Sector leaders issue survey to shine light on racism in social work and commit to ‘meaningful change’

Social Work England, PSW networks and What Works Centre ask practitioners to report their experience, its impact and how employers are responding, to address data deficit and shape reform on racism in profession

No Racism sign being held
Photo: Giovanni Cancemi/AdobeStock

Sector leaders have pledged “meaningful change” on racism in social work after launching a survey to uncover the extent of the problem.

The survey asks social workers to report on the extent of racism they have witnessed or experienced at work, how far they think it is a problem in social work and their own organisation and what they think should be done about it.

It has been produced by the Anti-Racist Social Work Steering Group, set up in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and led by representatives from the principal social workers networks for children and adults, What Works for Children’s Social Care and Social Work England.

‘Meaningful change’

In a video to launch the survey, Social Work England executive directive of strategy, policy and engagement Sarah Blackmore said it was designed to tackle a deficit of data on racism in the profession and pledged that it would result in “meaningful change”.

“One of the issues we’ve really been struck by as a new organisation is the lack of data about social work as a profession…and, really starkly, about who social workers are, where they are and the experiences that they have,” she said.

Blackmore noted that there were reports of social workers experiencing differences and disproportionality because of their background, as well as less opportunity and more frequent disciplinary processes for those from black Asian or ethnic minority groups. She said: “We know this anecdotally, but it’s really important that we build can build an evidence-based picture of what is happening in social work in England.”

Blackmore added: “All too often when media headlines die away, the conversation drops off. The great thing for me about this process is that it really feels like it’s not going to happen this time, and that [the] partnership who created this survey will not allow this to happen, and we are really passionate about and committed to ensuring that there is some real, sustained and meaningful change so social workers have the same opportunities.”

Extent and impact of racism

The survey asks social workers how frequently they have experienced or witnessed racism from colleagues or managers, and service users or families, and also to report on levels of racism directed at families from staff. It also asks people what impact racism has had on them or colleagues, including in relation to their health, work absences, disciplinary action, fitness to practise cases or decisions to leave their organisation or the profession as a whole.

In addition, it questions practitioners on whether they would feel comfortable intervening in racism at work, if they believe their team and organisation are doing enough to address it and what, if anything, their organsation has done

It also calls on practitioners to say what they would like to see done profession-wide to address the issue, such as better training or more black, Asian and ethnic minority social workers in leadership roles

Sharon Davidson, co-chair of the Principal Children and Families Social Worker Network, said: “This is the first time that I’ve been aware in my career where we are asking people to talk about their experience of racism and to think about that in a very holistic way. It will challenge us as a sector to really understand how we then address those issues. It’s really important that we lead the way as a profession in terms of understanding and doing something about the information that comes forward.”

Knowns and unknowns

Available data has identified:

However, evidence on the causes and impact of these disparities has been lacking. In addition, there has been a lack of raw data in other areas where, it has long been claimed, black and ethnic minority practitioners have been discriminated against, such as in relation to disciplinary action.

Notably, while in July 2020, Social Work England said that black and ethnic minority practitioners were disproportionately likely to be referred for fitness to practise action, it did not have precise data. The regulator also said it did not have information on what happened to social workers from black and ethnic minority groups within the fitness to practise system.

In an interview with Community Care last month, Social Work England’s head of equality, diversity and inclusion, Ahmina Akhtar, said that obtaining this data was still a work in progress. This was, in part, because the regulator’s data collection requirements for registered social workers did not cover protected characteristics, such as ethnicity.

To address the lack of data, Social Work England has asked registrants to voluntarily add data on equality and inclusion to their online accounts with the regulator, in an initiative launched alongside the racism survey.

Anti-racism initiatives

The initiatives are among a number to tackle racism in the profession launched in recent months:

  • Eighteen councils are implementing a workforce race equality standard (WRES) initiated by the government’s chief social workers for adults and children. This requires them to report on the proportion of black and ethnic minority staff at different levels of the workforce, comparative rates of disciplinary action, fitness to practise referrals and access to funded training, and the percentage of ethnic minority staff experiencing bullying and harassment, either from colleagues or the public.
  • A few councils, including Brighton and Hove and Sutton, have appointed anti-racist practice leads to support work to tackle racism in the workforce and in relation to service delivery.
  • British Association of Social Workers (BASW) England professional officer Wayne Reid has led a campaign to raise awareness of racism within social work, in a new role as anti-racism visionary, while BASW has also, separately, appointed an anti-racism lead, Shantel Thomas.
  • Social workers and students held a day of action on 19 March this year to call for action to tackle racism within the sector.

