Poll of social workers reveals alarm at caseloads and stress

A Community Care poll of 275 practitioners, conducted in partnership with The College of Social Work, suggested that teams were struggling to cope with a shrinking workforce and rising demand for services. College co-chairs Maurice Bates and Corinne May-Chahal (pictured) said the findings highlighted "significant hurdles in front of the profession".

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A Community Care poll of 275 practitioners, conducted in partnership with The College of Social Work, suggested that teams were struggling to cope with a shrinking workforce and rising demand for services.

The findings showed:

● 74% of social workers felt their stress levels would increase over the next 12 months.

● 70% predicted their caseloads would go up, with 69% fearing an increase in sickness levels.

● A third said their current level of supervision was worse than previous jobs.

● 50% expected their job satisfaction to go down.

The co-chairs of The College of Social Work, Maurice Bates and Corinne May-Chahal, said the findings highlighted “significant hurdles in front of the profession, especially in the context of service cutbacks and resource constraints”.

Nearly two-thirds of practitioners (62%) said their expected workload would be less manageable by the end of the year. The co-chairs warned: “Heavy caseloads will have a significant impact on the ability of social workers to perform to high standards and develop their practice.”

A common complaint from respondents was that while staffing numbers had fallen due to freezes on recruitment, overall workload had stayed the same, piling more pressure onto remaining workers.

One social worker, who felt their workload would increase, said: “We have less staff to work on the cases, more complaints are being generated, and mistakes being made through stress and high caseloads.”

Meanwhile, there was a mixed picture concerning supervision, with 49% of respondents saying their current level of line manager supervision was good or excellent. However, 32% said their current level of supervision was worse than previous jobs.

Several practitioners who took part in the survey raised concerns that the quality of supervision had suffered because their line managers were not qualified social workers.

Bates and May-Chahal said the findings were not entirely negative, however, pointing to the fact that 68% of respondents said they would recommend their current employer, and 51% rated their employer as good or excellent.

They said: “There is some difference of opinion on the future of standards in the profession, with three-quarters expecting standards to stay the same or improve.”

Unison’s national officer for social work Helga Pile said the survey results proved that the government’s spending cuts were “hitting social work and ultimately hitting the children and vulnerable adults social workers support and protect”.

She added: “As anyone in the profession knows, social workers are already stretched to breaking point. They cannot practice safely and effectively, and this survey sounds the warning that recruitment and retention and morale levels could get a lot worse.”

John Nawrockyi, representing the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ workforce development network, said the survey findings demonstrated the need for “proper organisational and management support” for frontline practitioners.

He said most employers were using the health check tool promoted by the Social Work Reform Board to assess the standard of working conditions in social work teams in a drive to protect frontline services and support practitioners.

The respondents to the online survey were social workers and managers from across England, mostly working in local authorities, with an average age of 50 years.

Social workers’ views

Supervision: “[My manager] allocates work but does not allow time for me to talk about the issues I want. She does not listen properly. She is not a social worker and does not fully understand the work I do.”

“Supervision is simply an hour and a half every six weeks where the manager sets the agenda, will only discuss the items on the agenda, and types into a laptop while you are trying to talk.”

Caseloads: “Posts are frozen and morale is the lowest I have known it – no extra pay, more work, more overtime, more stress and less job satisfaction.”

“I already have a caseload of 40-plus and, with the reduction in unqualified care managers through redundancy and a reduction in qualified social workers because of compulsory relocation, there is a certainty of having to manage a larger caseload and to limit the amount of input I have on existing clients.”

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