Social Work Students urged to join bursary campaign

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Social work students and recent graduates now have the opportunity to join in a nationwide call to reform bursaries across England.

An “open letter” to the UK Secretaries of State for Health and Education has been drafted by a steering group of students and social workers to call for an end to the unique nature of hardships social work students face.

Students on social work courses often complete front-line work as part of their courses, helping the most vulnerable in society. This means many social work students face unique levels of financial hardship as they are unable to work part-time while completing their studies.

The letter sets out that despite this, student bursaries for social workers in England are currently distributed unequally and only around one in six students benefit from them as they are limited in number.1 

Where bursaries are available, the funding for them has been frozen for over eight years resulting in a real-terms cut in support for many students.2

In addition, bursaries available have been capped at the same numbers (1,500 postgraduate and 2,500 undergraduate) since 2013.3

More about the social work student bursary campaign in England

SWU Campaign Fund | Emma Lewell-Buck MP, House of Commons written question 6 March 2023: "To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether he plans to take steps to help improve (a) the equality of distribution of and (b) access to bursaries for student social workers."

In response to questions from Emma Lewell-Buck MP, Health Minister Helen Whately MP said the Government has “no plans” to assess the adequacy of student bursaries in the coming year.

The campaign is being coordinated by the Social Workers Union (SWU) and British Association of Social Workers (BASW) following representations from students affected by the issue. The organisations have already written to Labour front bench MPs to ask for their support for reform.

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, commented:

“We’ve heard from students just how difficult their situations are at the moment and we now need them to speak out and add their names to the open letter

“We’ve already supported Welsh students in their successful campaign to have the Welsh Government increase funding for student support by 50% and helped Scottish students win the backing of a powerful cross-party committee of MSPs for fairer bursaries. 

“Now it is England’s turn for a fairer bursary system for social work students.”

Rebekah Pierre, BASW Professional Officer, added:

“At a time of a recruitment crisis in social work, with 8.6% having left the profession in 2020-2021, the government in England must act quickly to attract and retain practitioners. 

“That must start with action to level up the bursary system for all. In a profession which aspires to be anti-oppressive, it beggars belief that students are prevented from completing – let alone entering – their courses due to policies which are entrenched in austerity. 

“Students are the future of social work, and without investing in them, the profession as a whole is put at risk. We’d urge social work students and recent graduates to back this letter.”


Students and recent graduates can sign up to the letter online: 

  1. Undergraduate and postgraduate quota from GovUK bursary guide, table 3 & 4 (accessed 6 April 2023).
  2. NHSBA Annual Reports (compare £59.3m in 2014, table 21 p39 and years following that with £56.3m in 2021, p22)
  3. Community Care 15/03/23 (accessed 6 April 2023)