SWU and Independent survey highlights how the cost-of-living crisis is affecting social workers and the people they support

Social Workers Union (SWU) & The Independent

Exclusive research conducted by The Independent and the Social Workers Union (SWU) lays bare a social services sector on the brink of a breakdown and Dickensian living conditions.

SWU invited all members to respond to a survey commissioned by The Independent between 25 January to 12 February 2024, and 716 social workers responded.

Austerity has decimated social services and more funding is urgently required

The Independent included the results of this survey in their March 30th news story “Social workers admit they can’t keep children safe after murder of Finley Boden lays bare failing care system” which covers the review into the murder of Finley Boden and results of the survey. SWU General Secretary John McGowan was quoted, saying:

“There has been an ongoing systematic failure to address the pressures on social workers. Yes, look at what happened in this tragic individual case, but don’t judge the entire profession from any potential review findings.

“What is urgently required is more funding. Most social workers just don’t have enough time to spend on individual assessments due to work demand.”

92% of social workers surveyed by SWU in 2024 believe children would be better protected if caseloads were lighter. LocalGov highlights that more than half (58%) of respondents said their caseloads were unmanageable. There has been no improvement in this perception since the 2022 survey that SWU conducted with LBC Radio.

Most (86%) respondents to the 2024 survey said they expected referrals to increase in the next year. More funding is urgently required to tackle the problem and pressures faced by social workers have not been addressed.

Working conditions are negatively impacting social workers’ mental health

Community Care reported on another topic covered by the survey with the article on April 2nd “Most social workers experiencing deteriorating mental health due to work, finds survey“. The survey found that most social workers say their mental health has got worse recently due to their work, with one in ten saying it has “collapsed”. At the same time, over four in ten have said they are now considering leaving the profession because of their experiences over the past 18 months.

The research also found that most practitioners felt their caseloads were not appropriate or manageable and a majority also believed they were not doing the job to the standard they would like.

SWU General Secretary John McGowan said in the article:

“The data highlights a profession on the brink of a collective breakdown. Working conditions are not improving, the mental health of social workers is suffering and the resources and support for them to do their jobs properly are missing.

“Social workers go above and beyond to help those at most risk in the country and are highlighting safeguarding concerns on a regular basis. However, the consistent reports from respondents to the survey are that the resources to help those most in need are just not there.” McGowan said it was up to the government to step in to provide councils with sufficient resources to “reverse the decline in public services and ensure the most vulnerable get the support they need”.

Children living in cold, damp, mouldy homes is a national scandal

STV News featured this important issue as one of their top news stories on April 4th and interviewed SWU General Secretary John McGowan about the rising numbers of children living in damp and mould and a fear the impact of gas and electricity costs are being forgotten. You can watch the video clip below.

The Independent also reported on the startling implications of the survey results that two-thirds of social workers report children living in dangerously mouldy homes. At a wider level, the survey found that almost three-quarters of adult, child, and mental health social workers (71%) saw the people they support stop turning on their heating to save money over the winter. People are having to choose between eating, paying rent, or heating their homes.

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

“Children and young people living in the damp and the cold cannot thrive and develop. Living in such conditions is adversity, plain and simple.”

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, added:

“The price households pay for their energy is still 60% higher than in 2021 and levels of energy debt are soaring. Meanwhile the wider cost of living crisis means people simply can’t afford to keep the heating on when it’s needed most.

“What we need to see is a much faster roll out of programmes to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and bring down the cost of energy. The reality is though that there will also need to be a structured programme of financial support announced well in advance to help people though next winter.”

Warm This Winter campaign spokesperson Fiona Waters commented:

“This is a heart-rending and all too familiar story where the most vulnerable are at risk because of our broken energy system and we need urgent change before even more children, the elderly and others become ill or worse.”

The Morning Star article noted that a quarter of the social workers surveyed said that the people they worked with who have a disability or health condition could not afford to run medical equipment and 15% reported seeing disabled people unable to charge their mobility devices due to the high cost of energy.

The National, Express, Care Appointments, and The Daily Mail highlighted that some social workers said the families they work with did not have enough money for “basic essentials” this winter, while others reported that “families are living in cramped and mouldy” conditions.

The Standard article quoted social workers who fed back in the survey that “It is a choice between eating and heating. The state of homes has become Dickensian.” and “Pre-Victorian times. An absolute disgrace. Change is needed.”

Inside Housing quoted a social worker who responded to the 2024 survey, saying:

“Parents are having to choose between buying food for children and heating their homes. Energy bills are simply not affordable. Respiratory infections for children have increased due to living in cold, damp homes. Children’s sickness has impacted on their school attendance.”

The Big Issue also reported about the survey results reflecting the reality of people’s living conditions across the UK in the cost-of-living crisis, which has led to increasingly poor physical and mental health.

Lisa Aziz on LBC News interviewed SWU General Secretary John McGowan about this issue during her morning radio show: