With half of social workers intending to leave their jobs soon, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and Social Workers Union (SWU) have launched a new campaign to improve professional working conditions.
The recent UK Social Workers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing study paints an extremely worrying picture of ‘spun out’ social workers at risk of leaving the job they love through high demand and austerity cuts. They are often invisible while other public-sector workers get noticed in the media. If social workers are to continue protecting and supporting children, adults and families, they need good professional working conditions.
To draw attention to the issue, 'Respect for Social Work: the campaign for professional working conditions' is being launched today at the Social Worker’s Union’s AGM in London. It will see BASW discuss issues with MPs at the upcoming Labour and Conservative party conferences, with MPS and Peers in Parliament and with employers at the national Directors’ Conference in October.
BASW say: "The 'UK Social Workers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing' study highlighted that increasing demand but diminishing resources has created a crisis in many social service departments, and social workers are bearing the brunt.
"This has led to record-high sickness levels and over half of those surveyed reporting intention to leave the profession early."
The independent study saw 1600 social workers questioned about what is happening in the profession, how social workers are feeling and how they are reacting. It found social workers love their job – but conditions for practice are pushing many away. It was the first research to look solely at the wellbeing of social workers.
A standout finding was that 52% of UK social workers intend to leave the profession within 15 months, this increases to 55% for social workers working specifically in children's services.
The study also revealed that UK social workers are working more than £600 million of unpaid overtime. High, unmanageable caseloads, a lack of professional and peer support and burdensome red-tape and bureaucracy came top for over 70% of social workers surveyed.
BASW member and independent mental health consultant, Mike Bush, said: “The concept seems to be that social workers can give endlessly to others and not need anything in return. Cars breakdown if they are not properly serviced and maintained – so do people in caring professions like social work.
“A burnt-out social worker is no good to anyone. Nobody is winning from this situation. We need to address this now and it would be wise for the Government to listen to what BASW and SWU are saying and take heed of the solutions they recommend.”
As the professional association for social workers, BASW’s manifesto is to work with partners across the sector to ensure social workers have manageable workloads, effective organisational models and the right working conditions for excellent practice.
“We know the key elements of success: access to professional supervision, manageable caseloads, good leadership and management, fair pay, reduced unnecessary bureaucracy, time to spend with individuals and families, and access to ongoing professional development and wellbeing support,” says BASW CEO Ruth Allen (pictured).
“Peer support amongst social workers is also crucial and protects against burn out, as the study showed,” adds Allen.
“It is essential social workers are supported, both through SWU their dedicated Union and the professional body, BASW, because this combination ensures social workers are empowered to improve their working conditions and their standing as skilled, dedicated professionals.” Says John McGowan, SWU General Secretary.
Which is why BASW and SWU are leading a new drive to work positively with employers and politicians, and social workers in practice, to promote these solutions.
BASW and SWU are calling for the following changes:
- Treat social workers like professionals who have solutions as well as legitimate concerns
- End management regimes of unmanageable workloads to reduce stress and attrition rates: employ more social workers, ensure good caseload management, enable flexible working and smarter use of technology
- Ensure time for reflective supervision to work through complex cases
- Ensure all social workers have access to good continuing professional development
- Ensure social workers’ managers have completed relevant training for their job
- Provide administrative support to enable social workers to focus on people they serve
- Lift the public pay cap for social workers, as for other public professionals
- Ensure social workers have independent professional support, through their professional body (BASW) and other resources, readily accessible through various touch points such as a 'hotline'.
The campaign has been endorsed by Sarah Champion MP who said: "I don't think people realise the incredible work social workers do, day in - day out, to support vulnerable people, hold fragile families together or make sure the county's children are safe. They are unsung heroes and that's why I am supporting this campaign."
For more on the campaign, visit: https://www.basw.co.uk/