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SASW highlights risks to social worker's mental wellbeing

On Mental Health Awareness Week, SASW secured a meeting with the Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care to discuss how the Scottish Government can improve wellbeing and working conditions for social workers in Scotland.

The meeting between SASW National Director, Alison Bavidge and Kevin Stewart MSP was in response to various recent surveys revealing the serious pressures faced by social workers and the considerable toll this is placing on their mental health. SASW wrote to Mr Stewart in February bringing to his attention the need for improvements given the worrying levels of exhaustion, stress and burnout faced by the profession.

During the meeting, Mr Stewart put on record his thanks to social workers for their work and acknowledged that action needs to be taken to ease demands on the profession. He also made clear that the Scottish Government intended to act urgently on this matter and not wait until the establishment of the National Care Service.

Mr Stewart highlighted his key priorities are to grow the workforce and provide more autonomy for social workers. This includes funding to increase capacity, improve recruitment and retention and to develop a trauma training support for the workforce. SASW welcomes the willingness from the Minister to work together to help deliver changes, particularly with the National Care Service round the corner. 

In addition, SASW has this week written to opposition party spokespeople to highlight the seriousness of the problem and seek a meeting to discuss how they might also be able to support improvements.

The letter from Alison Bavidge has been sent to Gillian Mackay MSP (Health and Social Care Spokesperson, Scottish Greens), Jackie Baillie MSP (Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care and Deputy Leader, Scottish Labour), Craig Hoy MSP (Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care, Scottish Conservatives) and Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP (Health and Social Care Spokesperson and Leader, Scottish Liberal Democrats). The full text is below.

As you will know, this week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Social Workers across Scotland do incredible work to support people’s mental health and wellbeing all year round. However, they are experiencing considerable pressures and demands on services, resulting in a heavy toll being placed on their own mental wellbeing.

The wellbeing and working conditions briefing you will find enclosed with this letter reveals the severity of the problem experienced by social workers in Scotland. Some of the troubling findings include:

• 82% have experienced significant stress because of work and 57% say their mental health has got worse.
• 36% say that cannot do their job to the standard they would like to.
• 46% have raised concerns about a child where they felt that appropriate action was not taken.
• 57% believe they have put their own health at risk as a result of working in the pandemic and 39% said they had been unable to reach the most vulnerable people.
• 68% expect to see an increase in referrals to social services and required. assessments in the next year and 50% describing their current caseload as ‘not at all’ manageable.
• 43% stated that they are considering leaving social work based on their experiences during the pandemic.

In addition, the impact of high caseloads and the lack of available care and support services is evidenced throughout the briefing. While these issues were prevalent before the pandemic, the impact of Covid-19 has undoubtedly exacerbated, exposed and added to them.

Many social workers in Scotland are feeling exhausted, experiencing burn out and, ultimately, are considering leaving the profession. This will affect the morale of the workforce, further increasing demand on those who remain in the profession and compounding problems for individuals and families in accessing support.

SASW is working with the Scottish Government to find solutions, but it is a matter that requires the attention of MSPs from all parties. Whatever your views on the proposed National Care Service and how you see it working, I’m sure you agree with me that Scotland needs a well-supported and valued social work profession to be included in this proposal.

I would therefore welcome the opportunity to meet with you and party colleagues to discuss the issues raised in the briefing and consider how we can work together to make improvements. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on how we can shape a better future for Scottish social work, particularly with the National Care Service Bill about to be introduced to parliament and the opportunity this presents.