Social workers have reported spending their own money to buy essential items for service users, including food, drinks, clothes and mobile phones because of the lack of resources available to support clients.
A survey by Professional Social Work magazine found almost 70% of the 290 social worker respondents said they had to use their own money or other resources to support clients.
One social worker said they had done it “many, many times” and had paid for things including shoes, pyjamas, food, sanitary towels and travel money.
A social worker explained the motivation to pay out of their own pocket was because there was “no time to claim expenses and also arguing with managers takes time and energy I don’t have”. Another reported purchasing Christmas gifts for foster carers.
“[I] often use [my] own money to help young people I work with. [I] buy toiletries and lunch for them which I don’t claim back,” one social worker said, while almost 40% said they used their own equipment – like pens, notepads and computers – to complete their job.
The survey also found that 80% of respondents had access to free parking, but only 37.8% received a car allowance, while less than one in 10 had a parking badge for street parking during home visits.
Despite the number saying they had access to parking, some said the parking situation was complex.
“Parking is limited, therefore if all the spaces are taken the onus is on the social worker to find an alternative place to park. Also, at some offices there is a limitation on the number of days per week you can park there – i.e. three out of five,” one social worker said.
“On-site parking [is] being severely reduced, and parking permits [are] now shared amongst the team rather than being individual,” another added.
Most social workers said they worked from home and some offered examples of positive steps employers had taken to support them.
Employers had introduced a range of initiatives to support social workers in their job, including flexible working, mindfulness training, counselling and one example of a manager taking their team out for an occasional breakfast. One council had provided free yearly travel cards for its staff.
Responding to the survey, the British Association of Social Workers said social workers using their own money to buy things for service users “shouldn’t be happening”, but added that doing this said a lot about their characters.
“We live in one of the richest countries in the world so it is unacceptable that the state is failing those that live on the margins of society,” it said.
“The survey once again highlights that working conditions for social workers are not improving at the rate it needs to. Our Working Conditions report showed that social workers were contributing £600m in unpaid overtime annually against a backdrop of increasing demand. It’s clear that social workers keep giving, even as many intend to leave the profession due to burn-out.
“If we want social workers to continue to perform the vital roles they do to the best of their abilities then we have to provide them with the right equipment and professional support as a bare minimum.”