Better pay for social workers – but no more money to fund it

Bid to transform status of profession by task force set up in wake of Baby P's death

Plans to transform the status of demoralised and overstretched social workers in the wake of the Baby P tragedy will fail without extra funding, ministers were warned yesterday.

Social workers will be better paid, receive more training and have their workloads cut under proposals announced by Ed Balls, the Children's Secretary, and Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary after the government accepted proposals from its social work task force. However, there will be no new funding to pay for the measures, which will have to be found from existing departmental budgets.

John Chowcat, the general secretary of Aspect, the Association of Professionals in Education and Children's Trusts, warned extra funding was vital to make the proposals work.

"The report is historic and can make a fundamental difference to the status of the social work profession," he said. "However, these steps, together with the welcome proposals for additional pay for experienced staff, need additional resources to make them a reality and we expect all three major political parties to supply assurances that the funding to do this will be ring-fenced."

The ministers joined the DJ and actor Goldie to launch the report yesterday alongside Moira Gibb, who headed the task force. Under the reforms, new social workers will need a licence to practise, which they can only keep by sticking to a professional code of conduct.

A new Royal College of social work could also be set up to act as the voice of the profession, raise public awareness of the role of social workers, boost the status of the profession and tackle the recruitment crisis that has developed since the Baby P tragedy.

More than 16 per cent of posts nationwide are either empty or covered by temporary staff. In 12 local authorities, over 30 per cent of posts are either vacant or have been filled by agency workers.

Ms Gibb, the chief executive of Camden council in north London, said: "We think that social work is a difficult job – not everyone can do it – therefore we should be more careful about who we select to go on courses. We should train them better, so that all the courses are of the standard of the best, and we should train them for longer. We should not let training stop once they qualify, it should go on."

The task force was set up in January in response to the Baby P case after it emerged social workers and other professionals had seen the toddler 60 times but failed to prevent his death. Baby Peter was 17 months old when he died of injuries inflicted by his mother, Tracey Connelly, 28, her boyfriend, Steven Barker, 33, and his brother, Jason Owen, 37.

Annette Brooke, the Liberal Democrat children's spokeswoman, said: "Ministers now need to explain where the money will come from to pay for these changes. Without funding, the Government's commitment to these proposals is meaningless."

Tim Loughton, the Conservative shadow children's minister, said: "The task force makes some sensible suggestions for improving social work and child protection, many of which we proposed some time ago.

"Ultimately the success of these proposals must be judged on whether they improve conditions on the front line. This Government has strangled social work with 12 years of bureaucracy – it is important that it now acts to improve the situation."

The proposals follow the £58m social work transformation fund for children's social work that was announced by ministers in May this year. More than 50,000 people expressed an interest in becoming a social worker after a recruitment campaign.

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