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Social workers express fears that cuts will ‘put lives at risk’


Social workers have told BASW that deep cuts to social work services are already impacting on the frontline, with almost all respondents to an online poll expressing concern at potentially tragic consequences for service users.

More than 95% of social workers surveyed last month said the cuts they are witnessing would cause suffering and hardship, while over 90% went as far as to suggest that lives would potentially be placed in jeopardy.

The findings cast serious doubt over government claims that frontline services will be protected from budget-tightening across the public sector. The survey revealed widespread concerns, anger and frustration at the extent of the cuts, with social workers highlighting the job losses, the removal of car allowances and pay-cuts they have experienced over the past 12 months. “Social workers are stressed and frustrated, morale is incredibly low,” one commented.

Staff shortages are increasing, according to 82% of those surveyed, with a similar number noting that vacancies created by maternity leave and long term absences were going unfilled. Unsurprisingly, caseloads are being affected, with over 80% of respondents reporting a significant increase in numbers.

Eligibility criteria was a recurrent worry amongst the 400 people who completed the online survey, with almost three quarters agreeing that changes to qualifying criterion had resulted in service users being denied provisions that they formerly had access to: “Services are being restricted to critical cases only, preventative services are being shelved and, overnight, people are being expected to find alternative ways of getting their needs met,” said one social worker.

Almost half noted either an introduction or increase in charging for services, and well over 90% said there had been an impact on their ability to deliver services effectively. “Charging policies for people with severe and enduring mental illnesses, closure of hospitals and no frontline replacements is resulting in extreme risk,” one stated.

Day to day working practice has also been affected. More than three quarters of respondents reported cuts to their conditions of service. The reduction of the essential car allowance was a particular cause for concern, with many viewing it as a de-facto pay-cut. Social workers noted the impact of cost cutting on the working culture too, with individual budget management and moves towards an “isolated hot desk culture” altering the nature of some respondents work – one concerned social worker claimed they were “being tasked with becoming accountants”.

Well over half of all social workers who responded revealed that the cuts had been damaging enough to prompt them to consider leaving the profession, in part due to the impact the climate is having on their ability to do their jobs effectively.