BASW: Workloads undermining ethical social work practice

Unmanageable caseloads are making it impossible for social workers to practice ethically, the British Association of Social Workers warned today as it issued a revised version of its code of ethics. (Image: Rex Features).

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Unmanageable caseloads are making it impossible for social workers to practice ethically, the British Association of Social Workers warned today as it issued a revised version of its code of ethics.

BASW’s affiliated union, The Social Workers’ Union, is receiving an increasing number of calls to its telephone duty service about the impact of “unmanageable and unrealistic” caseloads on service users, said BASW. Separately, 82% of BASW members expressed concern about high caseloads in a survey, answered by 385 members.

“We are concerned that government cuts and local authority implementation of this resource rationing is making it impossible for social workers to practice to the standards rightly expected of them by BASW’s code of ethics,” said BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson.

“For example, we have members approaching SWU to tell us that cases are being allocated to named social workers, when crippling caseloads mean that they are sitting in a pile on someone’s desk and that no one has the time to actually work on them.”

Other results from the survey included:-



  • 88% of members were concerned about the erosion of terms and conditions
  • 84% were concerned about salary cuts
  • 64% were concerned about a bullying managerial culture
  • 61% were concerned about a lack of proper, recorded and regular supervision

The revised code sets out a series of social work values under the headings social justice, human rights and professional integrity, and 17 ethical practice principles with which BASW members are expected to comply, including:-



  • Empowering people, including by tackling discriminatory practice among colleagues
  • Challenging the abuse of human rights, including by not colluding in practices such as the detention of child asylum seekers
  • Using the authority of their role in a responsible manner in accordance with human rights principles
  • Being prepared to blow the whistle on bad practice
  • Taking responsibility for their own practice and continuing professional development
  • Taking responsibility for the professional development of others, including students and colleagues

It also places an expectation on employers to put in place systems to enable social workers to comply with the code’s principles and deliver safe and effective practice, including by providing appropriate supervision. A copy of the revised code has been sent to all council chief executives.

The code dates back to 1975 and was last revised in 2002. Additions to the latest version include the section on professional integrity, which calls on social workers to be trustworthy, maintain professional boundaries with colleagues and service users and make considered professional judgements.

(Image: Rex Features)

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