[Pounds Sterling]57,000 to Prove Social Work Students Want to Be, er, Social Workers; Critics Say Money Should Have Gone on Hiring New Staff

Article excerpt

Byline: GRAHAM GRANT

THOUSANDS of pounds of taxpayers' money has been spent on research that discovered students take social work degrees - because they want to be social workers.

The exercise - costing [pounds sterling]57,000 - was carried out by civil servants at the Scottish Executive.

They hired a market research firm to conduct a survey of 300 social work students. It aimed to find out their reasons for wanting to study social work, as part of a bid to find out if Executive policies aimed at improving recruitment were working.

But the survey was last night condemned by critics who claimed the money should have been spent on hiring more social workers.

Tory MSP Bill Aitken said: ' What on Earth did we think students were taking social work degrees for? Because they want to be trapeze artists? Only in Scotland could we spend [pounds sterling]57,000 to find out what is blindingly obvious.' The 86-page study concluded: ' The research found both undergraduate and postgraduate students chose the course largely because it was the entry route into the social work profession.' Other students said they took social work because they wanted a ' respectable professional qualification' or because it would provide valuable skills.

Although ministers have said they want to hire more social workers, the study revealed an incentive scheme to encourage people to take up the career had failed. The scheme, introduced two years ago, offers a [pounds sterling]9,000 grant for social workers who take 'hard to fill' posts.

But the report said less than half the students questioned had heard of the grant - and only one in ten knew how much money was on offer.

Only 4 per cent said they would not have studied social work without the grants and just 1 per cent said they were important.

About 40 per cent of social work posts in the East End of Glasgow are thought to be vacant.

There were 2,940 unfilled posts across all local authority social work departments last year. It is estimated that one in ten social work posts is empty, up by 93 per cent over the past four years.

In August last year, official figures from the Audit Scotland watchdog showed that councils could not even manage one visit a month to half of all young offenders.

In one in seven cases, there was even less contact - leaving the youngsters to do as they liked. …