The average caseload held by a social worker has gone up to 33.5, an increase of 34% on last year, according to a sample of 132 social workers without management responsibility surveyed by Community Care.
Our investigation into caseloads in 2013 found social workers held an average of 25 cases. In 2003, Lord Laming recommended child protection social workers should have no more than 12-15 cases following his inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie.
Two thirds of social workers surveyed reported an increase in their caseload from this time last year and a similar number reported losing a member of their team because of unmanageable caseloads.
When asked how high caseloads had affected them, one social worker said:
“I’m so sad that, after a 15 year career in adult social work, I feel unable to continue. I am unable to ensure the safety of the vulnerable adults that I am responsible for and this means I can no longer can maintain professional integrity.”
Another social worker in adults’ services said: “High caseloads do not help service users or staff. It’s a false economy as people end up being in services long term and staff become increasingly despondent about not being able to do the job that is needed.”
For some social workers, the only way to manage the stress of excessive caseloads has been to switch to agency work.
“Too much work and too little pay makes Jack a locum worker,” said one social worker responding to the survey.
National officer for Unison, Helga Pile said: “The burden of excessive caseloads weighs heavily on the shoulders of practitioners causing stress, anxiety and burn-out.
“Ensuring manageable caseloads ought to be the overwhelming priority for employers and for the government because we know the terrible dangers and risks that come when social workers are stretched too thin.
“Yet the complacency and acceptance around this issue is staggering,” she said. “The government seems more interested in change around initial education and outsourcing services. I hope this survey can be another wake-up call – caseloads must be tackled now.”
Annie Hudson, chief executive of The College of Social Work, said the figures provided “further evidence of the impact of public sector spending cuts on social workers’ workloads.”
She added the fact that many social workers felt their caseloads were unsafe was “disturbing”.
“Notwithstanding the inevitability of some public spending cuts affecting social work, on no account should they be allowed to undermine the conditions of good, safe social work.
“Senior social care leaders will need to continue to think and work creatively to ensure that scarce resources are used effectively in the interests of people who need social work services,” she said.