Rising stress levels and “punitive” regulation have been linked to a 20% increase in the number of members seeking advice from the British Association of Social Workers on employment issues.
BASW’s advice and representation (A&R) service has received an average of 80 referrals per month so far this year, compared with 67 per month last year – amounting to a rise of 19%.
Many of these referrals were from members facing allegations of misconduct, but they also included complaints about managers and, conversely, referrals from employers about poorly performing social workers.
Marcia Lawrence-Russell, head of A&R at BASW, said this increase was due to a combination of factors, including stress, poor practice, high workloads and lack of quality supervision. “The list is endless,” she told members at the association’s annual general meeting in Birmingham this week.
She added that there had been a noticeable increase in “care council work”, where the A&R team represents members who face charges of misconduct at one of the four UK care councils.
She suggested the care councils, to a greater or lesser extent, had a “punitive” attitude to social workers and did not always take mitigating factors into account, such as poor management. “So often it’s about systematic failings, but they blame the social workers,” she said.
“Our issue is with the inconsistency,” added Lily Robertson, one of the A&R officers on the team. “We have social workers hauled up in front of interim suspension hearings and full misconduct hearings for what some people think are fairly minor infringements.
“BASW campaigned for the regulation of social work, but I’m not going to sit back and watch that regulatory framework beat us into the ground.”
A spokesperson for the General Social Care Council said: “It is absolutely not the case that our attitude is punitive or that we don’t take mitigating factors into account; in fact a section of each hearing is dedicated to this. However, as the regulator of social workers our duty is to take whatever action is necessary to protect the public.”