Sector leaders outside the steering group welcomed the survey and the regulator’s data collection exercise.

Rachael Wardell, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ workforce development policy committee, said: “It is important for children and young people to see that they too can aspire to a career in children’s services by seeing themselves reflected in the professionals who have such an important impact on their lives.”

She added: “By collecting equality and diversity data, we hope that Social Work England can gain a better insight into where there may be gaps or trends that need addressing.”

Better data ‘must pave way for change’

Maris Stratulis, BASW England’s national director, said: “We have been calling for a formal process of collating more demographic data of protected characteristics for some time.

Stratulis added: “Better data collection must pave the way for meaningful actions to remedy these disparities. This includes ensuring there is no direct or indirect discrimination in regulatory processes and standards.

“We encourage our members to share their views and experiences on equality, diversity and inclusion with the regulator and look forward to working with Social Work England to provide more protections and support for all social workers of colour.”

31 Responses to Sector leaders issue survey to shine light on racism in social work and commit to ‘meaningful change’

  1. Matthew June 25, 2021 at 8:49 pm #

    Applause all round no doubt but for me yet another bureaucratic response to tackling racism does not cut it. I work for a London authority which doesn’t even collect ethnicity or other protected status data so I’m not sure how they can identify how to tackle racism and discrimination in the organisation. As a Turkish Jew I have also been positively obstructed when raising issues of racism as colleagues and managers don’t believe domeone like me can experience racism. I and thise who don’t conform to the prescribed hierarchy of racism are ignored, insulted with impunity and dismissed as privileged and fascistically not even being of a race. Anti-semitism is rife in social work and no amount of data collection will tackle racism until this is acknowledged and equal effort put into fighting it. To me a survey and focus group does not make this any different to all the other top down “initiatives.”

  2. Kieran June 28, 2021 at 1:05 pm #

    A select few people of colour will be promoted, BASW will “celebrate diversity” and the likes of me who have no interest in playing the management game will stay being ignored or worse abused as ever. I have no confidence in this process at all.

  3. The Watcher June 28, 2021 at 2:43 pm #

    Unfortunately, a survey on racism is laughable and like a wet slap in the face for victims of racism.

    SWE really know how to demoralise the workforce…

  4. Sceptic June 28, 2021 at 11:05 pm #

    What is the point of a survey when we all know racism is a problem in the profession? SWE have done nothing, BASW are a little better although I think Wayne Reid has carried them pretty much single handedly when it comes to racism against black workers – take his sterling efforts away and you have little left re BASW. Like Kieran above, I don’t think this survey will result in any real change.

  5. Truth Teller June 29, 2021 at 9:21 pm #

    A survey?! How to kick tackling racism into the long grass – the saga continues….

  6. Frances June 30, 2021 at 8:34 am #

    How about showing some true leadership and owning your power by coming up with strategies to tackle racism? Do the work and we will tell you if you have got it wrong again. Or that, for once, you have demonstrated seriousness. This is not consultation, this is asking us to do the heavy digging for which you will claim the credit while only we pay our emotional price. No need for more listening, no need for looking for ‘new’ insights, no need to waste intellectual and financial capital on doing the same things again and again.

  7. Chris June 30, 2021 at 9:47 am #

    This is not consulting or listening. This is the same sector leaders who will talk with their usual cohort while ignoring what we say yet again. I have completed the survey and found it does not ask the questions that would allow me to describe the totality of my experiences at all. Racism is a more complex beast than lack of managerial representation or SWE failing to count who they regulate. Employers set priorities around financial pressures. They do not set much practical store in the fair treatment or wellbeing of staff. Whatever ADASS or ADCS might claim on their behalf. BASW is too embedding the social work establishment to be effectively critical and the trade unions have membership and pay bargaining priorities to do much more than indulge in anti-racism gestures. Change will only come if we as workers make our bosses and those who claim to represent us bend to our collective power. Our personal experiences mean something to us but they are not exclusive to us as individuals. We shouldn’t let this divert us into discussing “my experience” of racism when it really should be about our fight back about “our experience” of racism.

