Skip to main content

A year of Covid

The British Association of Social Workers - March 2020 to March 2021

During this year, our society faced the shock of Covid: the impact on daily lives; the increase and exposure of inequality; and the accompanying pressure on social work’s ability to uphold human rights and provide vital services.

In February 2021 we passed the heart-breaking milestone in the pandemic of over 100,000 lives lost, with millions bereaved. We lost social workers and colleagues across social care and health, loved ones and neighbours.

Throughout the year, social workers provided expert support, despite their personal and professional struggles. BASW sought to sustain social workers and social work, and to be a voice for social justice.

The first year of response to Covid-19 coincided with BASW’s 50th anniversary year. This was a year when we reflected on our past and looked forward to our future. We launched our Vision 2025, and our Vision for Social Work. Throughout the year, lead members and staff worked through the Covid Committee to identify priorities and respond to the changing situation. BASW adapted all of its services, provided urgent support and lobbying, and created new approaches to fulfilling our mission.

Our staff and members responded generously, ethically and expertly to the needs of social work and wider society. This took place in the context of personal and professional worry and struggle. We are hugely grateful for the commitment and action shown.

This short report highlights our work and impact.

  • For social work: Developing professional practice, knowledge, research and learning
  • For social workers: Supporting, protecting and inspiring social workers
  • For a better society: Speaking out on equality, human rights, and other social issues.

"In BASW we were able to respond to Covid because of our proven belief that social work can make a difference. And we responded ethically and together."

Gerry Nosowska, Chair

"You are an inspiration. We pay tribute to your work during lockdown and beyond and extend our thanks and gratitude for the essential work you are doing in the most difficult of circumstances. As always, BASW is here for you now and for the future."

Ruth Allen, CEO

Gerry Nosowska, Chair and Ruth Allen, CEO BASW

For social workers our work and impact included...

We used learning from our Covid surveys to provide wellbeing resources, shape our services, and lobby government and employers for the support social workers need.

Most of over 350 responses to our survey in Autumn 75%, thought BASW had maintained the quality of our services during the pandemic either fully (the majority) or somewhat. “BASW have been amazing since beginning of pandemic. Phones are answered speedily and staff are friendly, helpful and polite.  I have made use of the new ‘New Professional Support Service. What a great idea and so very useful and indeed supportive. I have also made good use of relevant webinars which has increased my CPD.”

Advice and Representation took 50% more calls at times during the pandemic. We provided Frequently Asked Questions and webinars about employment issues with the Social Workers’ Union, a health and safety statement, and the COVID 19 Staff Risk Assessment Guide and Flow chart with particular focus on risks faced by social workers from ethnic minorities.  

The Wellbeing toolkit was launched 22 June with Social Workers’ Union. BASW was instrumental in supporting the Local Government Association (LGA) England Health Check, and piloted the Wellbeing toolkit in Wales and England.

Online member forums sprang up and by 17 April were happening in each nation and for independents. Branches and groups continued to meet and new ones developed, including the Law in Wales Group. Independent social workers received dedicated information and webinars. We highlighted students’ needs from the start. We met regularly with regulators and Higher Education bodies in all four countries, and lobbied for appropriate funding and support. A group was established for diaspora social workers working in the UK. Our support forums have had hundreds of attendees.

BASW’s Professional support service, developed in response to Covid-19, launched late July and our Social Work Employment Service for agency workers launched early August. The Professional Support Service had 47 mentors signed up within two weeks and immediately received requests from members.

BASW membership has grown to its highest level ever. Social Workers’ Union membership has also grown significantly. Members reported the importance of new developments including the Professional Support Service, virtual/online peer spaces such as Branches and forums and enhanced support for students and university outreach

Between 35-50% of our members opened each of our bulletins. Our website saw an increase of 54% with a total 4.5m page views in the last year. Social media traffic jumped, including 3000 views of our Vlogs.

Find out more about our work and services at Coronavirus (COVID-19) BASW updates |



For social work our work and impact includes…

We provided essential guidance, learning and development to enable social work to respond to the demands of the pandemic.

86% of respondents thought that BASW has provided useful information and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. Comments highlighted the volume and relevance of the resources and the regularity of updates. Country-specific resources got a positive mention.

