Nine out of 10 social workers have been abused, assaulted or threatened with violence while on duty, an exclusive Community Care survey has revealed.
Practitioners said they had been punched, stabbed, strangled, kicked and assaulted with missiles thrown by service users who they were trying to help.
One social worker was left disabled after being stabbed in the hand and another was attacked with a glass ashtray by a schizophrenic service user. In total one-third of the 114 respondents had been physically assaulted.
The vast majority – 90% – had been verbally abused with some practitioners suffering death threats. One was told by a service user to “rot in hell” during a family conference.
Unions responded to our survey by demanding more funding from government and greater protection of frontline staff from employers.
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care, said: “All too often threats are made against staff but are not treated seriously, and staff are not removed from danger.”
The survey findings, which show 80% of practitioners had experienced more than one abusive incident in the past year, support Unison’s claim that violence against people working in social care in the UK has reached “chronic levels”.
Earlier this year, Mental Health Matters, a charity based in Sunderland, was fined £30,000 for breaching health and safety laws following the death of a support worker. Ashleigh Ewing was stabbed to death by a man with paranoid schizophrenia during a home visit in May 2006.
A separate Freedom of Information investigation by Community Care has revealed huge disparities in the way local authorities in England record violent incidents (see overleaf).
The results have prompted renewed calls for a national system of reporting and monitoring violence against social care staff.
This was one of the proposals put forward by a government-funded violence taskforce set up in 1999 after a social worker, Jenny Morrison, was stabbed to death by a mental health service user. The recommendation was accepted by ministers but never implemented.
Chris Davies, the former director of social services in Somerset and Cardiff who chaired the taskforce, said: “It should have been put in place so we could track trends and see how violence is changing.
“It’s crucial that managers take staff seriously so they can talk about the impact of what has happened.”
Pile added: “Money should be spent on setting up a national system to monitor incidents so that trends can be properly identified and action taken if they reveal a sharp increase.”
Councils have previously rejected the proposal, arguing local reporting systems are the most effective solution, but Community Care‘s survey suggests a lack of action in following up incidents locally.
More than half of the respondents who reported violence said their manager failed to investigate the incident.