Skip to main content

BLOG – deregistration threat to social work role should not be ignored

Following reports that 8,425 from an estimated 88,000 social workers have not registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) in England, BASW professional officer Joe Godden is calling for action to prevent an erosion of social work identity.

BASW welcomes the sizable percentage of social workers who have registered but we are concerned that a substantial number have not renewed their status as a social work professional. 

We certainly must not ignore what appears to be a 10% decline in the numbers identifying themselves as social work practitioners and instead should consider how to tackle what could be a serious threat to the social worker role and our wider identity. 

I recently recruited to a post where the job title did not include ‘social worker’ (Advocacy Manager) but a social work qualification was seen as desirable. The successful candidate is a qualified social worker, but has decided not to register with the HCPC.

There are many more examples of similar decisions, affecting individual post and whole swathes of the social work sector. For instance, social work lecturers in university don’t have to register with the HCPC, unless they are also practising as social workers. We know that many lecturers have taken up the option to register, but it is likely many have not.

We know that in local authority adult services there has been an overall reduction in the number of social work posts, with some concomitant increase in the number of posts that don’t require a social work qualification – for example, work in direct payments and personal support budgets, along with many staff who undertake a reviewing function.

What is very worrying is that there could be an insidious creep in such a trend as budget cuts bite further to less and less qualified social workers. I suspect that there will be some scandals down the line where it is ‘discovered’ that the actions of an employee, who is in a post that doesn’t require HCPC registration, will be found wanting.

Whether that will lead to an outcry and calls to extend HCPC registration to those in roles that include a social work element in their work remains to be seen. BASW has long advocated for the importance of social care workers (both in health and social care) to be registered and are certainly encouraged that the HCPC is looking at a voluntary registration scheme.

In our view that wouldn’t go far enough, but it would be better than the current situation. We suspect that if such a scheme was introduced that a good number of the 8,000 social workers who have elected not to register with the HCPC would be encouraged to reverse their decision.

In children’s services there are many qualified social workers working in posts that don’t require a social work qualification – family support roles, for example. Some are opting to register with the HCPC, others have decided not to, with expense being a common reason.

There are also qualified social workers who work in policy, commissioning, workforce development and management consultancy who have decided not to register.

Newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) are a notable area of concern. The 80,000 figure includes those who have recently qualified, and we know that thousands of NQSWs have failed to get a job where HCPC registration is a requirement.

From contact with NQSWs we have learnt that some have decided to register with the HCPC as they believe that it will help in the application process for social work posts; others have decided to delay until they obtain a post to avoid paying unnecessarily.

Only this week I had an email from an NQSW who qualified in summer 2011. She said that she cannot afford to register with the HCPC – she has been working in domiciliary care.

There is a real danger that social workers will drift away from the profession and steps to avoid this are critical. BASW is encouraging social workers to register with the HCPC even if they don’t officially have to – registration protects the public and also encourages qualified social workers who are not in a social work role to keep up their continuing professional development (CPD).

We think it would be particularly welcome if more employers showed a willingness to contribute to registration fees. In October 2012, a Community Care poll suggested just 19% were helping their social workers with the expense, even though it is a hugely important part of their professional status and indeed an important cornerstone of public protection.

Given that some employers have shown a dubious willingness to subsidise their social worker’s membership of The College of Social Work, this really isn’t a controversial suggestion.

Of course, we also encourage people to belong to BASW as membership of the Association goes a long way in offering social workers the support, CPD and professional identity they need to practise effectively and be sure they are part of a strong and cohesive profession.