Petition launched after ministers snub social work students’ call for fair treatment

Social Workers Union (SWU) Campaign Fund

This student-led initiative is supported by the SWU Campaign Fund and we urge you to sign the petition before it closes on 3 January 2023

A letter signed by over 300 students on social work courses and calling for fair treatment has been snubbed by ministers and officials, forcing the students to launch a formal petition to the Scottish Parliament.

When social work undergraduates spend nine months on full-time placements in their third and fourth years there are no bursaries to help them, unlike for the current situation for nurses and paramedics. This means social work students have to work full-time on a placement, study and work anti-social shifts or rely on foodbanks to make ends meet.

The students from universities across Scotland have been backed by the Social Workers Union (SWU) and the Scottish Association of Social Workers (SASW) in calling for better support.

The group proposed that the Scottish Government makes funding available to provide bursaries to all third and fourth year undergraduate social work students in Scotland for the full length of their nine-month placements and funded at parity to those bursaries for nurses and paramedics. 

Their plea for help was rejected by Higher Education Minister Jamie Hepburn MSP, and the students have now launched a petition to the Scottish Parliament asking MSPs to debate the issue.

The campaigners calculate that this would have an annual cost of GBP7.4m to the Scottish Government. [1] 

David Grimm (left) and Lucy Challoner (right) who
are leading the @swstudentsunite
campaign hold the jointly signed letter
on 28th October 2022.
David Grimm (left) and Lucy Challoner (right) who are leading the @swstudentsunite campaign hold the jointly signed letter on 28th October 2022.

Lucy Challoner, who studies at Glasgow Caledonian University and one of the signatories to the letter, commented:

“Without reform we risk not having enough social workers in the future to meet the statutory roles they play, let alone enabling social workers to help ‘keep The Promise’ to those in need and play a full role in ensuring Scotland is a fairer, safer place to live.”

Recent figures from Social Work Scotland found that 20% of the social work workforce is approaching retirement age and 25% leave the profession within their first six years of starting. [2]

For post-graduate students, there are bursary funds available. However, in a reply to the letter from the Scottish Social Services Council and the government’s chief social work adviser, it has been confirmed that the funding for these bursaries has remained the same since 2012/13 at GBP2.65m, while the costs of goods and services have increase by 39.9% since then. [3]

The students argue that these bursaries are in need of more funding and further reform.

David Grimm, a student who has helped organise the letter, said:

“Presently, postgraduate students often have to be nominated for funding by their lecturers. This means that often older and wealthier lecturers are in a position to nominate often younger and poorer students for funding. This is an untenable situation.”

The students, who have also been backed by 20 lecturers, have called for reform to funding for postgraduate social work students’ bursaries to ensure objective assessment criteria are used to assess need. 

Alison Bavidge, National Director of the Scottish Association of Social Work, said:

“Most students do part-time work to support their studies. For social work students, however, doing paid work in addition to their work placement is unrealistic. We cannot expect students to choose between working in addition to their full-time placement to support them and their families or to incur debt by self-funding their placement. This creates a huge barrier to entering a profession which needs more people . 

“Our workforce faces serious recruitment and retention challenges, underlined by the findings in the Setting the Bar reports, the second of which was published yesterday. One way to encourage more people into social work is to financially support students through their placement years, making it a viable and attractive option. It takes years to train our social workers, so we need action now.

“The petition has already received a significant number of signatures. I urge Scottish Ministers to listen and act to ensure that Scotland has the social workers it needs in the coming years.”

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, added:

“We have seen first hand the impact of the cost of living crisis on social work students and now students have been forced to ask MSPs for help.”

Please support Scottish social work students and sign the petition which will run until 3 January 2023:

[1] Nurses bursaries are for GBP10,000 a year, but last a full year due to placements lasting a full year. Social work placements typically last nine months, but may require year round applications / awards, which would need to be considered by funding organisations. There are 1,966 social work students in Scotland (SSSC).

[2] Setting the Bar, Social Work Scotland, May 2022:

[3] Inflation figures calculated using the Hargreaves Lansdown inflation calculator:, using the end of the 2012/13 financial year as the starting point for calculations.