36 social workers of working age died from Covid-19 in 2020, official figures show

27 deaths from the disease among social workers aged over 65 also recorded amid significant rise in fatalities on previous years, Office for National Statistics data shows

Flaming candles at the funeral ceremony indoor
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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 communitycare@markallengroup.com 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.

14 Responses to 36 social workers of working age died from Covid-19 in 2020, official figures show

  1. Rachel Jordan January 28, 2021 at 10:34 am #

    So Sad and you never here about this in the news and still footballers hug each other and get prime time crazy world

    • Benita February 1, 2021 at 7:03 pm #

      So sad to hear that.they do such amazing job .

  2. Fog January 28, 2021 at 3:54 pm #

    Risk is something that social workers take on. In 2019/20 – government statistics show that 111 social workers were killed and in the previous year it was 159.

    Those figures are important to put into perspective the deaths of social workers from coronavirus – many of whom who share their characteristics are already in one of the 9 priority risk groups.

    I do think this article is not being fully open about the statistics. Most of the deaths would have been people in the older part of the banding used and my guess is that if the banding had been broken down more it would have shown that.

    Social workers in my experience can often fall for professional anxiety but we should be able to understand risk and in my opinion for a healthy social worker under 45 – there are other risks they should be concerned about than dying from this disease.

    • Jay January 28, 2021 at 8:58 pm #

      @Fog
      Please do not minimise the deaths of our peers.

      We’re a professional that has continued to go into situations of risk ro ourselves to try and ensure the safety of others.
      I’m glad you said the figures 2019/20 had reduced, which is why is saddening to see the higher figures for last year.

      No matter their characteristics, any death is too many and unnecessary when the deaths could have been greatly reduced with better management and leadership from organisations that many of us work for, right through to SWE and government.

      • Anne-Marie January 29, 2021 at 5:42 pm #

        I agree with Fog that it wkuld have been useful for the bandings to have been shown but agree with Jay that even one death is one to many and that is irrespective of the cause but this horrible virus is so very tragic, not only because it causes premature deaths but also the horrible way that sufferers die and in the absence of comfort from loved ones.

    • Mary Mary never so contrary January 29, 2021 at 5:12 pm #

      Dear Fog, You MUST be a office based Team Manager in statutory Social Services to care so little about frontline Social Workers. Shame on you. I could tell by your uncaring and unsupportive attitude, you were in senior management. You need to go back to frontline.

    • Michelle January 29, 2021 at 7:14 pm #

      Risk may be something we take on but is it something we should HAVE to take on?

  3. Carol January 29, 2021 at 6:01 pm #

    I’m an AMHP/social worker, over retirement age. I was working until the end of October, but then decided the risk was too great to my health (re: Covid). I felt guilty for stopping work, as AMHP’s are in very short supply, but had to consider the consequences to myself and family if I contracted Covid – given I had been in some risky situations (despite full PPE). I hope when I am vaccinated I will be able to return to my profession and contribute again, but for now the risks outweigh the returns in terms of work satisfaction and financial recompense.

  4. Elle January 29, 2021 at 6:26 pm #

    The article doesn’t say whether these were Adult Social Workers of Children’s. My guess is adults due to the environments they’re expected to go into. As much as possible is done online but undertaking capacity assessments via Zoom is less than ideal. Local Authorities have been pretty good at arranging for ASC staff to be vaccinated, but BASW, who generally represent Independents, have only just started the fight on their members’ behalf. Yes, I agree, under 45s should be at less risk but why the assumption that Asc would be? Care homes and hospitals are the highest risk areas. Hospital staff have all been vaccinated. Care Homes, as organisations, are starting to vaccinate their staff but for Independents there is no identified route to even register. GPs have been quite defensive/protective because they feel that they haven’t even received vaccination fully yet.

  5. Joe D January 29, 2021 at 9:44 pm #

    Social workers do knowingly accept an element of risk as they need to deal with the public with nothing more than a mobile phone to use in a crisis. What is unacceptable is that some risks are unnecessary and avoidable but are imposed on them by employers with no regard for consequences.

  6. Eco Social-Worker February 2, 2021 at 4:32 pm #

    Having lost many hours of my life I will never get back to a exercise in Social Worker pay and grading with UNISON, I can knowledgably say that the risk of death has never been factored into Social Worker remuneration.

  7. Rich February 3, 2021 at 11:16 am #

    Having complained repeatedly to both my “supervisor’ (incapable and promoted to position of incompetence) about staff not wearing masks in the office, rushing about to find one if “head office” turned up etc etc, the answer was “what do you want me to do about it?’
    Told him to do his job. Locum contract terminated. Priceless!!!!

  8. Nikki February 3, 2021 at 11:55 am #

    Actually risk of death is factored into our monetary worth. If we die on the job only though. Not sure I should be gratefulf for being more costly to my employer dead than alive. Truthfully it would be nicer if we were paid better and cared for by our employers while alive.

  9. Sarah_L February 22, 2021 at 11:47 am #

    Why aren’t we having a ‘Clap for the Social Workers’? Don’t they count? They’re the ones who help us to make major changes to our lives. They deserve just as much praise. Tired of hearing about care homes and the NHS.