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World Social Work Day: Risk of social workers falling off register

As social workers mark World Social Work Day today, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) issues a warning about a twin threat to both the profession in England, and to service users.

The dangers come from the fact that social workers who do not have ‘social work’ in their job title do not have to register as practitioners on the Social Care Register, a problem that will be exacerbated in July when the cost of registration will nearly double.

It is likely that this price hike will see those social workers not legally obliged to register to discontinue their registration, meaning that although they still perform vital social work tasks with vulnerable people, they will no longer be listed and held to account for their standard of practice.

Service users and the wider public will lose the important safeguard of knowing that practitioners are registered and, if their practice is found wanting, can be removed from the register.

Responsibility for maintaining the database, which hosts social workers deemed fit to practise social work in England, moves from the General Social Care Council (GSCC) to the Health Professions Council (HPC), with the cost of registration rising from £30 to £76.

The rise will see hard up social workers without ‘social work’ in their job title but who currently choose to register voluntarily join the ranks of others who have long since chosen not to register.

Pay freezes and slashed allowances over the past two years have left many social workers struggling financially (64% have higher debt levels than a year ago), so they are far less likely to pay fees they aren’t legally obliged to meet.

Commenting on the day BASW is hosts a celebratory parliamentary event in Westminster, The Association expressed concern at the inevitable impact on public protection, as those not on the register will not be subject to the same scrutiny as those legally obliged to stay on the list, because they do have ‘social worker’ in their job title.

The loss of social work registrants is a growing problem, as increasing numbers of traditionally ‘social work’ posts no longer use the term ‘social worker’. Recent moves integrating social workers into health teams for working with adult service users have fuelled the trend. Increasing numbers of social workers being given broad job titles such as ‘Care Manager’, ‘Project Worker’ or ‘Adult Reviewing Officer’.

BASW is responding to the threat by urging all social workers to remain on the register to ensure the highest protection for the public, boost public confidence in social workers and retain the integrity of the profession.

BASW is also calling on local authority employers to encourage staff who may have different job titles, yet who are still engaged in social work roles, to remain on the register, and is writing to directors of social services and local councillors to raise the issue.

The Association also plans to enlist the support of third sector employers and the Health Professions Council to make registration a priority.

BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson, says:

“We sympathise with social workers who rightly view the doubling of registration fee as an unhelpful and unnecessary expense in the current financial climate, but we urge all social workers, if you value your profession, to remain on the register. The register is an important safeguard for service users since it makes it difficult for social workers who commit offences to remain in employment, and ultimately boosts public confidence in the profession.

“We are asking local authority councillors in particular to appreciate that registration of those working with vulnerable people is an important element of public safety, and to act accordingly to protect the most vulnerable of their constituents.

“We have previously raised this issue, both in BASW’s Social Work Bill, which we presented to the prime minister, and in amendments at the committee stage of the 2011 Health and Social Care Bill, and we are left wondering why nothing has been done about it.”