MSPs back social work bursaries petition

SWU Campaign Fund: MSPs back student social workers' petition for better bursary support for social work students in Scotland.

A powerful cross-party committee of MSPs has agreed to take action to support the need for social work university students to be provided with bursaries during the final years of their courses in Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee considered the campaign after more than 2,000 people signed the call for bursaries for all third and fourth year undergraduate social work students in Scotland – as well as reform of post-graduate bursary funding. 

Social work students, backed by the Social Workers Union (SWU) and Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW), argue that this would ensure equality with other students who work in the public sector in front-line roles during their studies.

Currently the total for nursing, midwifery and paramedic bursaries is a non-repayable £37,500, but for social work students the basic support available is between £20,400 and £32,400, mostly in the form of a repayable loan and depending on household income.

Agreeing to put the petition to Scottish Government Ministers and the Scottish Social Services Council, Convenor Jackson Carlaw MSP (Conservative, Eastwood), said: 

“We need students on social work courses to be focussed on delivering their best and getting their best on that work placement. If it is on a nine-month secondment then encouraging them to try and find alternative income streams through employment is not really a healthy route in those circumstances.”

Carol Mochan MSP (Labour, South Scotland) commented: 

“This is a really important area. Having met with social work students and organisations, they are at a crisis point… and it is incredibly difficult for them to finance themselves.”

Alexander Stewart MSP (Conservative, Mid Scotland & Fife) added: 

“There is definitely a gap in the bursary provision within this process and to try and encourage someone to go into the social work sector is tough enough in reality, but putting extra burdens in front of them is going to make it much more challenging.”

The Committee will consider the petition again once further responses from Ministers and officials have been received. 

Lucy Challoner, one of the lead petitioners, commented:

“MSPs have clearly seen the light that action needs to be taken to provide more support to social work students. The Committee heard that while we are pleased to have met the Minister, we have not had any concrete promise of action yet. Indeed, the defence that social work students can access discretionary funding doesn’t stack up – I for one was refused this support!”

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

“I’m so proud of Lucy, David and the 300 social work students who came together to launch this campaign. The ball is now back in the Scottish Government’s court and we expect them to confirm how they will take forward the call for equality.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Association of Social Work added:

“We welcome the Committee’s decision to take action for social work students today. To address the workforce challenges in the profession, social work students, who are holding individual caseloads, and providing support to the social work workforce, must be supported meaningfully. This is a positive step in the right direction, and we look forward to seeing how the Scottish Government will respond.”

The discussion can be watched online here: