Average pay for adult social workers up for first time in five years but salaries no higher than 2013 levels

Adult social workers in English councils received their first real-terms pay rise in five years last year, but pay was no higher than it was in 2013, official figures have shown.

The 2% rise in median full-time wages, to £35,800 as of September last year, followed four years in which average pay had stayed still or fallen.

However, NHS Digital’s annual report on the adult social services workforce showed that average pay for social workers was no higher than it was in 2013 when inflation – according to the government’s preferred consumer prices index (CPI) measure – is taken into account.

Annual pay rises for most council social workers in England are determined in large part through the National Joint Council for Local Government Services (NJC), a collective bargaining mechanism involving employers and the major unions.

The unions – GMB, Unite and UNISON – accepted a rise of 2.75%, in cash terms, for 2020-21, but have made a claim for 10% for 2021-22, to redress past pay freezes and cuts and recognise council staff’s role in tackling the pandemic.

Employers will only respond to the claim after the 6 May local elections.

Vacancy rates continue to fall 

The NHS Digital statistics showed that the vacancy rate for adult social workers has continued a long downward trend, reaching 7.5% as of September 2020, down from 8.6% in 2019, 10% in 2017 and a high of 12% in 2015.

However, there was only a marginal rise in the number of social workers employed  by councils, from 15,870 in 2019 to 15,900 in 2020.

While there was no change in the balance of women (82%) and men (18%) in the workforce, there was an increase, from 25% to 27%, in the percentage of staff from Black, Asian or ethnic minority groups. This was almost entirely driven by a rise in Black staff, from 15% to 17% of the social worker workforce.