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Recognition for Social Work is especially meaningful during the COVID-19 pandemic

SWU general secretary, John McGowan, blog on the need for more respect for social workers during this pandemic

How quickly the world of social work has rapidly shifted attention from March 2020 with the ‘World Social Work Day’ celebrations for ‘Promoting the Importance of Human Relationships’ to the rightful focus on the COVID-19 pandemic, with social workers recognised as key professionals and an essential frontline service in the UK.

After the pandemic and the subsequent crisis, society will not be the same as before. As a UK profession comprising of over 100,000 UK registered social workers consisting of highly skilled professionals, the social work voice will continue to serve people at risk, as before, during, and beyond this crisis. While austerity and cuts in staffing levels and support services make it hard for social workers to do what they know to be best, such tough realities only make the present COVID-19 achievements of resilient social workers all the more extraordinary.

Right now, in the midst of the pandemic, we certainly need of all the essential services and the hard work of each and every key worker. They show the importance of human relationships in their efforts.

However, despite being an essential service, social workers once more do not always get the public recognition that we deserve when compared to some of other key worker groups. Social workers continue to use all their specialist skills, knowledge and intervention methods to support the public and other professionals in this difficult period and their safety should be paramount. Yet, as we have so often seen, social workers are last in line for Public Protection Equipment (PPE), for extra resources and for media recognition.  We have seen real safety issues and workplace practice concerns highlighted from social workers and rise in referrals to the BASW Advice and Representation and SWU trade union services.  The officers are there for you throughout.

Social workers are also often missing from the countless social media memes and colourful messages that promote ‘clap for carers’ and supporting access to specialist ‘shopping slots’ for frontline staff. Similarly, we are already seeing the promotion for wage raises to social care support staff, nurses and other frontline professionals, but not for social workers.

Yet on the ground, the gratitude that social workers get from the public and the wider social work community is a constant reminder to us that we are making a difference and using our specialist skills effectively, and in an extremely adaptable way.  A busy social worker might not always realise the difference that they are making while in the stressful throes of limited PPE and too few resources that have become all too common during the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are making the difference to so many lives.

Trade unions, Professional Associations and employers, working together, can make a significant difference to ensure that the damage of the outbreak is minimised. Likewise, if the workforce is upskilled on how to limit transmission, protected and equipped appropriately, then there is no unnecessary panic generated. However, as we have seen this has a limited affect when the PPE resources are just not available, for whatever reason. The constant Governmental communications to protect key workers and the most at risk in our communities have been undermined by the unhelpful position of ‘not being able to magic up PPE resources’ constantly being made.  

Our social work members continue to be supported by the skilled Advice and Representation team. Never before have social workers really needed the support of a union and a professional association who are dedicated and knowledgeable about social work. We will continue to support you and advocate on your behalf for better working conditions.


John McGowan

General Secretary, SWU.

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