British social workers attacked or verbally abused more than 20,000 times in 2013/14

Figures gathered by Community Care show that the average council recorded 98 incidents of violence and abuse towards social workers and social care staff in 2013/14

Photo: Vesa Moilanen/REX

Social workers and social care staff in British local authorities faced an estimated 20,000-plus incidents of violence and abuse in the line of work, figures gathered by Community Care reveal.

A Freedom of Information request answered by 131 councils in England, Scotland and Wales reveals that there were 12,880 recorded incidents of abuse and violence towards social services staff during 2013/14.

This equates to an average of 98 incidents per council, suggesting that there were 20,254 incidents recorded by all 206 English, Scottish and Welsh councils in 2013/14.

However, in line with Community Care’s requests for this data in previous years, the number of recorded incidents varies wildly between local authorities.

Some councils, including Wokingham and St Helens, recorded fewer than 10 incidents while others, including Leeds and Dorset, reported more than 300 cases of abuse and violence against their staff.

This is despite 85% of the 446 social work and social care staff surveyed earlier this year by Community Care said they had experienced violence or verbal abuse in their work during the past year, suggesting that the quality of monitoring of such events remains inconsistent across the country.

“There is a lack of consistency of recording and reporting of incidents at local, regional and national level,” said Maris Stratulis, manager of BASW England. “Staff still do not feel confident to report incidents and we need to understand why this is happening in more depth.

“Social workers have a right to be protected and their wellbeing and safety should be paramount if they are going to undertake the complex duties that they do day to day. The government should lead a national campaign of zero tolerance of violence and abuse against social workers similar to the NHS zero tolerance policy.”

The Freedom of Information requests made by Community Care also reveal that in 2013/14 the average council recorded fewer incidents of violence and abuse against social workers than in the previous three years. This is despite the vast majority of the social workers Community Care surveyed saying they have been on the receiving end of violence and abuse in the past year.

In 2010/11 the figures collected by Community Care suggested that the average council recorded 148 incidents of violence or abuse towards social services staff but this fell to 135 in 2011/12 and 119 in 2012/13 and has now dipped to 98 in 2013/14.

It is unclear, however, whether the decline is due to fewer incidents of violence and abuse, councils recording less incidents or fewer social workers reporting such events to their employers.

“Until there is a national approach to recording incidents, collating data, monitoring patterns and trends, and evaluating the support and outcomes for staff we will not know the reality of what is happening to social workers who experience this unacceptable level of violence and abuse,” said Stratulis.

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