A dedicated web area was set up on 16 March. Within two weeks of the first lockdown, we produced Ethical guidance, followed by practice guidance for Home visits, Social work with children and families, Hospital social work, End of life social work, Safeguarding adults, Multi-disciplinary and multi-agency contexts, Face to face visits, and Safeguarding adults in placements. SASW launched Domestic abuse guidance at the end of April, then shared across the UK. We continually collected and shared best practice. Guidance was updated and added to, most recently with a Position Statement on Vaccination in January 2021 and on Ethical issues and responses for social workers when services are not able to cope with demand.

On 28 May we published guidance on the Role of social workers in a pandemic and its aftermath. The Special Interest Group on Social Work’s Place in Emergencies and Disasters was formed to continue this work. We responded to specific human rights issues with guidance such as the Statement and Guidance on No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF).

We shared blogs on practice areas and issues including mental health, adoption, Black Lives Matter, carers week, racism, feminism, and Gypsy Roma and Traveller history month. A statement and guidance on digital capabilities was created with SCIE on 25 March, and further work on capabilities for social work with autistic adults, and adults with learning disabilities was carried out in England.

Specific reports and guidance for national priorities was produced, for example the Shaping Social work identity report for the island of Ireland, and domestic violence guidance in both Scotland and England.

Our guidance has been downloaded thousands of times. Members particularly noted the importance of the Black Lives Matter web pages and resources, and appreciated the publication of articles by social workers through PSW magazine in print and online

In response to our lobbying, our resources have been widely shared and used. For example, Home visit guidance was endorsed by principal social workers in England, the Scottish Universities and Colleges adopted BASW’s Covid chart, our Wellbeing Toolkit is being piloted in Wales, our ethical guidance was shared by the Northern Ireland regulator, and our political letters adopted in other countries.

All of our learning was moved online.  BASW’s first Covid-19 webinar was held on 18 March for Approved Mental Health Practitioners. Further webinars followed including on digital technology, loneliness, connecting with carers, using evidence in work with adults with a learning disability and domestic abuse. 

Podcasts led by BASW Northern Ireland started in May and responded to crucial topics including mental health and Black Lives Matter. BASW continually shared evidence about emerging practice and the impact of Covid-19 on social work including evidence relating to carers, people with learning disabilities and autism, care homes, ethnic minority groups, mental health and children.

BASW has seen an over 100% increase in uptake of professional development.

Our Heritage year to mark our 50th birthday involved diverse events and publications, including 700 people signed up to our Heritage festival. BASW produced evidence on social work practice during Covid from our survey of social workers and for specific roles such as the Approved Mental Health Practitioner role in England.

International learning was promoted through events such as our Human Rights Day event on Social Work in the time of Covid, and our World Social Work events throughout March. We hosted and took part in international webinars to share experiences, contributed to IFSW research on ethical dilemmas during Covid, contributed to and shared a report by the Commonwealth Organisation for Social Work and took part in the IFSW conference and global meeting in mid July. BASW funded the International Federation of Social Workers report on global responses to Covid.

Our online events, conferences and webinars attracted 400% more attendees.

Covid further exposed inequality of risk and outcomes faced by different groups across the UK. BASW’s equality diversity and inclusion work accelerated and was reflected in our events and involvement in initiatives such as Black History Month. We held a roundtable on anti-racism in November to inform our work and appointed new staff members to support this.

BASW produced a Vision for Social Work for Children and Families and for Adults. This will inform our response to developments nationally and across the UK.

Find out more about our work and services at Coronavirus (COVID-19) BASW updates |



For a better society our work and impact included…

We recognised social workers, and lobbied and campaigned for essential support for social workers and for a more just society to enable children, adults and families to thrive.

“I have engaged more with BASW since Covid19 struck.”

BASW recognised and marked the contribution of social workers throughout the campaign. We supported the clap for carers in 2020 and key moments of remembrance throughout the year. On 19 May our Talking Together heritage event shared inspirational talks about past, present and future. Our two-day 50th anniversary event in June covered rights, working conditions, research and the future, together with a 50th anniversary blog in the Guardian, and our World Social Work Day event commemorated the struggles and loss experienced by social work.

Throughout World Social Work month in March 2021 we highlighted the importance and impact of social workers through our events, materials and our Amazing Social Workers profiles. Our evening with Margaret Humphries offered an inspirational example of the power of social work to transform understanding and change lives.  We also worked with MPs to organise a Westminster Hall debate “This House recognises World Social Work Day” which raised MPs’ awareness of the social work frontline.

On 19 March BASW put out its first press release about social work priorities, drawing on our survey – fulfilling statutory duties, health and safety, equipment, and students’ support. Across the UK, BASW consistently met with senior representatives on a regular basis and raised issues with Chief Social Workers, employers, regulators and governments.

