Educational Psychologists and Social Workers join forces to fight cost of living crisis

Social Workers Union (SWU), Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP), and the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU)

The long-term impact of the cost of living crisis has led to a plea from the Social Workers Union (SWU) and the Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) that, without urgent UK Government action, young people’s futures are in jeopardy.

In a motion asking for support for their campaign from the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) Annual General Meeting this weekend (May 14-16, 2023), the two groups highlight that 75% of social workers strongly agreed that more children will come into care due to a cost-of-living crisis.

New analysis of data for the Warm This Winter campaign has highlighted that for 21% of families with young children under 6, the cost of living crisis was so bad last winter that they lived in a cold damp home.

Educational psychologists also point out that while the government aspires to a new numeracy agenda for young people, expert reports show that living in cold conditions and poverty saps mental capacity to deal with complex tasks.

Research has also shown that children living in the poorest 20% of households are more than four times as likely to experience severe mental health problems as children from the wealthiest 20%.

Meanwhile, according to recent Carnegie UK data, a third (34%) of people in the UK aren’t eating as healthily as before the crisis and similar numbers (35%) say that the crisis has reduced their ability to spend time with friends. 16% have even cut back on regular exercise due to the cost of living crisis.

Educational Psychologists speak about the devastating impacts of austerity, the cost of living crisis, and reduced public services

Dr Cath Lowther, General Secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, commented:

“Austerity has stripped away many of the conditions that children and young people need to thrive. Poverty has become entrenched and protective services have been decimated. Current conditions significantly jeopardise a future society of happy, well-educated, productive and successful adults.”

One Educational Psychologist (EP) working in the North East of England explained what this means in practice:

“Government austerity policy has had huge impacts on the day-to-day lives of both local authority workers and the populations they serve. There has been a clear reduction of services on offer from the public sector. Schools are short staffed, community spaces have been closed down.

“At the same time, the cost of living crisis has meant that the poorest people in our communities are now worse off than they were ten years ago. Poverty exacerbates social and mental health problems and has increased the need for educational psychology support, at the same time as the public offer is being reduced.”

Educational psychologists in the Midlands have also highlighted situations where children are living in substandard home conditions, have no toys to play with and are coming to school without having eaten. A safe home, good food, and play are all essential for the healthy physical, emotional, and cognitive development of children. 

Social Workers speak about the growing level of poverty in the UK and the need for government intervention

Angi Naylor, Chair of the Austerity Action Group, commented:

“It’s a bit rich for the rich to tell us to accept being poorer. Millionaires get wealthier and firms make billions in profits while families struggle to clothe and feed themselves. The conditions social workers and educational psychologists are witnessing today are like those which Jeremy Bentham and nineteenth century poor law campaigners reported.”

Official government statistics show that 4.2 million children were living in poverty, or almost a third (29%) of all children.

Calum Gallacher, Assistant General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, commented:

“Poverty levels are now unacceptable and enforce significant disadvantages on our future generations. We are hearing from frontline social workers that there are increased self-referrals from families, including where there is one working parent, for support to access foodbanks and local authority financial contributions towards electricity. 

“Austerity is a humanitarian crisis robbing communities of humane and equitable treatment, and it is counterproductive to greater efficacy of public spending. Basic human needs should not be capitalised on as commodities, we need government insight and action to tackle profiteering on poverty.  

“Social Workers will continue to challenge unjust policies which inhibit peoples’ rights and their access to equality and social justice. We now need adequate government intervention so as to provide children with equal opportunities to grow, learn and thrive.”

Read the full text of the SWU and AEP motion for the GFTU’s 2023 Annual General Meeting (AGM)

This AGM calls on the Biennial General Council Meeting (BGCM) to support SWU’s call to the government to recognise the impact of austerity and more recently the cost-of-living crisis upon the families and individuals social workers support.

2023 is forecast to be a financially tougher period for many families in this country due to a cost-of-living crisis, projected by some to have an “horrendous” impact on living standards (Brown 2022). “Almost everyone will see their income slashed in real terms this year and next – except for the wealthiest 5 per cent who will see a nice boost to their bank balance” (Big Issue, 2023). Furthermore, the cost-of-living crisis comes at a time when more than a decade of cuts to the social security safety net have seen many low-income families face poor living conditions (Big Issue, 2023).

While recent government decisions to increase benefits and introduce cost of living payments have been welcomed, we are still living in the shadow of the Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s “disastrous” mini budget, labelled “for the richest 1 per cent while the poorest pay the price” (Big Issue 2022, 2023).

So what is the impact of this upon social care?

In a world of austerity and a cost-of-living crisis, we know poverty is consuming on so many levels and to so many of the families and individuals that social workers support. For example, feedback from social work practice tells us that “Parents are so focused on survival that doing work to address deeper-rooted issues is so hard” (Turner, 2020).

With the government aspiring to a new numeracy agenda for young people, social workers are well placed and well informed to confirm the impact of poverty when research tells us that “poverty saps mental capacity to deal with complex tasks” (Jha, 2013).

With what is projected to be a “horrendous” year for living standards, the government should pay closer attention to the voices from practice with the following social worker surveyed responses (BASW 2022):

  •  95% strongly agreed with the statement that vulnerable people may die this winter due to a cost-of-living crisis
  • 95% strongly agreed that domestic violence will increase
  • 75% strongly agreed that more children will come into care due to a cost-of-living crisis
  • 55% strongly agreed that caseloads will become unmanageable

Therefore this BGCM, requests the GFTU Executive supports SWU’s call to the government to recognise the impact of austerity and now the cost-of-living crisis upon the families and individuals social work and social care staff support.