SWU and BASW England at the Birmingham COMPASS Jobs Fair 2023

SWU and BASW England Staff standing at their shared stall at the COMPASS Birmingham Jobs Fair on 20 March 2023

Thank you to everyone who stopped by the stand to say hello – it was brilliant to chat with so many members and to meet new people.

The Social Workers Union (SWU) was pleased to attend the COMPASS Jobs Fair in Birmingham on March 20th in which we presented joint research findings on stress and working conditions and saw so many of you at the stand we shared with BASW England. We hope to also see our members and new faces at the COMPASS events later this year in Manchester and London!

New SWU Assistant General Secretary announced

SWU Assistant General Secretary Calum Gallacher and SWU National Organiser and Union Contact Manager Carol Reid

An exciting announcement was made during the event and through SWU’s social media channels. SWU General Secretary John McGowan introduced the new SWU Assistant General Secretary Calum Gallacher. Calum has worked in health and social care for 24 years and is a practicing social worker, a SWU Union Contact, and he recently participated in the SWU webinar “Stepping stones towards decent working conditions” that explored key topics such as part-time work, tackling racial discrimination, neurodiversity, tackling burnout, and menopause support.

Throughout the event SWU National Organiser and Union Contact Manager Carol Reid engaged attendees who were interested in becoming SWU Union Contacts and more involved with the union. Carol works with every Union Contact to support them in their role of being the face and voice of SWU in workplaces, universities, and placements.

“How in 2023 do we improve on stress and working conditions for UK social workers?”

SWU General Secretary John McGowan, BASW Professional Officer Liz Howard, and Professor Jermaine Ravalier of Bath Spa University

Professor Jermaine Ravalier of Bath Spa University, Liz Howard of BASW England, and SWU General Secretary John McGowan’s workshop “How in 2023 do we improve on stress and working conditions for UK social workers?” discussed how over the past 5 years there has been a distinct change in how social workers undertake their role and how juggling home/work life has become an ever-increasing issue.

Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself, but when it’s constant and daily then chronic work induced stress can have a significant impact on our physical and psychological health and wellbeing. Social workers will deal with about 10 stressful work situations a day, with an average of 50 interactions a week. This, combined with poor working conditions, is causing problems for our members. Sources of stress include:

  • Working conditions not fit for the social work task
  • A worrying increase in case loads
  • A large percentage of Social Workers looking to change career
  • Limited focus on recruiting more qualified permanent members of staff and over use of agency staff
  • Social Workers are working, on average, 11 extra hours per week
  • Social Workers having to work while ill to clear workload
  • Cost of agency staff and overuse
  • Social Work Managers should have adequate training

The joint research by BASW, SWU, and Bath Spa University has produced the Social Worker Wellbeing and Working Conditions Good Practice Toolkit to help practitioners, employers, and leaders achieve better working conditions. It is free to download and the toolkit includes a practical guide and a supported self-assessment and planning tool/approach.

The results of the joint BASW, SWU, and Bath Spa University 2022 re-launched survey on ‘Social Work Working Conditions and Wellbeing’ have highlighted significant ongoing concerns including:

  • In 2019-2020, we shouted that 35% of social workers were looking to leave the job in the next 18 months.
  • We are now experiencing the highest turnover in 5 years – up 16% in a year.
  • The social work profession is experiencing the highest number of vacancies in 5 years.
  • Employers are using the highest number of agency workers in a couple of years.

Social workers have told us that their sources of stress are related to caseloads, resources, workload, respect, and payment. However, despite shocking working conditions, there is some good news. Social workers are engaged with their jobs, only want the very best for service users, and want to support and encourage colleagues and the profession more widely.

What do we do next? After talking to thousands of social workers over surveys, 50+ interviews, and 4 focus groups we are taking a three-pronged approach to support social worker wellbeing: individual, group, and organisational. Team-level approaches include peer supervision, peer support, wellbeing guardians, and praise and celebration events. Organisational approaches include manageable workloads, reflective supervision, and a learning culture (not a blame culture).

A social worker asked what else we can do to influence and bring about change and John McGowan answered, “We can’t take our foot of the pedal. It’s a hard task to get a voice for social work. The key is to be constant and to keep rattling doors, and to affect change we need to keep trying and gathering allies. As part of this I’m a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Social Work and the Cross-Party Group on Social Work.”

BASW Professional Officer Liz Howard, who joined us to answer questions, also said, “It’s important to not wait for policy makers to decide – keep pressuring and creating change.”

A Social Work Professional Support Service (SWPSS) volunteer coach who was in attendance highlighted the free BASW coaching service that is available to all members.

John and Jermain have also recently contributed a research paper to the British Journal of Social Work that focuses on what works, why, and the implications of both good and poor reflective supervision. “A Rapid Review of Reflective Supervision in Social Work” can be accessed for free by our members.

BASW England presented two engaging sessions at COMPASS Birmingham: BASW Policy and Campaigns Officer Josh Dixon’s session discussed the cost-of-living crisis and what BASW England is doing to support social workers through this crisis. BASW Professional Officer Liz Howard’s seminar “Homes not Hospitals: Supporting people to avoid admissions to hospital” focused on the activity from this BASW England campaign and the good practice guidance developed for social workers supporting autistic people and people with learning disabilities.