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Non-practising social workers urged to return to support Covid-hit workforce

Crisis call for help in England as Omicron sickness takes its toll

Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 7 January, 2022

Retired and currently non-practising social workers have been urged to help address the Covid staffing crisis in England by returning to work.

The call comes in the wake of high sickness rates due to Omicron. Days before Christmas, minister for children and families Will Quince urged practitioners on a temporary register set up at the start of the pandemic to contact local authorities to offer their services or sign up with an agency.

Social Work England this month issued a statement in a blog saying: “As we move into 2022, now, more than ever, social workers will offer essential support for people, families and communities. Unfortunately, uncertainty remains as to the impact of COVID-19 on the provision of vital services.

“If you can support on a temporary basis, we would encourage you to contact your local authority or sign up with a local agency.”

About 13,500 social workers were automatically placed on the temporary registration list under emergency powers in 2020.

But only a fraction went on to return to practice. The latest calls come against a backdrop of increased workforce pressures. The Social Workers Union warned in July 2020 that the social work system “faces collapse” with a third of social workers surveyed looking to leave in the face of an “avalanche of referrals”.

A survey by the Social Workers’ Benevolent Trust in June 2021 found three-quarters of respondents were emotionally and mentally exhausted, with nearly 20 per cent struggling to cope. The majority (86 per cent) felt that social workers had not been recognised for their contribution during the pandemic.

Latest figures from the Department for Education show a vacancy rate of 16.1 per cent among children and families social workers in England for 2020. London had the highest rate of 23.8 per cent.

There were 6,113 vacancies and an absence rate of 2.9 per cent for the year ending September 2020. Three quarters of vacancies were covered by agency workers.

The latest figures from Skills for Care show the turnover rate for social workers with adults at English local authorities was 13.6 per cent in 2020. The vacancy rate was 7.5 per cent, equal to 1,300 vacant posts.

Adults’ social workers took an average of 10.3 sick days in 2020, one of the highest rates among social care roles.

Across adult social care, 7.4 days were lost due to sickness in November 2021, compared to 5.7 days pre-Covid.

Rates were highest in London (12.7 per cent), the East Midlands (ten per cent) and the South East (9.8 per cent).

Reports of plans to end temporary registration have led to calls for those on the list to apply to re-register or face not being able to return.

After the temporary registration list is closed, returnees will have to complete 30 days of refresher training before they can work again.