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Social Work Regulation (England): Commons Library Briefing, 2 December 2016

This briefing paper provides an overview of social work reform and the regulation of the social work profession in England. It also outlines the Government’s proposal for a new social work specific regulator.

Social workers work with individuals and families to try and improve outcomes in their lives. There are currently around 95,575 registered social workers in England, located in a variety of public, voluntary and private sector bodies.

The regulation of social work is a devolved matter in the UK. Social work has existed as a profession for many years, but in England it has only been subject to statutory regulation since 2001. Since 1 August 2012 the profession has been regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). A Memorandum of Understanding sets the framework for HCPC’s working relationship with the other three social work regulators in the UK.

Policy responsibility for social work in England is primarily shared between the Department of Health (adult social care) and the Department for Education (children and families).

Social work reform

The last decade has seen a series of reviews, reports, and reforms of social work. A raft of reform initiatives have been, or are in the process of being, put in place to improve the quality of social work and strengthen the profession. However, the extent to which these measures have impacted on the frontline of social work has been called into question.

Serious case reviews and inspections have identified inconsistency in social work practice across the country and in some cases failings in practice. Social workers are under pressure from increasing service demands and funding constraints. Large caseloads, negative media coverage and a ‘blame culture’ are said to be contributing to high vacancy and turnover rates in the profession.
The Government has set out a broad social work reform programme intended to improve the quality of social work practice and the systems that support social workers.