Skip to main content

Government responds to BASW/SWU ‘Assaults on social workers’ petition

Together, BASW and SWU will continue to campaign for social worker safety in the workplace.

In April, BASW and SWU launched a joint petition to Government: ‘Add social workers to the professions it is an additional offence to assault’.  We provided an update on the petition in July 2021.

The aim of the petition was to raise awareness about the risks many social workers face when doing their jobs. In a short period of time, the petition gathered over 10,000 signatures, prompting a Government response.

Government responded:

Social workers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and we are grateful to the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) for bringing this issue to the fore.

Any form of assault on a social worker, or indeed any worker providing a service to the general public, is completely unacceptable and is of course already an offence. Such crime would be captured under a wide range of offences, from common assault to attempted murder, to harassment and/or other offences. In addition, under current sentencing guidelines, which the courts are required to follow, any offence against a person working in the public sector or providing a service to the public will be considered an aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing. This could mean that cases where an assault of a social worker has occurred will result in an offender being given a higher sentence.

The issue raised by the petition seeks to add social workers to the list of professions currently covered by the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 (the 2018 Act). The 2018 Act was introduced in response to the significant increase in the number of assaults against police, fire and prison officers and NHS staff while such people were trying to uphold the law or provide health or life-saving services to members of the public.

In terms of social workers, the Government is aware that there are differing views within the social care sector on whether social workers should be added to the 2018 Act as an emergency worker. Some believe this would give greater protection to social workers while other parts of the sector take the view that including social workers could put further division between them and the vulnerable children, families and adults they seek to support. Given these opposing views, the Government considers it important to understand all the factors involved and work with the sector to find the most effective solutions to help prevent abuse and violence directed towards social workers.

Although the Government has no current plans to define any other worker as an emergency worker under the 2018 Act, officials at the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care intend to work with BASW and others in the sector to ensure that all social workers can do their jobs safely and are protected from violent and aggressive behaviour at work.

Ministry of Justice

This is a revised response. The Petitions Committee requested a response which more directly addressed the request of the petition. You can find the original response towards the bottom of the petition page:

Click this link to view the response online:

BASW / SWU response:

It is imperative that all social workers are safe at work. Ultimately, as a profession committed to high ethical standards, we want social workers to be safe in the workplace through investment in preventative work, building public trust, allocating more time and resources for social workers to do relationship-based work, and care by employers.

We also recognise the debate and the sensitive nature of the issue among members and social work more widely

BASW and SWU will continue to develop discussions with Government officials and ministers in the Department of Education (DfE), the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care – as well as engaging with the relevant departments and officials in the Welsh government - to explore practical, effective and appropriate ways to improve social worker safety and reduce assaults on social workers.

Together, BASW and SWU will continue to campaign for social worker safety in the workplace.

We will keep members up to date on further developments and would like to thank members for their engagement on this issue.