Social work leaders have called on Jeremy Hunt to end the government’s delay in allocating social work bursaries for this year.
In a letter to the health secretary, the British Association of Social Workers warned ongoing uncertainty on bursary funding was causing students to consider withdrawing from, or deferring their places on, social work courses due to start in September.
Students have already voiced their anger and anxieties over the delay and academics have made direct appeals to the chief social workers to resolve the situation.
BASW, which represents more than 20,000 social workers across the UK, told Hunt the delay “does nothing to reassure social work students or academics that they are valued by government” and needed to be addressed urgently.
Ruth Allen, BASW’s chief executive, wrote: “We are hearing anecdotally from both students and academics that this delay in allocating bursary funding is reducing the number of students able to take up their place on mainstream university courses.”
While ministers have repeatedly delayed announcing bursary funding for mainstream social work programmes this year, they have committed to investing an extra £100m in fast-track social work schemes by 2020. The fast-track routes target graduates, with applicants requiring a minimum 2:1 first degree to apply.
Allen said mainstream university routes remained “the backbone of training provision” and the government’s failure to provide funding certainty for them risked freezing non-graduates out of social work and damaging workforce planning.
“Social work education should be accessible to everybody and bursaries help to encourage people who may not otherwise have considered university to qualify as a social work. Given the diversity of the people the next generation of social workers will serve, ensuring a diverse social work workforce is crucial.
“Not everyone enters university at 18: some students will be giving up full-time jobs in order to take up a place on a social work course. Social workers train via a variety of routes and it is a really positive for the profession that it attracts a variety of ages and backgrounds who are committed to becoming social workers.
“It is good practice for government to harness and support this commitment by being clear from the outset on the level of financial support available. It is important to retain diversity in training provision and universities should not be disadvantaged in favour of other forms of training provision.”
Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston university, said the delay to bursary funding showed a “total disrespect” by government for social work students and mainstream programmes.
“It is outrageous that with only weeks to go before early September, when many masters programmes start, that students and courses are left stranded and with it all having to be sorted and rescued during August with the unavailability of prospective students and course staff because of holidays.”
The Department of Health told students and universities they would receive bursary information for this year in June but no details have been announced. Last Monday, the DH said social work bursaries would be provided for the next academic year and details would be “published shortly”. It said sign-off on allocations had been delayed because of ministerial changes.
A consultation on the longer-term future of the social work bursary will be launched later this year with ministers considering scrapping the financial support entirely.
Frances, 26: ‘You feel devalued before you’ve even started’
I’m due to start my MA social work course at Manchester Metropolitan University in September. At the moment I work for the Alzheimer’s Society in London. I’ve handed in my notice at work and on my contract on my flat, so I’ll be moving in a few weeks.
The bursary uncertainty’s a real worry. I applied for this course in September last year. I’ve planned everything around it. Now I’m worried it might not happen because I’ve decided if I don’t get the bursary I’m not going to do it – I just financially cannot do it.
But the delay also makes me feel the government doesn’t think much about courses like mine – they’ve indicated they want to move more people to doing fast-track courses. I’ve been really impressed by my university but if the government removes bursaries it is sending a signal that they feel these courses aren’t worth as much. It makes me question everything because I’m committing two years to doing this.
I’ve thought about doing social work for ages. I’ve worked as a support worker with older people for a few years. I really enjoy it but I want to build my skills and knowledge. For me, social work is a natural progression.
I’d like a decision on bursaries either way. I saw Community Care’s article the other day where the government said there will be a bursary. But it has taken so long I don’t really believe them until they confirm it, and even if they do provide them maybe they’ll just halve the numbers or the bursary won’t be worth as much as it has been in previous years.
I don’t blame my university at all. They’ve been really open about the bursary situation the whole time and kept us updated as best they can. The problem lies with the people making the decisions in the government. I don’t understand why it is taking so long. It’s not nice feeling devalued before you’ve even started your social work training.