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BASW launches first annual survey of membership, revealing what social workers want to overcome current challenges

Survey highlights the motivations and ambitions of social workers, while suggesting the pandemic has left a legacy of higher caseloads

A BASW survey of over 2,000 social workers from across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales provides insight into the needs, the professional motivations and ambitions of social workers. 

View BASW Annual Survey of Social Workers and Social Work: 2021.  A summary report

It also identifies what is important to social workers and the challenges faced for the profession- such as increased workload, public perceptions, levels of harassment and discrimination, the consequences of the pandemic and the issue of ‘moral distress’.

The biggest reason for becoming a social worker was wanting to work with and support people (29.8 per cent), closely followed by an interest in social justice (29.1 per cent) and improving people’s lives (28.8 per cent).

Making a positive impact on people’s health and social wellbeing is what the majority found most rewarding (50.4 per cent) followed by enabling individuals and families to have more choice and control in life (43.9 per cent) and promoting social justice and anti-oppressive practice (32.7 per cent).

A significant majority either agreed (43.7 per cent) or strongly agreed (16.9 per cent) with the statement “I am happy working in the social work profession”.

Nearly a quarter (23.3 per cent) intend to continue in their current role over the next three years; a further 17.2 per cent said they plan to apply for promotion and 18.2 per cent to change area of practice.

BASW launches annual survey of social work

Challenges

The survey also revealed a picture of increasing caseloads across adults and children’s services against a backdrop of long-term underfunding of social services, with seven out of ten (71.9 per cent) saying they feel unable to complete their work within contracted hours.

Whilst most reported an increase in caseload during the last two years of the pandemic, of these, more than 37 per cent said their caseloads had still not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

When asked what the biggest challenges were facing social work, cuts to services came top (65.6 per cent) followed by failure to adequately fund social care (63.4 per cent) and not having enough time to spend with service users (52.7 per cent).

One social worker responded: “I love my job regardless of its challenges and the impact to my own emotional wellbeing. Limited resources, reduced funding, increased caseloads and lack of multi-agency working during covid has placed increasing pressures to protect the most vulnerable in society.”

Asked to choose the biggest challenge in their current workplace, most identified administrative tasks (51.2 per cent) followed by staffing levels (50.6 per cent) and workload (46.6 per cent). Accessing resources for service users was highlighted by 43.1 per cent.

More than half of respondents said their mental health had suffered from working during the peak of the pandemic, with 22.3 per cent of these still suffering.

Asked to rate the public’s perception of social workers on sliding scale from one (poor) to ten (excellent), the average score was 3.6.

BASW has called for the Government to urgently stem the flow of social workers leaving the profession, as our new member survey reveals an increased workload due to the pandemic has further exacerbated working conditions in social work.

BASW’s three calls to strengthen social work:

  1. Invest in the social work recruitment, education, professional development and retention initiatives. A thriving social work sector also requires a more family friendly approach to the workforce, allowing more flexibility for childcare considerations and more part-time opportunities.
  2. Tackle poor working conditions and unfeasibly high workloads of social workers. High case and administrative loads are a major source of stress and the quality of support to children and adults depends on providing social workers with the right conditions, which means more support, reflective practice and resources to do the job.
  3. Enable more time for relationship-based practice - cut admin and red tape. BASW’s survey shows over half of social workers say they spend too much time on admin tasks rather than spending time working with families face to face. We need to invest in admin staff and cut red tape to free up social workers to do what they do best.

BASW CEO Dr Ruth Allen, said: “It is no surprise that despite working in the most challenging of environments with stretched resources and poor working conditions that social workers continue to deliver in their role with a genuine enthusiasm and drive to support people and to have a positive impact on their lives.   This can only be achieved if social workers have adequate resources and with the right professional working conditions to do their jobs.  BASW will continue to campaign on these areas.

“This is a significant survey which we plan to carry out every year to gauge the temperature of the profession, it will provide important insight for social workers, employers and policy makers across the UK”.

The survey also explores what had the most positive impact on workplace experience, citing peer support, effective multi-agency / partnership working, and level of management and supervision the most important. 

BASW recognises the significant work by many organisations to deliver great services and has committed to working together to lead positive change across the profession.

SWU General Secretary John McGowan said, “It's terrific that many of our members are leading campaigns focused on issues highlighted in BASW's first annual survey, showing that the passion social workers have for their profession is a powerful and driving force. SWU is proud to be able to support members to engage in activism in this new and innovative way through the SWU Campaign Fund which was launched last year in partnership with Campaign Collective.

“As a union we are keenly aware of the impact of working conditions on social workers and – in addition to updating research on working conditions and wellbeing and new research on reflective supervision best practices – one of our new member led campaigns is focusing on encouraging the creation of more part-time work opportunities for social workers with the aim to improve working conditions, provide opportunities for those who need part time work, and improve retention of social workers.

“SWU members are also currently leading a campaign to better protect social workers from media intrusion into their lives and will be working with the press regulator IMPRESS to develop a code of conduct for media to agree to. Another activity agreed by the SWU Campaign Fund will examine what more we can do to push the message for increased funding for social work in the media and among MPs. All campaigns supported by the SWU Campaign Fund are conceived of and run by social workers – much like SWU itself, which is the only UK union for, and run by, qualified and registered social workers.”