Sluggish growth in part-time social work roles

Social Workers Union (SWU) Campaign Fund

New research by the Social Workers Union has revealed that over three-quarters of social work roles are not offered on a part-time or flexible-hours basis, although there has been a slight increase in the number of employers offering part-time working conditions since last year.

Figures show that of 4,694 job adverts analysed on Total Jobs, Community Care, and The Guardian on 20 April and 18 May 2023, just under a quarter (1,059 or 23%) offered part-time or flexible hours.

Last year, an identical study found that 19% of roles offered part-time or flexible hours.

The growth in popularity for offering flexible hours has been driven by Wales, where 27% of roles are part time (up from 15% in 2022) and Northern Ireland (49% up from 37%, based on  a small sample).

Scotland has slipped backwards with 29.8% of roles being part time in 2023, down from 30.5%. England posted a slight rise, up from 18.7% in 2022 to 22.6% today.

Last year the Social Workers Union (SWU) launched a call for more part-time work opportunities to be created for social workers, in order to improve working conditions, provide opportunities for those who need part-time work, and improve retention of social workers. 

Support for part-time and flexible working needs to become action

Carol Reid, SWU National Organiser and Union Contact Manager, commented:

“The response to our campaign has been positive with many employers’ organisations happy to hear what we had to say. It’s therefore encouraging to start to see some green shoots of progress in some areas of the country.

“However, with recruitment for social workers still proving challenging for employers, we now need to see this support for the aims of the campaign translate into more concerted action and more roles offered on part-time or flexible hours contracts.

“The growth we have seen is sluggish at best and we’re also hearing worrying reports that not all roles advertised as part-time are really suitable to part-time applicants.”

Part-time roles should not be treated by employers as a last resort

One social worker from North West England commented:

“After months of trying, I finally got an interview which claimed it would be open to part-time hours. I put in a lot of hard work for the interview and it went really well. However, one of the managers said ‘ideally we want someone full time’ and I did not get the job. 

“I just feel like part-time workers are at the bottom of the pecking order and brought in ‘just incase’ there was nobody suitable from the full time applicants.”

Social workers have also reported issues when requests are made to move to part-time hours when in a role.

Deb Solomon, a social worker from Derbyshire and chair of the BASW Neurodivergent Social Workers Special Interest Group, added:

“We must move away from the idea that social workers going part time is a negative development or an accommodation for someone who isn’t coping. This is just not the case.

“Flexibility is essential to retain staff with protected characteristics and boost workforce opportunities for development. For example, some Neurodivergent staff can really benefit from part time working, and the positives can be seen in productivity, retention and wellbeing. 

“We also need to ensure that when part-time roles are offered, this is not just a full-time role squashed into fewer days which is impossible for the post-holder to manage.”

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, said, “We often hear about staffing shortages in social work and rather than seeing the number of part-time and flexible roles grow at a snail’s pace, we need to see a rapid roll out of better working conditions.”

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) have also commented on this in the Community Care article “Over three-quarters of social work roles not offered on part-time basis despite small rise in rate”.


2022All Social WorkFTFT or PTPTFlexibleAll PT or Flexible% PT or Flexible
ALL UK64715259125104245121218.73%
N. Ireland674402502537.31%
2023All Social WorkFTFT or PTPTFlexibleAll PT or Flexible% PT or Flexible
ALL UK469436357644741105922.56%
N. Ireland372121601848.65%
% PT or Flexible% PT or Flexible
ALL UK18.73%22.56%3.83
N. Ireland37.31%48.65%11.34