Skip to main content

Social worker safety at work campaign: BASW and SWU statement

BASW and SWU are engaging with Government to explore practical, effective and appropriate ways to improve social worker safety

Current sentencing legislation (2018) enables longer sentences for people convicted of assaulting some ‘emergency workers’ in England and Wales – such as police, fire and ambulance staff. Social workers are currently not on this list. 

Members of the Opposition in Parliament approached SWU and BASW to suggest bringing an amendment to the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill to add social workers in England and Wales to this list. Social workers in Scotland are already covered by legislation there. 

SWU and BASW then asked social workers if they supported such a change. A petition was supported by more than 13,000 people, suggesting there is support for action on social workers’ safety.

The petition also sparked important discussions amongst members and other social workers about the ethics and potential effectiveness of an additional sentencing power as a way of achieving this.

The discussion included recognising that attacking a social worker, or another public sector worker, in the course of their duties can be an aggravating factor in sentencing without a ‘special’ category; that an additional sentencing power in itself may not deter assaults or improve police and employer support for social workers; and that knowing a person who is already highly marginalised or otherwise at risk might face additional levels of criminalisation may perversely deter social workers and employers from seeking police support when it is appropriate. The importance of prevention of harm to social workers and having the resources to build effective working relationships to reduce the risk of conflict was also raised.

BASW and SWU are committed to improving protection and support to social workers and deterring assaults. We are working to ensure that governments and employers recognise that social workers are ‘emergency workers’ in a wide range of roles and sometimes face threats and assaults, and not necessarily from people they are directly supporting or protecting. 

In April, BASW and SWU wrote to the Home Office about assaults on social workers in emergency situations. We received a response from the Ministry of Justice, in which the Minister said that the 2018 legislation covered frontline emergency workers and the letter indicated this was the reason for not including social workers. Yet we know many of our members work in settings that are a risk to their personal safety including emergency situations. 

An amendment has now been submitted to the committee stage of the Police Bill on the issue of assaults against a range of professions in frontline roles, such as transport workers and health and social care workers. This means that Members of Parliament recognise that some professions are at a heightened risk of being assaulted whilst on duty – and they will discuss how this is best achieved through an amendment put forward by the Opposition frontbench in the coming weeks. 

The petition and the discussions around it have also sparked helpful conversation with officials from the Westminster Department of Education (DfE) about working together to recognise the ‘emergency’ nature of some social work and the risks social workers sometimes face in England. Through this, we hope to influence Ministers in DfE and the Home Office and to explore practical, effective and appropriate ways to improve social worker safety. We will also take this work forward with all the governments of the UK.

As these conversations progress, we will keep members informed of how we are representing their voice to the highest levels of Government.