Half of social workers consider leaving the profession for ‘less stress’, survey finds

Survey of 1,000 social workers by Unison reveals 95% feel unable to do their jobs properly because of impact of cuts

Picture with a postit note that reads 'I quit!'
Picture: photoprodra/fotolia

More than half of social workers are considering leaving the profession for something less stressful, a survey by Unison has found.

One thousand social workers told the union their thoughts on the state of profession, with 56% saying they were thinking of quitting their roles.

Almost all (95%) of those surveyed felt they could not perform their jobs properly due to the impact of austerity.

Eight in 10, meanwhile, said local residents were not receiving the help and support they needed at the right time, which created greater crises for families further down the line.

A similar number said they were working unpaid overtime, with a quarter of those doing so for more than seven hours a week.

“Unmanageable workloads, paperwork and staff absences all contribute to the necessity of overtime – as do the time pressures of preparing reports for safeguarding meetings and courts, the challenges of dealing with clients with complex needs and emergencies that arise,” Unison’s report, Social Work At Breaking Point, said.

“Where TOIL [time off in lieu] may be available, it is sometimes impossible to take because of the heavy workloads, leaving social workers burnt-out.”

Fewer than one in five say workload is manageable

Other key findings from Unison’s survey included:

  • 68% of social workers said jobs had been cut in their department in the past two years.
  • 92% said budget cuts caused staff morale to fall.
  • 35% of social workers said they were considering leaving the profession for something better paid.
  • 17% say their workload is manageable.
  • 30% feel secure in their jobs.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “A culture driven by targets and financial needs, combined with unmanageable workloads and financial cuts is creating problems that could tear apart communities and put vulnerable children at risk.”

“There is a crisis in social worker after almost a decade of cuts to local government. Ministers must act before the system and the people it cares for are damaged beyond repair,” Prentis said.

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12 Responses to Half of social workers consider leaving the profession for ‘less stress’, survey finds

  1. Sandy June 19, 2019 at 8:21 pm #

    Nobody gives a dam😢 that’s how it’s always been. We are despised not just by service users but also other professions where we are misunderstood. We are not high enough up the agenda and Unison does little to help or raise our profile. Same as, same as

  2. Julia Fiellateau June 20, 2019 at 8:58 am #

    I’m one those social Worker who is quitting the profession. Worked in children social care since 1977. I qualified as a social worker in 1994 and I have seen the enormous changes in social work. Cuts to funding where family support worker not being able to undertake tasks that supported social workers. I’m over 60 and still expected to do social work as a 30yr old. The culture of more for less is not helping the children and families as social workers are running ragged to provide a high level of support, then challenged for not recording within timescales. Forget about TOIL, I’ve work part-time so worked for nothing, but at least the children on my case load have received support and advise they needed.
    I’m due to finish in 5 weeks time.
    Social work needs to go back to hands on with the support of family support workers.

  3. Dave June 20, 2019 at 11:33 am #

    Unfortunately politicians do not actually care, nor will any money go into Social Care. Therefore it will need to be changed by ourselves. Somehow we will have to take it out of the hands of local and national politicians, but there appears to be little will to rock the boat by the upper echelon. I really do not hold out for this to happen – especially as we are about to transition to SWE. I cant believe I’m actually saying that I am looking forward to early retirement. I was asked by a neighbour to speak to their child wishing to go to Uni to study Social Work as they thought it was a preferred option and wanted to encourage the young person. Up to recently, I would have said ok, but use the degree to enter another profession as it is a fair starting point. However I advised she study Geography ( expecting a good A-level result).
    Such a shame. Oh and one particular Social care office, covering an area of high deprivation in a local East Midlands city has NO qualified workers due to lack of staff. 24 vacancies – its gone beyond being on its knees.

  4. Paul Wieckowsli June 20, 2019 at 6:39 pm #

    I retired three years ago from a Clinical Social Work position with the chronically mentally ill population. For over forty years I worked on both inpatient and outpatient facilities. I have noticed the increase in case loads and the decrease in budget allocations for programs serving the mentally ill. I hope this trend will change in coming years though I doubt that it will.

  5. Amy moore June 21, 2019 at 7:18 am #

    But dont say how many have left due to managers not allowing them to do the right thing the stress of the job is because the social workers have to do what managers say and they know it is wrong they end up with the blood on there hands

  6. Clair Drummond June 21, 2019 at 7:57 am #

    I left the profession 8 weeks into a Adult Social Care job (case management). The atmosphere was toxic, no supervisors (all off sick). Every time I took a case to the scrutiny pannel they made you feel it was your fault the care package cost so much. SW’s assess needs under the care act, those needs that are eligible to be met by the LA must be met to not have a negative impact on the individuals wellbeing.

    The whole system is a joke and SW’s have the hardest job trying to balance the needs of service isers with the resources that are not there.

  7. Chris Gordon June 21, 2019 at 11:41 am #

    I have worked in EDT for over 20 years and I am still really enjoying it . I look forward to going into the work, we have a great wee team , support one another and have a lot of laughs when it’s not busy . I never feel stressed , I work 4 weeks on then 2 off, so a good work/ life balance . No two nights are ever the same , so I don’t get bored .
    I do feel for the day times teams I have to send updates to, as I know the pressure they are under .i only lasted a few years in such a team , realised it wasn’t for me and was lucky enough to get out . My health and happiness comes before any job.
    I also have a friend who works as a SW in a cancer charity and she enjoys it , and gets a lot back from helping people .
    So I guess it depends where you work , I have nothing but admiration for people that work in day services – I wouldn’t last a week these days

    • Ava June 21, 2019 at 4:02 pm #

      I am sure EDT is a great job but unfortunately it is only the few that can do it
      The great thing as you say is the variety of the role and no case responsibility

      That’s what is the problem with most SW’s balancing the heavy case loads with deminishing budgets and senior management having unrealistic expectations

  8. Phil Sanderson June 21, 2019 at 8:29 pm #

    None of this is surprising but the unions should be balloting members on working to rule to protect us or this will just carry on, Prentis and Mcluskey should start leading a fight in the public services. Put simply action works!

  9. Anne June 27, 2019 at 6:24 pm #

    It’s not breaking. It’s broke. Social workers are covering the cracks but they are too great to fix. Please look after your health and prioritise your families. There should be no pressure on staff to work excessively without pay . Toil is a myth. I know staff have died as a result at their desk. Please reflect on how to make sure that you are not abused and exploited at work. It is not your individual responsibility for the failings of the system. Evidence what is happening to your union CQC OFSTED councillors . This is better than concealing the mess because nothing will be done about it. Or just leave. Have a good life.

    • Errin June 28, 2019 at 9:41 am #

      The whole system is shot and irreparable. Local authorities can’t stem the flow of social workers leaving due to all of the above. Where i I worked staff resembled zombies, worked to death. Remember the job is not worth compromising your life and health for.

  10. Revolution Please July 2, 2019 at 5:06 pm #

    Unfortunately, this is nothing new and was identified in the BASW working conditions research: https://www.basw.co.uk/what-we-do/campaigns/professional-working-conditions and their ongoing 80/20 campaign: https://www.basw.co.uk/8020-campaign-relationship-based-social-work.