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UK Social workers are working more than £600 million of unpaid overtime

UK Social workers are working more than £600 million of unpaid overtime

Government cuts leads to forced extra hours

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New research has revealed that social workers in the UK are working £644,736,000 worth of unpaid overtime every year.

The figures come from a report by Bath Spa University’s Dr Jermaine Ravalier, and is supported by the Social Workers Union (SWU) and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) who have said the numbers “show alarming evidence of the difficulties social workers experience.”

The study showed that as many as 92% of the 100,000 registered social workers in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland are working an average of 10 hours of unpaid overtime every week. This equates to approximately 480 hours every year, or 64 days, per person.

As a result, over 50% of current social workers are considering leaving the profession within the next 18 months due to the stress of too many demands on their time.

Dr Ravalier commented: “What our research has revealed is that the majority of 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. In order 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, transient, and certainly won’t be working lots of free hours.”

Dr Ruth Allen, of BASW, commented: “Social workers provide vital professional support and protection to millions of people of all ages. Poor employment conditions and long hours lead to burn out and practitioners wishing to leave the profession too early. This is extraordinarily wasteful and undermines quality. Chiming closely with what we found in our Northern Ireland 'Above and Beyond' study in 2016, Dr Ravalier's UK research confirms that social workers give an immense amount in unpaid time because of their professional commitment. We will work with social workers and employers to improve models of working and to influence governments to fund and support excellent social work for all who need it”

John McGowan, General Secretary, Social Workers Union added: 'Dr Ravalier’s research has highlighted what the reality of being a social worker is in today's austerity Britain. It is a great concern that the majority of social workers are considering leaving the profession due to having to work an extra 10 hours a week unpaid to meet their workload and protect vulnerable people. Social work intervention in a vulnerable person's life can greatly improve the quality of life and opportunities for that person and the people that support them, who otherwise may need increased intervention from a range of agencies that costs more to the taxpayer but also reduces the quality of life for the person.”

Despite thousands of social workers working extra hours for free, the Local Government Association (LGA) predicts that social care funding faces a gap of at least £2.6 billion by 2020.

Dr Ravalier continued: “The government has enjoyed years of huge savings in the form of conscientious employees giving up their own time. The funding black hole that many predict we are facing almost certainly does not take this into account, so the situation is likely to be much worse than thought.

“If we do see a mass exodus then these costs will have to be taken into account – a crisis is definitely looming and thousands of people, including the elderly, the very young and those with health issues, are at risk of slipping through the net. With this evidence in hand, the government needs to consider its spending position on social care very soon and inject a great deal of money into the sector.”

Dr Ravalier is now working with the SWU and BASW on a series of recommendations to present to the government, outlining the key areas of investment needed.

BASW and SWU will work with members on the implications of these findings for them and develop social worker-led actions. We will: 

  • Lobby MPs and Peers in Parliament, involving social workers
  • Liaise with employers’ organisations across the UK to formally discuss our role in supporting good workplace conditions and models
  • Liaise with other Unions representing social workers on joint actions
  • Invest in dedicated SWU staff resource to carry the work forward


For press enquiries contact Niki Goddard or Lizy Kidwell: / 07527331796


About Bath Spa University

Bath Spa University is where creative minds meet. Offering a wide range of courses across the arts, sciences, education, social science and business to 7,000 students, the University employs outstanding creative professionals which support its aim to be a leading educational institution in creativity, culture and enterprise.

About the Social Workers Union

As a growing trade union in the UK, the Social Workers Union is recruiting more Social Workers and organising, in collaboration with the British Association of Social Workers, to raise work place issues to protect Social Workers' caseloads and working conditions, to retain Social Workers and protect the most vulnerable in our society in very uncertain and financially difficult times.