Professional Working Conditions Campaign
Bath Spa University’s 2017 impactful study, UK Social Workers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing, led SWU and BASW to launch our Professional Working Conditions campaign in order to urgently improve conditions for social workers across the UK.
Summary of the 2018 survey findings
3,421 social workers contributed to the August 2018 survey, almost three times more than that completed the first Working Conditions and Wellbeing survey in 2017.
- Compared to the UK average, working conditions were worse than 90%-95% of other employees in both public and private sector occupations.
- Nearly half of all social workers are also dissatisfied in their jobs.
- Two thirds have attended work while ill at least twice in the last year.
- Social workers worked an average of 64 days per year more than they are contracted to (an average of 11 hours per week).
- 60% looking to leave their current job within the next 15 months compared to 52% last year.
- Nearly 40% respondents looking to leave the profession entirely.
- The main stressors were high case and administrative loads, and lack of resources for service users.
Social workers need positive professional working conditions to provide the best services.
- Strong leadership to manage the demand on social workers
- Management training for social work managers
- Reduce stress and provide wellbeing support
- Professional development
- Time for reflective supervision to work through complex cases
- Manageable caseloads and a consistent approach to caseload allocation
- Employ more social workers
- Reverse the blame culture and give social workers respect and positive support
- Flexible and remote working through improved technology
- 80/20 quality time with individuals and families
- Fair pay and careers
Our campaign which was first launched in June 2017 has put the issue on the political agenda:
- Gained high-profile national media coverage with Sky News, BBC news, The Guardian, and regional press.
- In July 2018 BASW Cymru National Director for Wales Allison Hulmes talked on BBC Wales [link to: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-44114404] to highlight the issue of physical attacks on social workers.
- Also in July 2018 in a committee meeting at the House of Commons on new draft social work regulations, BASW’s campaigning led to Maria Eagle MP questioning ministers on what was being done about high caseloads, while Tracey Brabin (Shadow Minister for Early Years), Conor McGinn MP and George Howarth MP raised BASW’s concerns on the impact on social workers from implementation of specific parts of the draft regulations.
- In May 2018, following continuous lobbying efforts, a debate was brought forward by Lord Kennedy of Southwark, who asked what strategies have been considered to alleviate the working demands faced by social workers.
- Professional Social Work (PSW) magazine features The Unacceptables, a series on the issues that get in the way of social work.
- Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab), Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) raised the campaign in the House of Commons in May 2018 and asked what was being done to reduce the demands faced by social workers to ‘avoid a disastrous exodus of talent and expertise?’
- Early in 2018 SWU General Secretary John McGowan and Dr Jermaine Ravalier from Bath Spa University have given a number of talks to social work groups to spread the findings of the work and outline the next steps, including the BASW Black Country branch in Wolverhampton and the BASW Merseyside branch.
- In March 2018 BASW’s campaign work and briefing led to a debate in the House of Commons about the significant contribution social workers make to society.
- BASW and SWU held a Parliamentary reception on 27th November 2018 and asked MPs to pledge their support for social workers. Over 20 MPs made a commitment at the BASW/SWU parliament event to pledge their support for social workers. [link to: https://www.basw.co.uk/media/news/2018/nov/ministers-sign-pledge-support-social-workers]
In November 2019, following our initial research, the International Federation of Social Workers announced they are leading further research to create a global understanding of the realities of the working conditions of social workers.
In December 2019 BASW UK launched a manifesto which calls for action to support social workers. This includes a call to tackle poor working conditions and unfeasibly high workloads of social workers.
Following the government election in December 2019 we wrote to all new government ministers and MPs calling for support for the BASW UK social work manifesto and to ask for meetings to discuss it.
We are continuing to lobby ministers, grow media interest and build awareness and influence with the research which shows that social workers are strongly engaged in their work and want the very best outcomes for people that use services, but they are hampered by poor working conditions and a lack of resources.
In June 2020 SWU and BASW launched the Social Worker Wellbeing and Working Conditions Good Practice Toolkit.
The impact of COVID-19
On 14th March 2022 at the COMPASS Jobs Fair in Birmingham, Professor Jermaine Ravalier of Bath Spa University and SWU General Secretary John McGowan’s workshop ‘Social Work working conditions and wellbeing’ gave attendees an exclusive preview into ongoing research of how Social Work working conditions in the UK compare across the past 6 years. They were joined for questions at the end of the workshop by BASW CEO Ruth Allen.
During the workshop Professor Ravalier revealed that working conditions had worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and then had improved slightly since the ease of restrictions, but they still compare badly to other occupations across the public, private, and third sector. The four most frequent responses so far on how to improve social workers’ wellbeing are:
- Peer support
- Family support
- Managerial support
- Flexible working
Many social workers said that they received no support during the pandemic and that “we are expected to just get on with it.” Social workers felt positively about being able to work flexibly and new IT equipment, but many still felt pressured to go into work and that there was the expectation of longer working hours when working from home.
Professor Ravalier said the research makes it clear that social workers love their actual job and are highly engaged in it, but too much is expected with too few resources. He also expressed his admiration for the profession, saying that “social workers are making a difference every day – and there aren’t too many jobs where you can say that.”