We continually lobbied local, national and UK governments and organisations on key issues, including through our Manifestos and hustings for national and local elections. All four nations provided expert input to law and policy. We commented on public health data, budget changes and lockdown announcements. Social work practice and education has been more effectively considered during Covid-19 because of BASW’s lobbying, starting with us securing meetings with social work leaders on 27 March because of our survey evidence and member voice.

BASW was a constant presence in the media providing an evidenced and expert voice. This included extensive coverage of a survey for Sky News on the impact for child protection, and coverage including ITV and BBC news for our findings on social work pressures in early 2021. We continue to raise awareness in the media on how Covid is affecting social work practice and social workers a year on.

In the first month, our media reach doubled.

BASW created a Human rights statement on 27 April and updated this on 24 June. This called for government accountability, set out how social workers should be enabled to uphold human rights, and highlighted particular human rights issues. We proactively raised human rights issues for example: we challenged do not resuscitate; urged rights for migrants and refugees; supported calls for suspension of no recourse to public funds; and were part of the successful challenges against reducing universal credit, introducing a surcharge for NHS treatments, or ending free school meals. We highlighted human rights struggles faced by people at risk, including people in care homes, and people with learning disabilities and autism.

We led a campaign for social work in care homes: Test, Safe Access, Promote Rights that resulted in social workers in Wales being recognised as essential visitors. BASW England supported the successful campaigns to protect children in care at risk of losing legal protections, to remove Care Act Easements from legislation and to ensure priority vaccination for people with learning disabilities.

The MP for East Ham told the house: "There was one very telling point in the briefing circulated by the British Association of Social Workers: the sharp increase in children in care, up from 60,000 to 80,000, with the enormous cost that that imposes, began when the cuts to benefits began." (January debate in the House of Commons)

The Equality, Diversity and Inclusion advisory group was formed from early May. We gave a full statement on Black Lives Matter on 8 June with template letters to write to members of parliaments. Subsequent actions included work to challenge institutional racism, and a Black and Minority Ethnic Professional Symposium in England. We supported Pride Inside and other national days. BASW Cymru led a new initiative to improve relations between social work and Gypsy Roma Traveller communities.

BASW fundraised for homeless shelters at Christmas, for Challenge Poverty Week in Scotland and for food banks. We continued promoting relationship-based social work and anti-poverty practice in all of our work, and reinvigorated our work to embed anti-oppressive and anti-racist social work.

We continued and increased our support to the Social Workers Benevolent Trust providing vital support to social workers and their families facing hardship.

In May BASW committed £70,000 to support international social work partners in the fight against Covid-19, consisting of £10,000 to the International Federation of Social Workers to share learning and £60,000 to 8 projects across Africa, Asia and the middle East. We are leading work in the International Federation of Social Workers Europe to highlight and combat harmful populist policies.

Find out more about our work and services at Coronavirus (COVID-19) BASW updates |



Looking forward…

We will keep working to build on the innovations from our pandemic response and reinstate the elements we have missed; and for a sustainable, supported reform of social care with valued social work at the heart.

Although we don’t plan to open offices or go out to meet people until at least September, as things start to open up again, we are looking forward to being together again. We will learn from our experiences to bring together the best of what we had and of virtual ways of working. We will be talking to members about this over the next few months.

We are currently contemplating how to ensure ongoing and permanent recognition of social workers’ contribution and experiences during Covid, including remembrance of colleagues we have lost. And how best to honour the legacy of social workers in the pandemic through our social justice work. This is likely to take the form of commemorative events in each country at the end of World Social Work month, March 2022.

We will continue to be at the side of social workers, to support you, speak up for you and recognise the difference you make.

BASW Council and Executive, April 2021

Our 2025 Vision:

Social work will be a thriving, influential, respected profession, improving lives and upholding people’s rights across the UK.

Our Mission

BASW acts:

  • For social work: Developing professional practice, knowledge, research and learning
  • For social workers: Supporting, protecting and inspiring social workers
  • For a better society: Speaking out on equality, human rights, and other social issues.

A Vision for Social Work: Children and Families

A clear focus on human rights allows lofty rhetoric to be translated into specific practical action for the most marginal and at risk in society.

A Vision for Social Work: Adults

All adults, and the people who care about them, should have access to quality and effective social work support when they need it. So that all adults have the opportunity to live a life of dignity and fulfilment, regardless of the barriers to this.