    • C.Clancy PhD June 30, 2021 at 3:54 pm #

      Perfectly articulated Chris. This survey is a pathetic insult from SWE et al. SWE have done NOTHING to support anti-racist action since they were created.

      Why have SWE not yet responded to the evidence of social work regulation perpetuating institutional racism: Because they are guilty as charged, that’s why, and they do not wish to upset a gleefully racist government.

      There is nowhere for SWE to hide, so their aim is to distract the profession with this meaningless and insulting ‘survey’, which will serve only to re-traumatise respondents. SWE will DO NOTHING with this information!

      I, for one, will not be wasting my time completing this survey for SWE to discard, along with the careers of social workers caught in their fitness to practice net.

  8. Nabil June 30, 2021 at 4:58 pm #

    It’s obviously self evident that promoting more black social workers into the management club is the best way of tackling racism. Any chance once the new elites are in place of hearing from users of our services about their experience of racism from social workers?

  9. peter griffiths June 30, 2021 at 9:18 pm #

    another survey that leads to the same conclusion we already knew without a survey. Will we see changes? -NO

  10. T J Hooker June 30, 2021 at 9:22 pm #

    SWE…. The latest agents of deception and destruction of social work from the most outrageously racist government… ever.

  11. Nihat July 1, 2021 at 9:16 am #

    The irony is surely unintended in ADASS and ADCS pledging “meaningful change” when it’s the very people they represent who perpetuate the racism and discrimination we are subjected to daily. It’s time for them and the likes of SWE and BASW to own their complicity too. Racism is “not out there somewhere” being done by abstract entities somehow not traceable to real directors, real managers and indeed real practitioner social workers. No amount of Anti Racist Practice Leads embedded in a work culture that validates aggressive and bullying management, that sees supervision as a tool to belittle and punish, that regards any practitioner misgivings as insubordination, that behind closed management doors regards racism as exaggerated and worse a shield used by staff as cover for incompetence and bad practice can be the change agents individualised on to them. I know, I was one of the many Race and Culture Advisors employed in the 1980’s to do exactly the same as what is proposed now. We clearly failed then and unless the whole edifice of how social work is taught and organised, who it’s regulated by and the power held by practically unaccountable managers is democratised, this will fail too. Market research as a tool to rid racism from social work? Might be a good reflection to satisfy SWE CPD requirements but isn’t really going to cut it for radical change is it?

    • Ade July 2, 2021 at 10:35 am #

      The best description of how dysfunctional social work institutions and services have become I’ve read. I just qualified and the chasm between what we were taught and the reality of my post can’t be exaggerated. I joined BASW as a student but am disillusioned with them having heard from experienced practitioners how their self declared independence from power brokers is untrue. The total lack of confidence in SWE has shocked me. The misogyny, prejudice, racial profiling and the authoritarianism I have witnessed in my first job actually frightens me. The comment on supervision is spot on. All of us feel on edge and as if we are a step away from a disciplinary if we dare to speak up or show any autonomy. My experience of social work is that our managers and the institutions that are meant to promote social work have bought into a corporatist ideology where obedience is a prerequisite. I totally agree that unless we have leaders less concerned with bending to political demands and managers more focused on service users and inequality, initiatives to tackle racism will just be tokenistic platitudes with no real change at the end. SWE, Directors and managers need to realise that without the dedication and committment of individual social workers the picture would be more bleak and more dangerous. I also agree that promoting black workers into senior positions in a system that relies on elitism and authoritarianism is not really tackling racism. Also, where are the voices of service users in all this?

  12. Shirley Harkett July 1, 2021 at 11:52 pm #

    It’s bizarrely comical that the new Social Work regulator, which is only just over 12 months old has already:

    – Admitted the organisation is white-washed: What action/change has this survey resulted in? Is their recruitment policy not racist?

