Long-term sick leave among social workers on the rise in midst of working conditions pressures

BBC investigation reveals rising rates of social workers taking at least a month off through sickness

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Photo: tuaindeed/Fotolia

The number of social workers taking long-term sick leave has increased by nearly a quarter, a BBC investigation has found.

A Freedom of Information request responded to by 135 councils across the United Kingdom said the number of social workers taking at least a month off through sickness rose from 1,537 in 2012-13 to 1,911 in 2016-17.

A recent research study carried out by Bath Spa University, and backed by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the Social Workers’ Union, found social workers had been working through illness to keep up with caseloads.

It also found social workers had been adding an average of 10 extra hours a week to their workload, which equated to £600 million unpaid overtime per year if applied to the entire United Kingdom workforce.

The research said social workers had been put under “significant strain” by organisational factors, such as poor working conditions.

BASW launched a ‘Respect for Social Work’ campaign last year in a bid to improve working conditions in the profession.

6 Responses to Long-term sick leave among social workers on the rise in midst of working conditions pressures

  1. Deb January 10, 2018 at 7:20 pm #

    In 2011 Munro reported in her final report of the Munro review, a set of proposals for reform to create the conditions that could enable professionals to make the best judgements about the help to give children, young people and families. Since then there has been a number of research articles and reports on the topic. In 2016 Dr Jermaine M Ravalier of Bath Spa University completed research which has revealed that social workers in the UK are working £644,736,000 worth of unpaid overtime every year and as many as 92% of the 100,000 registered social workers in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland are working an average of 10 hours of unpaid overtime every week. This equates to approximately 480 hours every year, or 64 days, per person.

    As a result, over 50% of current social workers are considering leaving the profession within the next 18 months due to the stress of too many demands on their time and from those effects of poor working conditions which impacts upon Social workers well-being, now being referred to SWs mental health. Those poor working environments include poor management, no support, high case loads and the naming and shaming of Social workers subject to HCPC competency hearings and so on and so on. In September 2017 BASW began a respect for Social Work campaign. This is not a new problem for SWs we’ve had over 8 years of it and it is now a chronic problem. One which also effects the recruitment and retention of skilled Social workers, and it is as a direct result of being burnout and suffering ill health due to the treatment from their employers and poor working conditions. Stress kills and distroys lives, human have a right to be safe at work and these employers should be held accountable. When is it going to change?

    • Maria January 11, 2018 at 9:55 pm #

      I qualified in 1997 and have seen changes requiring social workers loose their specialism to work with the adult generic field.

      Hot desking , noise disturbance, increase in workload assessments and queries due to the Care Act has made for poor working conditions.
      Increase in low morale, stress and complaints have left staff feeling burned out and vulnerable.

      I am looking to leave the social work profession so that I can sleep well at night and have a decent quality of life.

  2. Hels January 13, 2018 at 10:37 pm #

    It’s all too easy for some employees to take advantage of the sickness policy, actively abusing it.

    • Sausagesfortea February 5, 2018 at 3:50 pm #

      I’m alright Jack.

      How would you like a sickly professional doing yours or your family members crisis plans? Or are you of the notion that social workers should all leave before they get sick?

      Mass exodus…?

  3. Claudia January 18, 2018 at 9:56 am #

    I personally do not understand why some social workers do unpaid overtime at all!
    I’ve been practising for four years now, and very early in my career – perhaps whilst I was doing my first Social Work student placement (as a “mature” student, who had a family and small children when doing the degree course) – I learnt that you have to keep a good work / personal life balance. I give my best when I’m in work for the 8 hours, I’m conscientious, reliable, hard working, I’m in work on time every day, I don’t take longer than agreed breaks etc. However, when I leave at the end of the 8 hours (prompt!), I switch off, leaving my work, and work-related issues, in work. I do not stay longer / “unpaid overtime”, and I do not take work home in any shape or form, including psychologically.
    I recently became aware that I have the best sickness record in the team, and I have to admit “there but for the grace of God goes I” – I’m lucky not to have any chronic illness. Yet, I think my approach works really well, and I’ve never taken any time off work due to stress.
    The work is always there, and you can continue to deal with it when you come back at 09:00 tomorrow. The problem with Social Workers doing unpaid overtime, is that it creates a culture of dependence on this. Managers will never get the message that something is not working and something needs to be done about it, i.e. they need to employ more staff, because the work always gets done due to staff doing “charity” work, working extra hours of their own time without getting paid for it. So why should they employ more staff?
    If you tell me that it is the culture of the team you work in to work 2 extra hours every day unpaid, then you really need to go and speak to your Union representative. This is not acceptable! All you’re doing is saving your employer money, with significant consequences to your own health and well-being, and that of your family.
    If your employer expects you do the extra unpaid work, then this is a form of exploitation, and it should never happen – it’s up to you STOP this. Go and check your contract or your employment handbook – I’m sure there is nothing in there to bind you working unpaid hours, so if anyone threatens you with dismissal because you’re not doing the extra hours and leaving work at 17:00, then take them to a tribunal, they don’t stand a chance!
    I apologise for the straight talk, but I felt very upset reading this article. Why would intelligent people with University degrees let themselves be exploited on daily basis? This has got to stop!

  4. Bernie January 22, 2018 at 10:45 pm #

    Well said Claudia. Hopeyou are a Uni9n Rep you are exactly the kind of person we need more of .