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Social workers and service users deserve political stability

As the cost-of-living crisis deepens, pushing thousands of families across Northern Ireland further into poverty and distress, the need for our political representatives to form a Northern Ireland Executive and drive forward change could not be greater.

Day and daily, social workers witness the impacts of poverty on children and families. Poverty is the common factor which exacerbates many social problems that require social work intervention, including addiction, neglect, and mental ill-health.

A Northern Ireland Executive has the power to deliver meaningful change. During the last mandate, legislation was enacted to continue the mitigation package which protects households against the impacts of the bedroom tax and the benefit cap. However, more needs to be done.

In its Manifesto for Social Work, BASW Northern Ireland called for the implementation of an anti-poverty strategy. The strategy should include practical steps to remove the Universal Credit two-child limit, which would lift 6,000 children out of poverty1. It should also contain a commitment to audit the ‘costs of poverty’, including the costs to NI Executive Department budgets, associated with addressing the impacts of poverty. This strategic approach is needed to ensure funding can be directed to address the root causes of social problems.

The social work profession also urgently needs additional funding to ensure improved pay and safe staffing levels across all services. Social workers are directly impacted by the cost-of-living crisis and a profession-wide approach to reviewing rates of pay is required.

Practitioners are under extreme pressure, shouldering growing caseloads, often comprising high-risk and complex cases. They need support and resources to ensure their wellbeing is upheld as they meet the needs of their service users.  

In December 2021 the social work vacancy rate was 8.4%, with rates highest in Children’s Services. BASW NI is aware of vacancy rates of 50% in Children’s Services Gateway Teams. As a result, HSC Trusts are increasingly relying on agency staff. Where there is high staff turnover and reliance on agency social workers on temporary contracts, the relationships which are key to the provision of high-quality social work services cannot be formed. As a result, service users are impacted negatively.

While Northern Ireland is without an Executive, progress cannot be made. Problems will worsen, and lives will be impacted.

Social workers and the people who use social work services deserve compassionate leadership and political stability.

Social workers and the people who use social work services deserve better.


1. Children Can’t Wait: Investing in Social Security to Reduce Child Poverty in Northern Ireland.


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Notes to editors:

  • Andy McClenaghan, BASW NI Public Affairs, Policy and Communications Lead will be available for interview.