Community Care and trade union Unison have joined forces to demand a groundbreaking Social Work Contract to ensure fair working conditions for social workers.
The campaign is a response to research by the two organisations that showed social workers in the UK are overloaded with excessive caseloads, too much bureaucracy and long working hours. This pressure is causing social workers to burn out and hampering their ability to practise safely.
Under the contract, which would be signed by employers and social workers, social workers would gain new rights to a manageable caseload, guaranteed professional supervision and compensation for excess hours worked.
In addition, there would be rights to professional development assistance, decent IT and administrative back-up, safe working practices and support when dealing with stress or traumatic cases.
Helga Pile, Unison national officer for social workers (pictured), said: “Children at risk, young people in care, frail older people, mental health patients, and the terminally ill are just some of the people who suffer when social workers don’t have time to deal with their cases properly. Leaving people’s needs to escalate costs more in the long run and can lead to terrible tragedies.
“We’re taking this campaign out there because social workers want the government and their employers to provide the minimum conditions for safe practice.
“A manageable caseload, the right to have their professional concerns heard and acted upon, the right to a minimum level of professional supervision and to keep their skills up-to-date – these are basic requirements that social workers should be able to expect. They know better than anyone how badly things can go wrong when workloads spiral out of control.”
“Our research clearly shows that social workers are being burnt out – and the problem is becoming worse,” added Bronagh Miskelly, group editor of Community Care. “Social workers cannot practise safely if they don’t have decent working conditions. This contract aims to build on the work that the Social Work Reform board is already doing and highlight what changes are needed to allow social workers to practise safely.”
Unlike social workers, teachers have a contractual right to spend 10% of their working time away from the classroom for planning and preparation. Probation officers have a national workload prioritisation system.
The campaign has already won the backing of Mencap, Counsel and Care and Alzheimer’s Society. “Social workers are key to improving the lives of the most vulnerable in society. Alzheimer’s Society wholly supports Community Care and Unison’s campaign to improving working conditions for social workers,” said Louise Lakey, the charity’s policy manager.
“Many social workers work with people with dementia. They can provide vital information and support for them and their carers. A million more people will develop the condition in the next 10 years yet many social workers aren’t trained in how to work with people with dementia. This must change. Social workers need to be supported in their role to provide the best service possible.”
The poll of more than 600 social workers also revealed that more than four-fifths (82%) said their caseload has increased over the past year.
In addition, recent Community Care research showed that social worker vacancy rates have increased despite the millions of pounds that have been pumped into staff recruitment and reforming the profession.
Click here to find out more about the campaign and to show your support.
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