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BASW Cymru writes to Welsh Government regarding student funding

Please see the letter in full here:

Dear Minister

We write in support of the recent communication you received from Cardiff University, Social Work Masters students, when raising concerns about bursaries available to them, and their inability to access masters loans from Student Finance Wales, as their course runs across two years.

BASW Cymru has developed our Social Work Manifest for the 2021 Senedd Elections and one of our key asks is that social work bursaries are placed on equal footing with those given to nursing students. It is imperative that we have enough social workers, qualifying in Wales, to meet to the monumental challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has created and further exposed.

We know that the social work demographic in Wales is overwhelmingly female and aging – the average age being 46 years, with little diversity within the workforce.

One of the barriers to developing a more diverse workforce is funding. Many students have chosen to enter the social work profession having occupied social care roles and have financial commitments and responsibilities commensurate with an employed status. The Social Care Wales bursary makes it possible for many students, including those from less affluent backgrounds, to consider undertaking the training, but for many potential students, this is simply unaffordable. Often, students who do undertake social work training have to maintain other paid work, as the current bursary is insufficient and therefore, unable to preclude this.

We also know, that people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) backgrounds are the least likely to enter higher education and BASW Cymru is working with the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Social Work Association and Bucks New University, around an inclusion pledge so that higher education institutes create the right environment and support for GRT students. Our focus is clearly on increasing the numbers of GRT community members who enter the social work profession.

Funding is central to ensuring diversity and inclusion on social work courses and additional bursaries should be considered for students from Black, Asian or other minoritized backgrounds. The social work profession in Wales must be representative of all the populations we support.

One of the solutions offered, is that students can access student loans during the two -year master’s programme, although we would not want to see students accruing event more debt. Whilst we support this as one potential solution, we want to see a new student funding model, which is equivalent to those available to nurses and allied health professionals.

Social workers are likely to see a pay freeze because of the most recent spending review, despite the essential work they have undertaken, largely unrecognised, throughout this pandemic. They are being asked to engage in an integrated health and social care workforce strategy that speaks to parity of esteem, equality of opportunity and the wellbeing of the workforce. In practice this must translate into bursaries on par with health colleagues and a pay structure that properly values the essential and complex work undertaken by social workers.

How can social workers maintain their mental wellbeing when they feel less valued than equivalent professions? BASW Cymru has directly supported the wellbeing of social workers throughout this pandemic and we know that it is significantly impacted, and morale is low.

Without the remodelling of student funding, we fear that we will be walking into a recruitment and retention crisis, increased sickness absence and presenteeism, without a guaranteed future pipeline to sustain the social work profession.

It is society that will pay the cost of any further erosion of our profession, a cost they are already bearing.

Yours sincerely

AE Hulmes

Allison Hulmes

National Director for Wales

BASW Cymru