More councils reporting high numbers of social workers off work due to Covid

DfE report finds 4% of councils reported that a tenth of social workers were off work due to coronavirus last month, up from low of 1% in September, as social work bodies anticipate rise in referrals to children’s services

Image of Covid-19 coronavirus test (credit: jarun011 / Adobe Stock)
(credit: jarun011 / Adobe Stock)

The proportion of councils reporting high numbers of social workers not working due to Covid-19 rose last month following a sustained fall since May, a Department for Education (DfE) survey has found.

Four per cent of local authorities said more than 10% of social workers  were not working due to the pandemic from 19-21 October, up from 2% at the start of last month and 1% in early September, the latest results from the DfE’s ongoing research into Covid-19’s impact on children’s services has shown.

The rise, revealed in the wave 12 results from the department’s vulnerable children and young people survey, follows an ongoing decline from a high of 13% of local authorities in May.

Graph of social workers off work from Covid

Source: Vulnerable Children
and Young People
Survey (DfE, wave 12)

There has been a similar trend in relation to children’s residential care staff, in relation to whom 11% of councils reported that a tenth of the workforce was off due to Covid from 19-21 October, up from 8% at the start of the month.

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Local authorities who were in tier two and tier three of the government’s system of restrictions that came into force in mid-October told the DfE that they were beginning to experience issues with staff availability, with one authority reporting wider teams having to self-isolate due to one worker having a positive test, with the NHS contact tracing app being a driver for this.

Councils redeploying staff to fill gaps

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) England said it was concerned about the DfE’s findings, adding: “A depleted workforce – through no fault of individual social workers following national guidelines – increases the pressure on teams working hard in already difficult circumstances to safeguard children and families.”

Rachael Wardell, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ (ADCS) workforce development policy committee, said that “most local authorities have responded to any workforce shortages by redeploying their existing staff to fill gaps because those staff are already familiar with local arrangements and systems”.

Both associations raised concerns about the risk of workforce depletion amid the expected rise in referrals to children’s services this winter.

Wardell said that the ADCS anticipated a “peak in referrals to children’s services [was] yet to come, and when it does this will put added pressure on a workforce that was already under strain pre-Covid-19, particularly if the number of social worker absences continues to rise”.

BASW England added: “With the winter flu season upon us, the concern is that the problem will increase… A stable, well-resourced and fully supported workforce is needed to manage anticipated rises in referrals over the next few months.”

Referrals to children’s services had been expected to spike, following the return of children to schools in September, after being well below average during the first months of the pandemic. However, those waves of the DfE survey that have been reported since has shown that referrals have been lower than the average for the equivalent period from 2016-18 since September. Wave 12 showed that referrals for 5-11 October were 6% down on the 2016-18 average

Wardell said she hoped the current lockdown would reduce transmission of the virus, meaning that fewer social workers would be off work, but reiterated ADCS’s calls for a national recruitment campaign, “which tackles longstanding stereotypes head on and clearly articulates that good social work helps change lives for the better”, to tackle workforce gaps.

4 Responses to More councils reporting high numbers of social workers off work due to Covid

  1. Tom J November 18, 2020 at 12:21 pm #

    Most Local authorities already operate with the bare minimum number of social workers they can possibly get away with employing, meaning that there is limited flex in the system. This will place huge stress upon those who are still at work, as unlike teaching where if the primary school teacher is ill they do not combine the classes for the rest of the term and have 60 in a class. But in social work it is commonly accepted that the team must absorb the work until the worker returns from illness.

  2. Julia November 18, 2020 at 6:09 pm #

    I seem to remember Social Work England telling us hordes of social workers had registered to return to practice.

  3. Ann November 18, 2020 at 10:00 pm #

    I suspect the huge numbers of sw who are on the temporary list are ones who problems with fee payments when transferring from hcpc trying calling swe 45 minutes £135 to rejoin plus fees. I am a level 3 sw working for past same employer for past 7 yrs but on temp list so not a new sw rejoining now of 2 other sw in the same situation. Work is worse then ever where is swe in promoting sw apart taking our money and threats to remove sw from register if they have not done cpd by 30. Nov but they will get their money they need to step up for sw

  4. Chris Sterry November 21, 2020 at 6:50 pm #

    This is yet, another problem caused by the Tories austerity cuts, which have caused reductions across the board in Local Authorities (LAs) including Social Care, not only in Children’s Services, but also Adult Services. These reductions were done, by removing, so called ‘ slack’, but there was no slack to be removed, for this caused even greater ‘workloads’ on top of already great workloads.

    This was at a time when more referrals were being received and now with COVID-19, due to COVID-19 related sickness and required isolations, there are even less Social Workers resulting in even greater workloads and even greater numbers of referrals.

    This is unsustainable and will cause Social Care to fail, as there are also major problems within the social care markets, where there is massive understaffing for numerous reasons, abysmal pay levels, very poor working conditions and many other reasons.

    One of the main reasons for this is the massive underfunding for social care due to this and previous Governments having a policy to underfund LAs.

    For social care to have any chance of survival, let alone recovery, the Government needs to immediately provide the total funding that LAs require to relieve the underfunding of social care.

    To this end I created the petition, Solve the crisis in Social Care,

    https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/solve-the-crisis-in-social-care.

    Should even further information be required, please see,

    https://1drv.ms/w/s!Aq2MsYduiazgoFWfvanmXBW23hDj?e=kRHP88

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