public and people who use services. This is because students often have unsupervised access to vulnerable people when on practice placements and it is important for a national regulator to be able to take action against those who are unsuitable.”

The GSCC also expressed concern at the age profile of social workers in England. “Due to the age profile of the register it is likely that large numbers of registrants will leave the register in the coming decades as a result of retirement unless there is a corresponding increase in the numbers entering the register”, the report stated.

Ruth Cartwright, BASW England manager, suggested there is room for some optimism on the subject, however: “It has long been recognised that social work (and social care) is an aging profession. However, a new element may mitigate this – younger people are coming forward to undertake the social work degree and become social workers in greater numbers than was the case with previous qualifications. BASW staff meet many groups of students and the profile is markedly more youthful than it used to be.

“On the flipside, social work continues to be attractive to mature people who have had some life experience too, so many do start their social work career at an older age than other careers, such as teaching. These folk are perhaps likely to stay in social work for the rest of their working life so are worth investing in. It is clear that employers need to facilitate this particular workforce. So, as well as making provision for those younger social workers who have children, they need to be sure that people are able to care for older parents too.”