A quarter of social workers has taken on a second job to support their income in the current bleak economic climate, a survey by Community Care and the College of Social Work has revealed.
Of those who had, more than half said they had done so because the earnings from their first job could no longer meet their financial commitments.
Most of the respondents had taken secondary employment in social care.
But 57% of those with a second job said it had detrimentally affected their performance in their primary post at least some of the time.
“There’s a real danger that cuts are being put before frontline practice,” said Jamie Middleton, interim board member of the College of Social Work.
“I have no doubt social workers will be questioning whether it’s healthy for the people they are working with.”
Middleton added that social workers were already being asked to do more for less. He warned against pushing them to the point where they felt it necessary to take on a second job.
Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, echoed Middleton’s concerns.
“I don’t think it’s acceptable to place people in that position,” he said. “We’re constantly hearing that social workers have to work well into the evenings and on weekends to cover their first job anyway.”
He advised social workers to take these issues to their employers and, in some cases, consider telling the General Social Care Council or relevant UK regulator.
Peter Hay, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said managers should be concerned about anything that led to a drop in performance.
“Most council are working on pretty lean structures now, so efficiency is even more important,” Hay said.
The survey of 268 social workers also showed that nearly one in four of those with a second job had not told their primary employer that they were taking on extra work.
Hay said most employers were sympathetic and would try to help staff if they were having difficulty managing two roles.
However, he warned that, if employers were not informed about the second job, they might take disciplinary action over issues such as perpetual lateness or underperformance.
Community Care’s online survey also found that 44% of social workers were unsure whether taking a second job was against the GSCC’s code of practice. The code only requires social workers to be open and honest with their employer and does not refer explicitly to second jobs.
However, employment contracts almost always require that the employer be notified.
Case study: Up all night – and day – in crisis intervention
Working full time in a mental health crisis intervention team is tough enough after a full night’s sleep. But social worker Anne Cameron often has to do it without any sleep at all, after she decided to take on extra night shifts to help pay the bills.
“At the moment I have taken a three-month mortgage holiday so I can try to clear my overdraft and get back to a point where I can manage my finances,” she told Community Care.
Cameron began taking on six night shifts a month in a crisis response unit in 2007. The job is based within the same council that employs her to do her day job. She uses her own car for work, but in the past year her car allowance has been cut. Her main salary has been frozen for more than a year.
“Initially I took [the night shifts] for the experience,” she said. “Then, about a year-and-a-half ago, I thought it’d be nice to stop, but I can’t afford to and it’s linked to my pension as well.”
The night shifts can affect her day-to-day practice, Cameron admitted. “Sometimes, if I’m on call, I can’t go in the next day because I’ve been out all night, which doesn’t always go well with my health colleagues – but that is the council’s policy.
“Other times I do make it in, but I’ll be overtired and it’s not particularly safe to do that.”
Cameron admits that the stress can get her down. However, she has found the change of mindset between the two jobs can be refreshing.