Thirty six working-age social workers were recorded as dying from Covid-19 in 2020, official figures have shown.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data showed the deaths of 11 male and 25 female practitioners aged between 20 to 64 in England and Wales were registered as involving Covid-19, from 9 March to 28 December, 2020. The deaths of a further 27 social work practitioners over the age of 65 were recorded as involving Covid-19, though it is unclear how many of these people were retired.
The death rate from Covid among female social workers of working age was one of the highest for women of any profession, at 32.4 deaths per 100,000, compared with an average of 16.8 across the working population.
The latest dataset also revealed that total deaths among working-age social workers during this time were significantly above average levels for 2015-19, up from 160 on average to 193.
The figures predate the sharp increase in deaths involving Covid-19 this year, with the ONS recording 13,302 deaths in the first two weeks of January, around the same as in the whole of December 2020.
Pay tribute to lost colleagues
2020 was the hardest year for social work in living memory as practitioners put themselves in harm’s way to deliver support that was never more vital to adults, children and families in deepening need. Tragically, as the ONS figures show, dozens lost their lives in the process. Community Care would like to publish tributes to colleagues you have lost, to highlight their contributions to the people they supported, their teams and workplaces and to the fight against the pandemic. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org with your tributes and (if appropriate) pictures of your colleagues.
Figures ‘highlights risks’ profession takes
The British Association for Social Workers said the ONS data highlighted the risks the profession was taking in delivering essential services and safeguarding communities during the pandemic.
“We remember our friends and colleagues across the social work profession and pay tribute and extend our thanks to social workers and our health and care colleagues, for their bravery and commitment whilst working throughout the pandemic – providing vital support for families and individuals.
It added: “BASW is working to ensure social workers and social care workers in all types of provider organisations are prioritised for vaccination and have access equal to that for health and other priority staff within the practicalities of the roll-out programme.”
However, while the majority of adult social workers are in the second priority group for vaccination, most children’s social workers are not and, on current policy, have to wait until the first nine priority groups have been inoculated to get their jab.
Deaths of care staff more than double general working population
The ONS figures also showed a substantial gap in the Covid-19 death rate between working-age social care staff and the general working population.
Among men, there were 79 deaths per 100,000 social care workers from the disease between 9 March and 28 December, 2020, compared with 31.4 for workers in general, while among women it was 35.9 for social care staff compared with 16.8 for the general working population.
Almost three in four of the deaths (347 out of 469) involving Covid-19 in social care occupations involved care workers and home carers, with 109.9 deaths per 100,000 males and 47.1 deaths per 100,000 females.
‘A tragic price’
Responding to the figures, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said it was shocking to see that social care and NHS staff were paying such a tragic price for doing their jobs.
“They can’t look after people without hands-on contact, keeping the rest of us safe is putting these workers at greater risk. The new Covid-19 strain, more infected patients in hospitals and the community, and sheer exhaustion all increase the dangers to workers,” McAnea said.
She urged the government to guarantee proper pay for care workers who are ill or have to stay at home.
“Sick or self-isolating care staff and home care workers still feel forced to attend work by shameless employers, this is because they’re being denied full wages.”
Meanwhile, a survey of 1119 social workers across the UK by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has revealed a string of concerns about workplace safety.
Of those surveyed, 22.3% who were shielding or at high risk during the first lockdown disagreed or strongly disagreed that their employer had accommodated this fact, while 30.7% agreed or strongly agreed that they had felt under pressure to work while unwell.
But more positively, 63.5% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their access to PPE and risk management advice had improved since March 2020.
A significant proportion of respondents (69.2%) agreed or strongly agreed that their employer had taken reasonable steps to ensure that they could work safely and 59.3% agreed or strongly agreed that their employer had supported them in their assessment around the risks of carrying out home and other visits.