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Rule 101 for social work

August 4, 2009

Mark Harrison (an economist) has the answer to the shortage of social workers and to raising the status and quality of the professiuon as a whole. The answer is pay them more, much more. This, of course, is a far too straightforward and sensible solution for the policy makers or the Social Work Task Force (famously including the Sun’s agony aunt Deidre Sanders) to adopt. The Task Force’s interim report is full of  buzz words like partnership, vision, training and suggests an ivory tower a college of social work. On pay the task force say:-

“Levels of pay are felt by some to be too low and not reflective of the importance of what social workers do and the pressures they currently work under. However, others have argued that levels of pay in themselves are not necessarily a decisive issue but assume importance because of wider problems with status, recognition and investment in training, support and the working environment.”

How about that for perching precisely on the apex of the fence. I guess the “others” referred to are not social workers. Mark Harrison points to rule 101 in economics which is about supply and demand. If high quality social workers are in short supply then the price should rise and the market will fill the shortage.

Trouble is that social workers find themselves at the bottom of intricate hierarchies where a social worker with two years of experience gets paid a tiny amount more than one with just one year and so on. Team managers get just a fraction more than the best paid team member and these minute differences are repeated all the way up the many levels of  local government organisations. As several of the Task Force members (not Deirdre) enjoy being at or near the pinnacles of these rickety pyramids they are unlikely to want to apply rule 101 for fear of  shaking the foundations.

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