Debate on whether new bursaries will ease social work recruitment problems

We asked whether new social work bursaries of at least
£3,000 for students starting either the Diploma in Social Work
or the new three-year degree in September 2003 will ease the
recruitment problems.

These are the responses we received:

Until we are offered the same level of respect
as other public sector workers the bursary won’t make any
If I were starting my studies today I’d have one clear choice,
either pursue social work and its consequent lower pay than similar
professions and low public standing; or become a teacher, nurse or
police officer gain a better pay and more respect from the
Unless you like giving yourself a hard time the choice between the
two is fairly simple.
Disillusioned child protection social worker with 10 years’
experience, awaiting commencement of PQ Course for which I’ll have
to study in my own time and receive no financial

David Lloyd

The short answer is no.

It may help to attracted a few more younger students to take
places on social work courses, but they will soon learn that
overall they will be paid far less then other graduates and in the
main less then many other non graduate workers. It won’t help to
retain social workers or encourage those, like me, who are
qualified and capable social workers, but who are no longer working
in social work. It will not address the issues of too much work,
stress, and too little pay and recognition.  There is unlikely to
be a shortage of qualified staff to fill vacancies if social
workers were looked after and paid better. The effort should be
more on retaining staff then on trying to bribe younger (and
cheaper) people to join.

Jim James
County Hall

I think the new bursaries are a start towards
attracting people into social work again, but there really needs to
be more thought about exactly what type of candidates will be
attracted. Most ordinary people need to earn a living and pay bills
whilst they are studying, and this is especially true of minority
and special needs candidates such as single mums, working class
people, people from diadvantaged backgrounds etc.

We need to ensure that social work keeps a breadth of
experiential knowledge which often comes from coping with
unconventional or minority backgrounds. We need more than bored
financial service personnel who think social work may be a way to
help “the poor”. The optimum way of supporting students and
preparing them for the often harrowing world of social care, is I
think to have a system whereby students study three days per week,
and are employed as trainee social workers (or whatever!) on the
other two days at rates of pay which enable them to do more than
merely survive.

For too long, the qualifying course has been seen as a sort of
“character test”, whereby students are reduced to circumstances
which replicate the dire straights experienced by clients – a sort
of ritual humiliation. No wonder that in the 21st century people
look for another way of making a living! One more thing is the lack
of moral purpose in the care professions now. People want to feel
that the work they do is in fact ameliorating suffering and
distress, not just some vapid exercise in meeting centralised
political targets.

There is little real understanding anymore about what social
work is actually about, where it came from and what it hopes to
achieve. At one time people with a strong religious faith would
have seen social work as a way of expressing their faith in their
Would they still do so now? If not why not? The same, I guess,
would be true of people with a radical political

Martin Wall


I would like to comment on the introduction of
the bursaries for social work students, which although I believe is
a positive move, also makes me quite angry. 

I undertook the DipSW from September 1998 to June 2001 and as
there was no financial help at all towards rents, studying
expenses, loss of full time work etc (no children, so no grants) am
now paying back a student loan of nearly £9,000, which
basically is working out at £90 per month, which from my
actual wage is very steep. 

I also had to work throughout my course, both evenings and
weekends to actually support myself through the DipSW, or would not
have been able to actually stay at university, and they worry about
falling numbers of applicants. If during my time at university I
was offered £3,000 a year bursary you could say I would be
£90 per month better off now. 

Hmm, I wonder if myself or any of my counterparts who were also
in my same position within these two years are going to get any
financial recompense from health minister Jacqui Smith, to actually
help pay off the extortionate loans we had to take out to keep us
at university, somehow I don’t think so.”
Melony Bramwell

I am currently and third year student on a BSC
in social work. I think the bursaries however small will be of some
benefit, as it will in effect be money that does not need to be
paid back. How it is paid will also contribute to its success, as
currently as an undergraduate I can access the hardship fund but
applications are not accepted until mid October and you have to
wait for anything up to eight weeks to recieve some money. 

If the bursary is paid on a monthly basis it will be of some
benefit as it will give students an additional meagre income whilst
waiting for other funds and loans to be processed. In addition to
this if you have to give up your right to apply to the hardship
fund it makes no sense applying for the bursary as you may get more
depending on your situation with the hardship fund as you can apply
more than once.”

Joanne H.

I felt I had to express my views, and my
experience. Before I commenced on the DipSW  I had completed a
two-year access course into higher education. I had also been doing
voluntary work for the past six years.

I have been a single parent (divorced) for the last 15 years,
and have brought up my three children single handed. I have had no
maintenance for the last nine years since the CSA (Child Support
Agency) came into existence,and even though I phone regularly I
have had no success.

I enquired at the local benefits agency as to what would happen
to me on a financial level once I commenced on the DipSW course,
unfortunatly nobody seemed to have any idea.

Still not to be put off, as it had been a lifetime ambition to
become a social worker, I applied, was accepted, and completed the
course in June 2001.

During the course I had a student loan, plus I worked as an
health care assistant. Now I have been working full-time since June
2001, and to be honest I am properly worse off now, than when I was
on income support.

I am still being paid the same as a newly qualified social
worker, and after stoppages, plus £80 student loan, to which
it will take 5 years and 9 months to pay off, I feel that I’m
struggling far more than I was living on benefit. Natually I don’t
qualify for any support, not even for school trips, to which I was
offered assistance when I was in income support.

I must stress that yes I am happy, I’m so glad I took the
courage to do the training, and I would never look back. However,
it would be nice if just for once I could go shopping without
having to watch every penny. As far as my children are concerned,
the oldest is now at university taking a nursing degree, and I
believe that I have set the right example, but they do not
understand that mum still has no money.”


In my opinion bursaries are not going to make
any difference to social work recruitment problems.

Local authorities employ thousands of capable, dedicated people
who would be only to willing to undertake social work training and
work as social workers. What is stopping them is they tend to be
older than typical students who have financial and family
commitments, which means that they cannot give up work for two
years to train.

The structure of the training also hampers success as it relies
on practice teachers that are notoriously difficult to find, so to
increase numbers of students are we going to force qualified staff
to become practice teachers. The three-year degree is only going to
exacerbate the difficulties.

I am personally, and I’m sure many others are infuriated
by the current adverts in the media for training to be a social
worker. The helplines are more suited to recruiting from sixth form
colleges and seem incapable of helping those already working in
social care to move forward.”

John Cuzen

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