World Social Work Day, House of Commons, 18 March 2021

To ensure councils can continue to support their most vulnerable residents, it is crucial Government brings forward plans for long-term reform to the adult social care system and additional funding for child and family support services. As a starting point, returning the Early Intervention Grant to 2010/11 funding levels by providing an extra £1.7 billion would enable councils to reinstate some lost preventative and early help services which help tackle and prevent emerging problems and avoid costs and impact escalating later on.


Key messages

  • Councils work tirelessly to support children and adults with a range of vulnerabilities through social care, early help services, education, employment and skills support.
  • At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, children’s services departments moved swiftly to implement new ways of working to ensure they were able to support vulnerable children and young people. The LGA heard excellent examples from the children’s residential sector, such as staff moving into children’s homes full time to provide support where cases of coronavirus were suspected. Social workers and colleagues across children’s services should be commended for their determination to keep children safe and well throughout the crisis.
  • The LGA is working with national government to showcase the excellent work of social work teams across the country. We are also supporting councils to recruit and retain high quality social workers. Recruitment and retention is not helped by the sometimes negative public perception of the child protection system. The evidence demonstrates that the service is improving outcomes for children, as an example, the rate of child homicides decreased by 27 per cent between 2006 and 2016, and the UK’s child (1-15 years) death rate has fallen from 33 per 100,000 population in 1981 to 8 in 2019.
  • COVID-19 has also put adult social care firmly in the public, political and media spotlight. It has helped highlight the work of our invaluable social care workforce who are providing care and support to all who need it in the most challenging of circumstances.
  • Despite the increase in funding and efforts of the workforce, both services have struggled to keep up with demand. The Health and Social Care Committee has suggested that adult social care needs a £7 billion increase in annual funding by 2023/24 and the Department for Education (DfE) funded “See, Hear, Respond” programme has uncovered significant need for low-level support for children to prevent needs escalating to a point where formal social care involvement is required.
  • To ensure councils can continue to support their most vulnerable residents, it is crucial Government brings forward plans for long-term reform to the adult social care system and additional funding for child and family support services. As a starting point, returning the Early Intervention Grant to 2010/11 funding levels by providing an extra £1.7 billion would enable councils to reinstate some lost preventative and early help services which help tackle and prevent emerging problems and avoid costs and impact escalating later on.
  • As part of the Government’s plans to fix adult social care, it is important that there are improvements in the pay of the workforce, potentially more in line with comparable roles in the NHS, as well as investment in training and workplace development and career progression. The LGA is calling on Government to establish an independent process to gather evidence and make recommendations as soon as possible so that planning for the future of pay and reward in adult social care can begin.

Children’s services workforce

Councils have significantly increased their spending on children’s social care in recent years to a record £9.9 billion in 2019/20, with an increase of more than £552 million in the last year alone. Despite this investment from councils, spending has not been able to keep pace with growing demand. Even prior to the pandemic, children’s services were under strain, and those pressures have only been exacerbated due to COVID-19. Councils want to continue to deliver high quality services for their residents however, the increased demand for services coupled with local authority funding reductions, is impacting children’s social care. Without additional funding, councils will be unable to recruit as many permanent social workers as they need to. They will be unable to invest in those things that social workers need to do their jobs to the best of their ability, this ranges from additional training to providing facilities and services for children and their families.

Our regular survey of the local government workforce has consistently identified pressure on the children’s services workforce, with 18 per cent of councils reporting a moderate disruption to their workforce at the start of July as a result oy the pandemic, with less than half reported that they were operating normally. Children’s social work also has by far the highest level of recruitment and retention challenges of any of the 800 or so professions in local government. This is despite all efforts to improve recruitment such as Step Up, Frontline and Think Ahead. 84 per cent of relevant councils reported recruitment difficulties in the 2017/18 survey and 66 per cent had retention problems. As many as 35 per cent resort to paying expensive market supplements in an effort to retain staff.

The children’s workforce has worked hard throughout the pandemic. This has in many cases included working long hours and adapting to rapidly changing situations for months on end. New ways of working have been implemented that have improved relationships with children and families and strengthened local partnership working. The children’s residential home workforce and foster carers have also reported that many children have valued the additional time spent with carers and the relationships they have been able to develop. The opportunity to implement long-term change should not be lost. Social workers and colleagues across children’s services should be commended for their determination to keep children safe and well throughout the crisis.

