Vulnerable residents could be hit by a social worker shortage if Hertfordshire County Council persists with a plan to slash wages, a union has warned.

Herts currently has a social worker deficit of more than 10 per cent - but has warned staff that it plans to cut pay in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

The council currently pays “market supplements” of up to £8,000 per year - non-contractual top-ups to social workers' pay - because the base salaries are too low to attract sufficient applicants.

But in February, the council claimed a review had found that some of the supplements “no longer reflected the market value”.

Despite already having 57 unfilled social worker posts (out of 541), Herts plans to reduce the supplements by up to £1,300.

The change is due to come into effect in October.

Social workers hired after the change could be paid less than colleagues hired to do the same jobs just weeks earlier.

Existing staff, meanwhile, have been told their current pay levels will be protected – but only for two years, after which they too will see their supplements cut.

UNISON, which claims to represent more social workers than any other union in the country, warned that the proposal would only make Herts County Council even less attractive as an employer.

“Food and fuel prices are skyrocketing and staff can hardly afford to see their pay packets shrink,” said eastern regional organiser Nalin Cooke.

“By cutting wages, the council is only encouraging social workers to head to other local authorities where they’ll be paid something closer to their worth.

“UNISON is pushing Herts County Council to do the right thing and protect pay.”

The union has been negotiating with Hertfordshire, which initially intended to cut the supplements by even more, for several months.

Since then, said County Hall, “the market has shifted” and it has abandoned its most severe planned cuts.

“A vast majority of those previously identified by this review will not see any detrimental change to their overall levels of pay,” a spokesperson said.

“The small number of staff who will be affected by the equalisation of discretionary payments will be contacted and supported directly by our human resources team.”