    – Given poor excuses for not dealing with fitness to practice backlogs:

    – Refused to have practising social workers on it’s Board:

    Whatever happened to the results of this Social Work England ‘probe’: Someone at SWE has a liking for surveys.

    SWE are just a Tory wet-dream and spaffing tax-payers money up the wall.

  13. Richard T Moorhouse July 1, 2021 at 11:58 pm #

    All this talk of anti-racism in social work would have vanished a while ago if it wasn’t for Wayne Reid and BASW. Credit to them. Sadly, they have a mountain to climb.

    • Neil July 2, 2021 at 3:29 pm #

      So you think no one in their local services has been fighting racism and we needed BASW to show us the way? Some of us don’t see top down strategies from a remote SWE endorsed organisation like BASW as the route. Not all social workers are BASW members either. As an aside I have asked several times what action BASW took to address the claim that white managers witheld PPE from black social workers during the first wave of the pandemic. To date without response. I don’t think that makes for a credible anti-racist leadership. Social workers should harness their own resources and join with each other to fight racism rather than look for self elected leaders to on our behalf. As Wayne himself tells us, his activism isn’t necessarily endorsed by his employer. We should applaud Wayne for his fight but not allow BASW to take credit it hasn’t earned as an organisation. Whatever it claims, BASW only represent it’s members, they are not a voice for all social workers.

    • Anj Kantu July 3, 2021 at 10:28 am #

      Well said Richard. Although, like Sceptic has alluded to above, without Wayne Reid, BASW would be weak on this issue too. That tells us a lot.

  14. Polly July 3, 2021 at 3:07 pm #

    Has anyone actully seen the questions? I’m as sceptical as the next person, but I also understand data talks – sadly it’s a process we have to go through, the data give us the key to action. At least that’s what I hope

    • Ali July 4, 2021 at 2:55 pm #

      The survey link is in the article.

  15. Tartan Jim July 3, 2021 at 7:46 pm #

    So, let me get this right. The overwhelmingly White and authoritarian social work regulator plans to re-traumatise people experiencing racism with a survey, whilst promising action and people are ok with that? We’ll probably have a survey about this survey soon. Anti-racism from SWE is an illusion. Anti-racism isn’t even part of their discourse, they believe in ‘all lives matter’ as confirmed in this article: Social Work is in big trouble with these government puppets.

  16. Chris July 4, 2021 at 2:53 pm #

    Come on BASW or supporters here, tell us what you did do when your black members told you that white managers were rationing PPE and only giving it out to white workers. Surely having been told this you wouldn’t have just ignored it as that would be endorsing racism wouldn’t it?

  17. Carlton July 4, 2021 at 8:23 pm #

    People like me are not ok with this survey. Your question is better directed at Maris Stratulis from BASW who is ok with it though.

  18. India July 5, 2021 at 11:43 am #

    Personal choices are ones we make about our reproductive rights, terminating a pregnancy and such like. In a pandemic the decisions we have to make are not personal, they are about us being part of the collective responsibility which is the only way to contain deadly illnesses. If being an individual with total command over your life choices are so important to you don’t take a job where other people also matter.

  19. Toni July 11, 2021 at 4:49 pm #

    And it’s clear BASW can not or will not engage in a response to being asked how they protected black social workers who were denied PPE by their white managers. How is that leadership?

  20. James Horner July 12, 2021 at 8:52 pm #

    Can you explain how that even relates to leadership Toni? Other than dealing with individual matters confidentially and privately what else do you expect to BASW do??! They have about 1/5 of social workers as members, so are not particularly influential.

    You and other critics should be barking up the tree of ADASS, ACDS and SWE – they hold the real power and influence and have been excruciatingly silent on anti-racism.

    • Charli July 16, 2021 at 7:16 am #

      Nice try James but really it is a bit odd having highlighted potentially life threatening management practices not to expect us to want to know what BASW did to protect these colleagues. Surely BASW would not be breaching our confidentiality if they told us they approached those employers discriminating against black social workers and reporting on the response they got. In my mind their silence on this indicates that BASW did not act on this. That is not only shameful but is a failure of leadership and racist in itself. If BASW is just another organisation of bureaucrats wasting our subs on pointless internal debates, than they need to shut up about leading us.

