Social work students set for their day in Parliament

Social Workers Union (SWU) Campaign Fund

Student social workers in Scotland will have their petition for better support heard by MSPs on 22 March.

Over 2,000 people signed the petition on the Scottish Parliament website after more than 300 students wrote to officials and ministers in the Scottish Government. The students are calling for the Scottish Government to make funding available to provide bursaries to all third and fourth year undergraduate social work students in Scotland as well as reform of post-graduate bursary funding.

The campaign, backed by the Social Workers Union (SWU) and Scottish Association of Social Workers (SASW), has also seen students meet with the Minister for Higher Education Jamie Hepburn MSP.

David Grimm, one of the students from Glasgow Caledonian University who was present at the meeting commented:

“While we welcome the engagement of ministers so far, we do not feel that they have entirely understood the concerns we have raised and the depth of the problem social work students face.

“We are not asking for special treatment, but students work just as hard as their colleagues on nursing, midwifery and paramedic courses. And social work students have real-life case loads during their courses, actively contributing to the safeguarding of the most vulnerable in society, but do not have bursaries which other students can access.

“This means they take second jobs, rely on foodbanks and struggle in poverty while also working on the frontline.”

In responses to the petitions committee, ministers claim that social work students can access general undergraduate student support which is not available to students on nursing, midwifery, and paramedic courses.

But the social work students point out that 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.

Lucy Challoner, another student who has been leading the campaign said:

“We’re not asking for anything other than equality with other students who undertake front-line work in public services during their courses.

“We appreciate that nursing and midwifery students undertake placements throughout the whole course, while social work students do so in third and fourth years. This is why the petition only requests bursaries in these final years for social work students with students able to access the general support for students in the first two years.”

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

“There can be no room for doubting the hard and demanding work social work students do on the front line as part of their courses.

“We find it slightly surprising that we should have to point out the obvious, that a loan is not the same as a bursary.

“While it is welcome that the Minister met with the students, the responses we have had do not fully address the concerns of the students and we would urge MSPs to demand the Government treats social work students fairly. This is another step on the journey for fair treatment for social work students across the whole of the UK and we will continue to back them through the SWU Campaign Fund.”