Quarter of social workers may quit as red tape proves a bind

Excessive bureaucracy is a major factor threatening to drive up to a quarter of social workers out of the profession, disturbing new evidence reveals.

An exclusive Community Care survey of more than 1,100 social workers finds that one in four are thinking of leaving social work altogether.

The most important thing that would persuade them to change their minds is less paperwork and more time spent with clients, which would sway more than two-thirds of those considering leaving.

Our survey, sponsored by the British Association of Social Workers, shows that three-quarters of social workers spend more than 40% of their time on administrative tasks rather than in direct contact with clients. More than one-third spend more than 60% of their time on paperwork (see graph).

The research also shows that half of social workers do five or more hours of unpaid overtime every week – a figure that rises to 57.4% for those working with children and families.

Andrew Cozens (pictured left), strategic adviser for children, adult and health services at the Improvement and Development Agency, said the problem was not so much the quantity of paperwork, but the type of paperwork and the extent to which it was simply feeding bureaucratic processes.

“This is tied up with performance regimes being focused on inputs and outputs,” Cozens said. “People are spending a lot of time feeding the performance machinery rather than focusing on outcomes for service users.”

Other important factors that would persuade those considering leaving the profession to stay include more resources for services, cited by 61%, and better pay for staff (59%).

There is also an issue about meeting post-registration training and learning requirements, with nearly 60% of social workers finding it somewhat or very difficult to take five days out of their normal working year for their professional development.

Despite these issues, 83% of social workers are proud to be in the sector. But, while high, this figure was 88% 12 months ago.

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 Lauren Revans

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