Returning to social work

With three-quarters of councils struggling to recruit social workers, the LGA and the Government Equalities Office have developed a national programme to help them fill their vacancies

Social workers and their support staff do one of the most important and rewarding jobs in local government.

Yet, 74 per cent of councils report they have difficulty recruiting social workers, and as many as 60 per cent say they have issues with retention.

The reality of the recruitment challenge is shown through data collected by central government and Skills for Care, the strategic body for workforce development in adult social care in England. They report that in 2018 there were almost 6,000 children’s social worker vacancies and approximately 18,000 adult social worker vacancies at any one time over the previous year.

With almost 80,000 children in care and 1.9 million requests for adult social care received every year, hiring and retaining social workers is more important than ever. As a councillor, ensuring people of all ages and backgrounds have access to care is one of my top priorities. By getting more social workers back into our communities, councils can keep offering vital support to vulnerable adults and children when they need it.

“Councils are desperate to get good quality, trained professionals on their books

The Return to Social Work programme offers councils a free and simple way to hire experienced social workers without the cost or time required to run a recruitment campaign themselves.

The scheme, which was first piloted in three regions in 2017, has already successfully trained and recruited dozens of staff for councils and this year will replicate it on a national scale. The new programme will also extend the offer to individuals who have been out of professional practice for between two and 10 years.

We are delighted to open up the scheme again after it proved so successful last year. Councils are desperate to get good-quality, trained professionals on their books, which this programme can support them with. Encouraging your council to sign up to this programme will not only give councils access to a national pool of skilled, diverse and committed social workers, but will have the added benefit of avoiding costs associated with recruitment drives and hiring agency staff, which cost councils £335 million in 2017/18. Figures from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development show that the average cost of replacing a qualified employee is £30,000. Recruiting and retraining 200 experienced social workers through the Return to Social Work programme could save councils approximately £6 million.

While the LGA will select the 200 candidates for the programme, councils will choose locally who they work with. As part of the course, those looking to return will complete a short placement with a local authority before they can be re-registered with the regulator. Councils who sign up to the programme will be able to offer a placement as part of the recruitment process before interviewing or hiring a candidate.

The Return to Social Work programme is the first in a series of four ‘return to work’ schemes that the LGA will be launching in 2020. Based on feedback from councils, these will focus on planning, ICT and legal.

The LGA looks forward to working with the Government Equalities Office on all of our programmes to ensure that communities around the country are equipped with the support they need.

The programme

The Return to Social Work programme is an initiative developed by the LGA, in collaboration with the Government Equalities Office, to support councils with social worker recruitment.

Liz Truss MP, Minister for Women and Equalities, said: “No-one should be held back in their career because they have taken time out of their job to care for a loved one.

“Councils need the talent, experience and care these people can bring to this vitally important work. We are investing in returners to work – giving them the opportunity to refresh and grow their skills.

“By acting on this issue, we can fill empty jobs across the country and achieve true equality in our workplaces.”

Councils have until 30 April to sign up for the programme, by visiting or emailing They are also asked to provide placements
for candidates, between May and July, and to confirm the dates and social work areas they can offer by 30 April.

In July, councils will be asked to submit the number of vacancies they have. Returners will make their applications and councils will be able to review, shortlist, interview and offer jobs to suitable candidates. For more information, visit


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