The ability of those working in children’s social care to support vulnerable children was, however, hampered by poor access to PPE. Not only did this put staff at risk, but we are concerned that it made staff feel undervalued in a sector that already rarely gets recognition for its work in keeping children safe. Guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) repeatedly stated that children’s social workers only required PPE where there were confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus in a household. However, this failed to recognise the often-tense relationships between social workers and the families they work with. One council reported a case in which a social worker went into a home to remove a young child at risk without any PPE. The parents were spitting at them claiming they had COVID-19. The accompanying police were in full PPE, as were the A&E staff that received the child. While the social worker continued with their job and ensured the child was safe, we are concerned that experiences such as this suggest an undervaluing of the workforce and risks their resilience.

We are working with Government to showcase the excellent work of social work teams across the country, and supporting councils to recruit and retain high quality social workers. Recruitment and retention is not helped by the sometimes negative public perception of the child protection system. The evidence demonstrates that the service is improving outcomes for children, as an example, the rate of child homicides decreased by 27 per cent between 2006 and 2016, and the UK’s child (1-15 years) death rate has fallen from 33 per 100,000 population in 1981 to 8 in 2019.The UK continues to compare favourably on a global scale.

Adult social care workforce

One of the LGA’s seven principles for adult social care reform is that the Government should commit to a new deal for the care workforce, comprising action on pay, training and development, career progression and professionalisation, and recognition. 

There are on-going recruitment and retention problems highlighted in high vacancy and turnover rates that affect service quality. In addition, many staff have uncertain incomes because of the prevalence of zero-hours contracts. The temporary shifts in these patterns due to COVID-19 have highlighted the need to deal with them permanently. A recent Skills for Care report on ‘the state of the social care market’ found:  

  • Pay in adult social care is on average 25 per cent lower than pay in the NHS. 
  • The adult social care sector in England still needs to fill around 112,000 job vacancies on any given day. 
  • The staff turnover rate of directly employed staff working in the adult social care sector was 30.4 per cent in 2019/20. 

The ability to attract and retain staff with the highest skills sets is hampered by poor perceptions of pay and reward and the lack of coherent career structures that allow people to think beyond temporary work in social care. Better pay and reward needs to form part of a package of reforms to transform the sector as set out for example in the recent strategic workforce framework by the LGA, ADASS and Skills for Care. Increased investment in training and development, the use of technology and a focus on the wellbeing of staff will all help to drive improved productivity across the sector alongside improved pay and conditions. 

The social care workforce must be developed in a manner equivalent to the NHS as part of a stable, sustainable solution to long-term funding problems and that this must involve “parity of esteem” for social care staff with their NHS colleagues. Any changes to pay and reward must be fully funded by central Government as there is no resource in the sector to meet the demands of this challenge. 

The Government should establish an independent process to gather evidence and make recommendations on the level and future determination of social care pay as soon as possible so that planning can begin. The transformation of pay and reward is a complex medium to long-term proposition and will require considerable investment. Moreover, there will be a variety of opinions on the best way to take things forward. An independent process provides the best opportunity to achieve a consensus on outcomes. Other terms and conditions should be looked at as soon as possible. 

It is vital that we think and talk about adult social care as an economic opportunity rather an economic cost.  Reforming pay and reward for those working in adult social care pay will attract people to work in the sector, fill existing vacancies and ultimately benefit local economies. The Resolution Foundation calculated that if a living wage for care workers was publicly funded, just under half (47 per cent) of public costs would be returned to the Exchequer through higher personal tax receipts and lower benefit payments. The overall economic contribution of adult social care is considerable, as estimates produced for Skills for care and the LGA show. At the time of the report, adult social care contributed £46.2 billion to the economy on an annual basis and supported 603,000 jobs through indirect spending as well as the 1,200,000 employed directly in the sector. Adult social care can play an important role in supporting the country and the economy as we seek to recover from the effects of the pandemic.   

Contact

Laura Johnson, Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser

laura.johnson@local.gov.uk