  21. Carrie July 12, 2021 at 8:53 pm #

    Just quietly and without fuss stopped being a BASW member. BASW cannot be my voice if it refuse to tell us what action they took to protect black social workers when they were willfully put in life threatening danger. For me, this issue will not go away however much BASW dodges a response.

  22. Toni July 15, 2021 at 4:57 pm #

    It was BASW who highlighted that white managers had witheld PPE from black social workers not ADASS, ACDS or SWE. Having done so publicly I think it’s incumbent on them to tell us what action they took. Explaining in broad terms that they held such managers/employers to account does not breach anyones confidentiality. BASW keep telling us how they are combating racist managers and others when their members report racist behaviour so why is that not a breach of confidentiality but this would be James? Taking action to protect social workers is the ultimate definition of leadership isn’t it? Taking action to ensure black social workers have their health and safety paramount in white managers behaviour is promoting anti-racist practice is it not? I don’t expect semi-detached organisations like ADASS and ADCS and a regulator like SWE to lead us in anti-racist activism but I do expect that from BASW. After all BASW never miss an opportunity to tell us they are the professional voice of social workers. Or should I just ignore their claim to being a powerful voice and influence?

  23. Craig Thompson July 16, 2021 at 9:23 pm #

    BASW were a cover for GSCC before and are camouflage for SWE now. I don’t know why any social worker wastes their hard earned cash to become a member. Why would I take an organisation that is just a stepping stone for career advancement for a few self selecting bureaucrats seriously? Just let them spout whatever nonsense they convince themselves matter to bread and butter social workers. Ignore them given they are an irrelevance without influence and enhance your mental health in the process.

  24. Barbara Seagull July 20, 2021 at 12:06 pm #

    BASW were a cover for the GSCC? BASW are a cover for SWE?!! I’ve not heard anything so deluded since the 5G COVID-19 conspiracy theory!!

    This discussion has quickly descended into a ‘BASW whipping party’, but let’s just remind ourselves that what BASW have done for anti-racism in the past 12 months (for social work) is more than what SWE, ADCS, ADASS etc could do in 10 years with infinite budgets and an army of EDI leads!!

    BASW are not perfect at all, but surely a member-led social work professional body is a better mouthpiece for the profession, than puppets of a authoritarian, right-wing and heartless Government (SWE, ADCS, ADASS) etc!!

    The criticism of BASW on anti-racism is just hogwash, sour grapes and conscious bias (aka old-fashioned racism!). Put your whips away!!

  25. Craig Thompson July 20, 2021 at 5:10 pm #

    Never knew I was the wrong kind of black man to really understand racism, never knew I was so unconscious of my conscious bias. Thanks for the education Barbara Seagull. Sour grapes? Not likely. BASW member led? Beg to differ. Bureaucrats talking to like minded folk? Certainly. Right wing heartless government: most definitely. Good percentage of social workers voted Conservative? Statistically very likely. BASW boasting about regularly meeting with and helping shape SWE policy is part of their claim to be the “voice” of social workers. Trust their word, don’t blame me for the repeat. Conspiracy theory that BASW is an Establishment embedded funnel? Very much not akin to 5G Covid-19 delusion. You just need to listen and read what BASW claim for themselves. I would be happy to be reminded of what BASW has done for social workers in the past 12 months. Me? I still see is the same victimisation of black and brown social workers. The same group of workers who are still disproportionately disciplined, subjected to Fitness to Practice bullying, denied training and promotion, victimised and belittled daily. That’s not my definition of improving our experience of racism in social work. More than any of this do tell me what BASW did when social workers of colour informed them of being denied PPE? That matters doesn’t it? So regard me as deluded, full of hogwash and an old fashioned racist if, not fawning at BASW, upsets so much. Personally, I am more distressed by the referencing of whips in a discussion about racism. Actually I find it abhorrent. As a black social worker, I am more bothered that a mainly white led organisation like BASW inspires such confidence from anti-racists just because they claim to be that themselves. You educated this black social worker of his internalised racism Barbara Seagull, now educate me about the anti-racist achievements of BASW. But do remember that what Wayne Reid is valiantly trying to achieve does not count for for BASW given that his views are not necessarily owned by his employer. His words not mine.