Unison survey exposes parlous conditions for social workers

Council social workers are facing increased pressures and lower staffing levels, while working significant overtime and experiencing abuse in the workplace, according to a Unison survey published today.

The poll of 3,500 UK local government staff found 80% of social workers faced increased work pressures this year compared with last, while over half had seen staffing levels decrease.

Abuse and overtime

Social workers worked 12% more hours than their contract specified on average, while 61% said they had experienced abuse by a service user, a quarter had experienced physical abuse by a user while 30% had been bullied.

There were similar issues for other social care staff:- 

  • 69% of care workers and three-quarters of non-social work staff in social services, such as administrators, were facing increased pressures.
  • 43% of care workers and 42% of social services staff had seen staff cuts.
  • 65% of social services staff had experienced verbal abuse and one-third had experienced physical abuse by a service user.

Reduced morale

Overall, 60% of staff believed morale had worsened in local government over the past year, while one-third felt less secure in their jobs than a year ago.

Unison’s head of local government, Heather Wakefield, said: “The local government employers need to realise that morale is at an all time low. Our members working in local government are telling us that heavy workloads and staff shortages are increasing stress and forcing down morale.

‘Stretched to breaking point’

We have already seen redundancies in local government. Staff and services are already stretched to breaking point.”
The survey came ahead of talks next week on employers’ offer of a 0.5% pay rise for staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which Unison and other unions have rejected.

Employers have said they will withdraw the offer, imposing a pay freeze, if it is not accepted by 1 June.

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