Social Workers in the UK: Working Conditions and Well being

This is a BASW Event

Thursday 25th January 2018

Lecture Room MC001 , University of Wolverhampton , Millennium City Building, Wulfrana Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 1LY

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Dr Jermaine Ravalier (Bath Spa University) and John McGowan (General Secretary of the Social Workers Union) will present and discuss their objective, academic study of the impacts of working conditions on UK social workers which was recently completed and published:

  • How then do working conditions compare to the rest of the UK?
  • What are the levels of stress, job satisfaction, presenteeism, and turnover intentions of Social Workers?
  • Which working conditions most influence these outcomes.
  • What are the causes of stress in UK social workers?
  • What can we do about the research findings and what action has been implemented?

How then do we improve on stress and conditions for UK social workers?


John McGowan (MSc, BA, DipSW) is a Social Worker and a British trade unionist who is the current General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, the fastest growing trade union in the UK which has seem membership grow from its formation in 2011 to almost 12,000 paid members in 2017. He initially served on the UK Council for the British Association of Social Workers as a non-Executive Director between 2008 – 2012 before moving to the post of Vice President of the Social Workers Union 2012 – 2016. He also served on the Scottish Association of Social Workers Executive Committee 2004 – 2014 and latterly as its Depute Convenor. John was elected as General Secretary of the Social Workers Union in 2016 for a 5-year period. More recently John McGowan has been active with the General Federation of Trade Unions (membership of 260,000 members) and presently he sits on their National Executive Committee.

John is also an Associate Lecturer with the Open University and teaches regularly on the widening participation programme, a post that he has been doing with access courses since 2004. John is also the Programme Tutor for the Open University Social Work Degree programme in Scotland. Previously he served as an elected member (2014 – 2017) of the Open University’s governing body, the UK Council.

Since qualifying as a Social Worker in the 1990s. John has predominately worked in the field of Children and Families, Fostering Adoption and as a Training Officer. John has worked in a variety of settings, working for Councils as well as Charities. John was an Independent Panel Chair of The Adolescent and Children’s Trust.

John is proud of his working-class upbringing where he was brought up in the Muirhouse housing estate in Edinburgh, which is regarded as one of the most deprived areas in Scotland. John’s early experiences of Social Work were through his family as his parents were active Foster Carers in Edinburgh and fostered over 100 children.

Dr Jermaine Ravalier (PhD, MSc, PGCertHE, BSc [Hons]), is the senior lecturer in psychology at Bath Spa University. His academic expertise is the field of organisational psychology, and in particular how organisational variables influence employee health and wellbeing as well as methods of improving on these working conditions. Dr Ravalier has a number of article publications and is regularly asked to speak at both national and international events based on these specialisms. Dr Ravalier also has good experience of dealing with large datasets in a sensitive and timely manner.

Dr Ravalier highlights that As an academic my ‘currency’ is academic publications. Also I conduct the research that I do because I want to make a difference in people’s working lives, hence why I want to work with working populations which are under great strain. I believe therefore that together we could improve the working conditions of social workers by influencing governmental policy based on the findings of this project’.

Dr Ravalier was the driving force behind one of the largest UK studies covering UK Social Workers: Working Conditions and Wellbeing “Deep budget cuts are forcing social workers to take on more cases than ever, putting them under pressure to deliver a service to people that are often vulnerable with fewer resources.”

Background to Research

  • Workplace stress is the biggest cause of long-term sickness absence in the UK public sector. It can cause ill physical and psychological health.
  • The cost to the UK economy is approximately £800 per employee each year.
  • This is the first report into stress in this occupation.

Key findings

  • Social workers have too many cases and administrative work resulting in them working an average of 64 days a year of unpaid overtime.
  • Working conditions for social workers across the UK are extremely poor, characterised by the volume or work and lack of resources.
  • Levels of stress and poor working conditions means over half of social workers intend to leave the role within the next 18 months.
  • The volume and the diversity of work was related to increased stress levels.
  • There is a culture of institutional racism towards non-white social workers.
  • There is a lack of reasonable adjustment for disabled social workers.

The impact

  • Excessive overtime could lead to an increased risk of situations similar to that involving Baby P because social workers have too many cases to manage.
  • Higher levels of demand, result in greater stress levels and combined with decreasing job satisfaction has resulted in over 50% of social workers considering leaving the profession within the next 18 months.
  • It takes up to four years to qualify as a social worker and high attrition rates will increase reliance on contract workers, which in turn will increase the cost.

Read the full research report here:

Dr Ravalier and John McGowan highlight that:

“What the research has revealed is that most social workers are actually deeply fulfilled by their work but the satisfaction they feel can no longer outweigh the lack of support they are experiencing. Deep budget cuts are forcing social workers to take on more cases than ever, putting them under pressure to deliver a service to people that are often vulnerable with fewer resources. To keep up, they are simply giving away days of their personal time’.

“If this keeps up, and the social workers we spoke with do leave the profession, local authorities will be forced to pay for contract workers who are expensive and transient.”


Liz Williams has almost 30 years’ experience in social work practice and management in local authority child and family services and child & adolescent mental health services in the Midlands. During her career she developed an interest in the psychological effects of trauma and attachment in children and young people and undertook further training in therapeutic interventions. Following a rewarding career in retirement wished to contribute to the profession and successfully became a trustee with Social Workers’ Benevolent Trust.

Date : 25th January 2018

Time : 6.30pm - 8.30pm

Email :

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