Skip to main content

Social workers using their own money to support struggling families

Food bank

Social workers are digging into their pockets to help people struggling to meet the basics such as food, energy bills, clothing and sanitary towels.

A survey by Professional Social Work magazine found seven out of ten workers used their own money or other personal resources to support service users facing financial hardship.

One respondent said they had done so “many, many times” adding: “I’ve bought food, drink, sanitary towels, shoes, pyjamas, a cheap mobile phone, electric and gas top ups, travel money.”

Another said they had bought “presents on birthdays for children who likely will get nothing”. Workers said they regularly give cash or pay for meals for people who haven’t had payments on time. 

“I recently did an emergency food shop for a family,” said one respondent. “I have used my own money to purchase essential items for other families due to lack of resources.”

John McGowan, general secretary of the Social Workers Union, said: “The fact that social workers are spending their own money to help people meet basic needs says a lot about the kind of people who make up our profession.

“But they should not have to pay the price for the state’s failure to support those who most need it. In one of the richest countries, this is unacceptable.”

The survey also found social workers having to subsidise for deficiencies in the workplace, including lack of stationery, and cuts to car allowances.

The average mileage rate was just under 40p per mile, but 15 per cent of respondents said it has reduced in the last five years.

Nearly all – 92 per cent – of social workers use their own car for work. Only 37 per cent get a car allowance and nearly four out of ten say they have had allowances removed in the last five years.

Four out of ten social workers regularly buy their own equipment including pens and notepads and use their own mobile phones. 

A typical response was: “Local authorities do provide but there is never enough and the pens are cheap and nasty.”

Most social workers – 93 per cent – work from home occasionally, but a massive 98.6 per cent say they don’t get adequately reimbursed for doing so.

McGowan added:“We already know from our UK Social Workers: Working Condition and Wellbeing study that social workers work an average of ten unpaid hours a week. This latest survey shows they are also subsidising the state in other ways too, including buying the basic tools to do the job.

“If we want people to stay in social work, we must provide them with the right conditions and equipment and not make it cost for them to do so.”

  • A ‘hidden tax’ on frontline staff – full analysis in the July/August edition of Professional Social Work magazine.

This article appears in the July/August issue of Professional Social Work. Subscribers and BASW members can access the full magazine including our investigation revealing a slump in demand for MA social work courses at English universities, dispatches from social workers based in very different parts in the UK, a practitioner’s top tips for surviving in social work, and a US social worker’s take on life in Trump’s America.