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Who makes up the social work workforce?

There are around 100,000 social workers in England, registered with the regulator Social Work England.

According to the Department for Education’s statistics, there were 32,502 children and family social workers at 30 September 2021.

But there were also 6,522 vacancies at the same time, up 7% from 2020 and the highest number in the last five years. The figures showed that there was also 5,977 FTE agency workers at 30 September.

Of the children and family social workers:

  • 55% were aged between 30 and 49 years of age
  • 22% were aged between 50 and 59 years
  • 16% were aged 20 to 29
  • 7% were aged 60 years or over

At 87%, the overwhelming majority of social workers were female. This is higher than the 75% seen in the teaching profession and the 45% seen in other professional occupations.

At 30 September 2021:

  • 30.9% had been at the local authority for less than 2 years
  • 29% had been with the authority for more than 2 years but less than 5 years
  • 18.3% had been with the authority over 5 years, but less than 10
  • 15.8% had been with the authority more than 10 years but less than 20 years.
  • 4.5% had worked at the authority between 20 and 30 years
  • 1.5% had worked at the authority for more than 30 years.

Ethnicity was known for 81% of children and family social workers in 2021. Of these, 23% were ethnic minorities, up from 20% in 2017. This change is mainly due to an increase in social workers from Black ethnic groups.

The 23% proportion of ethnic minorities is greater than the 9% seen in the teaching profession and the 15% seen in professional occupations. However, it is lower than the 29% of children in need that are recorded as being from ethnic minorities.

Social workers had an average caseload of 16.3.

There were 5,500 FTE children and family social worker starters in the year ending 30 September 2021, an increase of 6% compared to 2020. However, the number of FTE leavers during the year also increased, but at a faster rate and was up by 16% from last year to nearly 5,000; the highest number reported in the last five years.

In terms of adult social worker, Skills for Care states that there are 17,300 adult social work roles in authorities, up 6.7% from 2011.

There were around 17,300 social workers employed by local authority adult social service departments across England at September 2010, and an additional 2,000 in the independent sector and around 3,300 in the NHS. The Skills for Care report focuses on the 17,300 social workers employed by local authority adult social services departments.

The figures show that:

  • The average age of a social worker in adult services is 44.8 years old.
  • 18% of social workers were male – compared to 13% in children’s services.
  • 29% were from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds.

The statistics also reveal that the average time in their post is 5.5 years while their experience in the sector is 10.1 years.

The report shows that:

  • The vacancy rate is 9.5%
  • The average amount of sick days are 10.3 days
  • The mean salary is £38,000 per annum.

The figures also estimate that there were 3,900 Approved Mental Health Practitioners in 2020 with 80% being employed by local authorities.

Around 27% identified as male in comparison to 18% of social workers and 33% were over 55 years old.

Read our articles:

Children’s social workers – what do they do?

Adult social workers – what do they do?

Children's social work workforce 2021

Skills for Care: Headline social work information

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