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SASW responds to Setting the Bar report

A report examining social work workloads and caseloads in Scotland illustrates the perfect storm that is enveloping the profession.

Setting the Bar was commissioned by Social Work Scotland to look at the profession’s capacity across Scotland and consider how an evidence-based indicative caseload limit might be established. Just over 1,500 social work professionals, more than a quarter of the public sector workforce, responded to the survey. Some of the findings include:

  • 78% said high administrative workload was the least satisfying part of their work, followed by lack of time for preventative work (65%) and high caseloads (47%).
  • More than 70% worked additional hours most of the time, of which 90% did not ever get paid for them
  • 81% reported that they spent less than 10% of their time on training, learning and development
  • 59% highlighted unmanageable workload as a reason for leaving the profession.

The report also concluded that social workers are proud of their profession and strongly committed to its values and the people they work with. It shows that social workers choose to join the profession and want to stay in it because of their strong belief in social justice and deep desire to help. However, it adds that “the values to which they are deeply committed are compromised, with wellbeing impacts, making the job no longer tenable.”

The problem of unmanageable caseloads is only the tip of the iceberg.  The deep-seated and wide-ranging problems facing the profession extend to little career progression or structured personal development, lack of involvement in early and preventative support, unpaid overtime and excessive paperwork.

The report illustrates the need to effectively and swiftly increase the workforce. Adopting an indicative caseload limit, which is one of the recommendations of the report, is a necessary first step toward improved working lives for social workers and better help all of us who need support.

Setting the Bar is not the only piece of research to reveal the heavy toll being experienced by social workers in Scotland, but it brings additional evidence, robust analysis and a clear call on what must be tackled to our Government and policy makers.

SASW has put together a briefing that brings together the many surveys and studies into social worker wellbeing and working conditions from before and during the pandemic. The trend is deeply worrying. Demand for social work and social care continues to increase on the back of a decade of austerity (affecting income and benefit levels) coupled with our aging population, the impact of Covid-19 and now a cost-of-living crisis. The other side of the austerity coin means fewer social workers and reduced public capacity to support people who are struggling.  this will get much worse very quickly without swift action.

The very essence of social work, the core values that draw people to become a social worker, is the community-based, relationship building and sometimes directly therapeutic work that is alongside people when they need it. Setting the Bar shows that whilst this is what social workers hope for, the reality is now one where social workers feel debilitated by fear of getting something wrong, are exhausted and burnt out from spiralling caseloads, where they are not able to learn and develop throughout their careers.

SASW will continue to work for a cohesive social work profession that is accessible to all of us when we need support, trusted by the public, our employers and our government and supported throughout the career span. With a National Care Service on the horizon, the opportunity to make this a reality has never been greater and we stand ready and willing to work with the Scottish Government to achieve it.

Our National Director, Alison Bavidge, recently met with the Minister for Wellbeing and Social Care to reiterate our willingness to work together to deliver improvements. You can read about the meeting here.

The Setting the Bar report can be read in full here.

The SASW briefing on wellbeing and working conditions can be read here.