With half of social workers intending to leave their jobs soon, BASW and SWU launch ‘Respect for Social Work’: the campaign for 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.
This is why, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and Social Workers Union (SWU) are launching a new campaign ‘Respect for Social Work: the campaign for professional working conditions’
BASW and Swu are heading into parliament, to employers, to the press and to their members to get improved professional working conditions for social workers. There is urgent need to stem damaging levels of stress amongst social workers and the risk of vital, skilled staff leaving the profession.
‘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, with employers at the national Directors’ Conference in October. It will also link with members’ participation in anti-austerity demonstrations in October.
BASW is taking this important action because of the alarming findings from July’s UK Social Workers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing study which highlights 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 by Bath Spa University’s Dr. Jermaine Ravalier was produced in conjunction with the BASW and SWU. Over 1600 social workers were questions 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, and the results are concerning.
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.
Making the connection between the two facts isn’t difficult. The study went further, by shining a light on the chief reasons social workers gave for wanting to leave the profession.
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.
On behalf of BASW, Mike Bush, member and user of services following work stress and independent mental health consultant 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.”
So how can we reverse the conveyor belt of talent leaving social work?
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.
Another cornerstone to the manifesto is to end austerity policies that cause harm to children, adults and families with care and support needs
BASW and SWU believe it is possible to create professional working environments to keep social workers in 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.
“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.
- 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’.
“A stable and well-trained workforce, with replenishment of new joiners as well as ongoing development of advanced skills is essential to meet social care and social work needs of children and adults,” says Allen.
“Less experienced social workers need mentoring from experienced staff. We must stem the risks of losing – and wasting the skills – of experienced staff.”
Together with the author of the report, Dr. Jermaine M Ravalier, BASW will be meeting MP’s over the next couple of months to press the case for a government rethink on its continued austerity measures regarding social services, as well as to challenge further barriers to good social work practice.