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"Social workers are on the frontline and the Government should be listening to them" — MPs debate impact of pandemic on social work

MPs spoke at Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday 23 March

MPs from across the political spectrum came together yesterday (Wednesday 23 March) to debate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on social work.

BASW UK worked with Cat Smith MP to secure the debate, which took place in Westminster Hall.

Cat Smith MP opened the debate by talking about the role social workers carry out and mentioned the tragic deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson.

The pandemic had posed many challenges to social workers, and learning what did not work is part of the recovery so that we can make sure it never happens again.

“Social workers are on the frontline. They know the state of their own profession. They know what they need to be able to fulfil their statutory and non-statutory obligations to a high standard. And the Government should be listening to them.”

Cat also spoke about the impact of the pandemic on people with learning disabilities and autistic people, highlighting that people with learning disabilities have much poorer health outcomes than the population as a whole.

David Simmonds MP, who is a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Social Work, spoke about the work that social workers in his own constituency did during the pandemic and how the local authority worked with them. He also stressed that one benefit of the pandemic is that it has taught us lessons about how our services fare under pressure.

MPs refer to findings from BASW member survey

Although Westminster only has responsibility for social work in England, the debate also had contributions from MPs representing Scottish and Northern Ireland constituencies. 

Jim Shannon MP from the DUP talked about social workers that he has met in his constituency and cited BASW UK’s research that 75% of social workers feel more negative about their work life in 2021 than they did in the first year of the pandemic.

Martyn Day MP from the SNP also spoke about BASW’s research and our members' concerns that lockdown restrictions had increased their concerns about the capacity to safeguard and protect adults, children and families.

He also spoke about poverty being a driver in the need for social work intervention, citing evidence that the £20 Universal Credit cut is estimated to have pushed 60,000 people in Scotland into poverty.

Government and Opposition responses

Shadow Care Minister Karin Smyth MP responded for the Opposition. She noted that the pandemic had increased the complexity of social work cases, and called on the Minister to address how the Government is going to work with local authorities to address vacancy rates.

Minister for Care Gillian Keegan MP said that the Government’s focus has always been to make sure the adult social care sector had the resources it needs. She acknowledged that social workers went above and beyond during the pandemic - and that the Government are developing a listening service for frontline health and care workers to help them cope with the pressures.

The Minister also confirmed, in response to a question from Cat Smith, that she would be happy to meet with BASW England’s ‘Homes not Hospitals’ campaign to discuss the issue of people with learning disabilities and autistic people living in unsuitable and inappropriate hospital settings.

The debate comes just a week after World Social Work Day - we thank Cat Smith for her work in securing the debate, and we look forward to keeping social work on the agenda of politicians.