Skip to main content

Social work employers urged to offer more part-time posts to address recruitment crisis

Social Workers Union call after its research finds more than 80 per cent of job ads are for full-time roles

Carol Reid

Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 9 June, 2022

Social work employers are being urged to “wake up” to flexible working after new research found less than 20 per cent of new posts advertised offered part-time hours.

The Social Workers Union (SWU), which carried out the research, said a failure to consider part-time posts was contributing to a recruitment crisis in the sector.

SWU’s findings were based on an analysis of 6,471 social work jobs advertised across the UK in April and May this year.

Of these, only 1,212 offered part-time or flexible working hours – equal to 18.7 per cent.

In England, where the majority 5,672 posts were advertised, only 18.5 per cent offered flexible work options.

The findings for England come despite rising vacancy rates of 16.7 per cent in children’s services and ten per cent in adults’ services.

In Wales, where local many authorities report problems recruiting and retaining social workers, only 14.6 per cent of jobs advertised offered part-time or flexible hours.

Posts advertised in Northern Ireland had the most part-time or flexible work options – 37.3 per cent – followed by Scotland, with 30.4 per cent.

John McGowan, general secretary of the Social Workers Union, said: “With growing demand from social workers for part-time roles and an increasing need to recruit social workers, you’d think employers would be jumping at the chance to offer flexible working conditions.

“We often hear about staffing shortages in social work, but part of the solution is staring employers in the face: offer more part-time or flexible roles.”

Carol Reid, national organiser for SWU, said many social workers had caring commitments that meant they could only work two or three days a week.

“The opportunity to undertake part-time work appears to be particularly difficult when looking for qualified social worker roles. We need employers to wake up and realise that they are missing out on expert and committed staff due to their failure to offer part-time posts.”

Carys Phillips, chair of the Social Workers Union and a practising social worker, questioned the pressure to work full-time in a profession that “remains a female-majority but male-led profession”.

She said: “Part-time and job-share posts can be agreed as part of the flexible working policies, but this opportunity is seldom promoted or encouraged.

“The opportunity for career development is often stalled with assumptions that part-time equals career abandonment and oftentimes this means career stagnation. This needs to change to ensure part-time opportunities are encouraged and supported.”

A social work practitioner from the north-west of England who left a full-time role to care for a family member, highlighted the difficulty in getting part-time work.

“Even when roles say ‘full-time preferred, but part-time may be considered,' when I contact the manager responsible the reality is they want someone full-time, therefore any part-time applicants will be low priority in the application process.

“It is frustrating for me to hear of the current recruitment and retention crisis in social work, with staff shortages, high vacancy rates, and high caseloads, all having an impact on the wellbeing of social workers.

“The organisations that regulate and underpin social work, along with local authorities and organisations employing social workers, need to support and facilitate part-time opportunities to ensure people like me aren’t lost to the profession forever.”

Earlier this year, an impact assessment of social care reforms highlighted a need more social workers to carry out an increased number of assessments.

The government has allocated £500 million for the social care workforce, including expanding training pathways into social work, paid for by the 1.25 per cent health and social care levy on National Insurance. 

England's Independent Review into Children's Social Care has recommended a trial of social workers with children and families working outside normal hours and making senior social work managers, leaders and academics spend 100 hours a year in direct practice.