Social workers are working through illness or putting in extra unpaid hours just to keep up with their caseloads, a study has found.
The survey of more than 1,200 social workers found 60% said they had worked when they should have taken time off sick on at least two occasions over the past year.
Researchers also found social workers worked an average of 10 extra hours each week, which equated to £600m unpaid overtime per year when applied to the entire UK social work workforce.
Bath Spa University carried out the study, with support from the British Association of Social Workers and the Social Workers Union.
‘Deep budget cuts’
Jermaine Ravalier, the study’s lead author, said the results showed the satisfaction social workers got from their jobs “can no longer outweigh the lack of support they are experiencing”.
He said: “Deep budget cuts are forcing social workers to take on more cases than ever, putting them under pressure to deliver a service to people that are often vulnerable with fewer resources. In order to keep up, they are simply giving away days of their personal time.
“If this keeps up, and the social workers we spoke with do leave the profession, local authorities will be forced to pay for contract workers who are expensive, transient, and certainly won’t be working lots of free hours.”
The research found social workers were “moderately to highly engaged” in their jobs but were put under “significant strain” by organisational factors, such as poor working conditions.
Forty per cent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with their jobs and half wanted to quit within the next year-and-a-half. These feelings were stronger among children’s social workers than adult’s or independent social workers.
Asked about what would improve working conditions, social workers said they wanted to see reduced caseloads, better managerial support and supervision, and steps taken to address the “blame culture” affecting the profession.
The study also found some social workers believed there was a culture of “institutional racism” in councils, but the report authors said the small sample size (130) reporting this meant the findings required greater investigation.
Social workers with disabilities said councils showed a “lack of understanding” of the impact their disabilities had on their jobs and often failed to introduce small changes that could have helped.
Ruth Allen, chief executive of BASW, said poor employment conditions lead to burnout, adding: “Dr Ravalier’s UK research confirms that social workers give an immense amount of unpaid time because of their professional commitment.”
John McGowan, general secretary of SWU, said it was a “great concern” that social workers were considering leaving the profession.
“Social work intervention in a vulnerable person’s life can greatly improve the quality of life and opportunities for that person and the people that support them, who otherwise may need increased intervention from a range of agencies that costs more to the taxpayer but also reduces the quality of life for the person.”
BASW, SWU and Ravalier said they would work together on recommendations they could present to the government on how to address the problems identified.
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