Social workers use their own money to buy food and clothing for service users, survey finds

Social workers supporting service users with their own cash because of lack of available resources

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.

Free parking

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.”

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12 Responses to Social workers use their own money to buy food and clothing for service users, survey finds

  1. Boris July 31, 2018 at 8:08 pm #

    I have spent the last twenty years buying essentials. There is no petty cash fund for assertive outreach and that is ridiculous. The highest risk most chaotic and vulnerable group of young people and I am meant to leave them starving. I regularly buy food, lunch, electricity, revision guides, boxing, gym membership, toiletries, clothes etc. I don’t give to charity anymore because I am the charity.

    • O B 1 August 1, 2018 at 11:43 pm #

      And everyone who comes after you must now do the same. Well done!

  2. Sandra July 31, 2018 at 10:38 pm #

    So true indeed I do it all the time to prevent most of my families from going hungry or not putting money on their light or gas

    • O B 1 August 1, 2018 at 11:42 pm #

      And what happens to them when YOU leave and your colleague takes over? Are they now obliged to do this too?

  3. O B 1 August 1, 2018 at 11:40 pm #

    This is a boundary issue that should not be happening. I know people think they are being selfless and noble, but you’re just making it difficult for your peers who can’t or won’t do this. And to say you don’t have time to claim expenses is nonsense! There is always time to take care of yourself.

    • Boris August 2, 2018 at 5:39 pm #

      Nope this is a human issue not a boundary issue. There is no expenses budget in my service as I said otherwise it would be fully utilized. However, this self righteous attitude is most helpful. Thanks. I will now go away and completely change my ethical base.

  4. James Gill August 2, 2018 at 7:15 pm #

    This is something I have always done as a Social Worker in the 80’s and 90’s, I would never let one of my service users go without. As a senior manager it’s not something I would advocate

  5. LMC August 2, 2018 at 7:46 pm #

    I really struggle with this, I understand in urgent situation supporting financially but it can and should always be claimed back . Making families dependent is not helpful and it is nonsense that LA don’t have provison such as food banks etc to support with these matters . Those SW that use this practice are blurring boundaries with our families who we should be supporting to manage independently and use community resources not becoming state dependent .

  6. sw111 August 2, 2018 at 7:50 pm #

    It is sometimes a battle to get even £3 authorised by the manager, when the mother needs that urgently for nappies. In such a situation what will you do.

    • O B 1 August 4, 2018 at 3:14 am #

      You empower her to complain. You teach her how to find resources that will help her. There are charities that help. You don’t make her dependent on you. That is irresponsible. What happens if you’re on leave? Who hands her £3 then? As social workers we are teaching people how to fish, not handing them fish. If you want to hand out fish, you’re in the wrong business.

  7. sw111 August 6, 2018 at 5:16 pm #

    It’s not that empowering, teaching about budgeting and accessing charities are not in place – sometimes urgency is such that workers are compelled to act but this would not be the case when management is understanding.

  8. janet August 8, 2018 at 2:14 pm #

    I was lucky working for a Hospital Discharge Team, we could access small sums from the Hospital’s Samaritan Fund. Originally we would use it to purchase beds but the amount per service user was restricted. Many used to purchase duplicate keys to give carers/put in keysafe, charge up fuel cards, the odd packet of incontinence pads (DN referrals for inco pads could take upto a 4/6 weeks) The Hospital had a Voluntary Agency (Friends of xxxx) who given 24 hours notice could make up a discharge food pack which could last 2/3 days pending carers/family being involved. Rarely problems in getting money refunded providing we had receipts.

    Social Services (Adults) did not have access to emergency funds but at times could refer to charities.