8% of social workers have shared diversity data with regulator

Social Work England to strengthen efforts to increase information it holds on practitioners' protected characteristics to better identify inequalities

Colum Conway, chief executive, Social Work England
Colum Conway, chief executive, Social Work England

For registered social workers in England: do you plan to share data on your protected characteristics with Social Work England?

  • No (57%, 83 Votes)
  • Yes (21%, 31 Votes)
  • I am undecided (13%, 19 Votes)
  • I already have (8%, 12 Votes)

Total Voters: 145

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Eight per cent of social workers have shared data on their protected characteristics with the regulator, a year after it started collecting the information to highlight inequalities.

The news came as Social Work England said it would make it “effectively mandatory” for practitioners to engage with its requests for the data during the forthcoming renewal period,  though submitting any information would remain entirely voluntary.

The regulator said 7,730 of the 98,725 registered practitioners had provided data in relation to ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, religion and belief and whether their gender identity was different from the sex they were registered with at birth.

It started collecting this information, voluntarily, last June, through a form on social workers’ online accounts with the regulator.

Identifying discrimination

This was designed to help Social Work England identify inequalities and discrimination against particular groups of social workers, review its policies and improve the fairness of its processes.

The move followed longstanding concerns about discrimination, particularly against black social workers, in relation to fitness to practise processes, which the regulator said it needed better data to identify and tackle.

While social workers will continue to be able to submit the data at any time, Social Work England will strengthen efforts to collect it during the three-month registration renewal period from September to November this year.

In a report to its board meeting last week, chief executive Colum Conway said that, to boost uptake, the regulator would include the diversity questions as part of the renewal process and make engagement with them “effectively mandatory”.

However, social workers will be able to opt out of answering any of the questions, while there will also be a prefer not to say option for each question.

‘Unified message’ to profession

Conway said the shift followed a review of its approach to collecting diversity data and discussions with fellow regulators and stakeholders.

He warned the approach could lead to an increase in complaints and enquiries from practitioners but said the regulator was “developing a dedicated communications plan to reassure social workers about why we want to collect this data and its value to the sector”.

Social Work England plans to send out a joint communication with other sector bodies, such as the British Association of Social Workers, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and trade unions.

“By promoting one voice on the issue, we hope to create a unified message to the sector, increase support and response rates,” he added.

In a statement to Community Care, the regulator’s executive director of professional practice and external engagement, Sarah Blackmore, said: “Over the last year, we have engaged and carried out research to help us to build a rich picture of the workforce. However we know that so much more needs to be done to properly address issues of equality, diversity and inclusion. We must seek to understand the true makeup of the social work profession.”

The 8% who have submitted data is double the 4% who had as of February this year.

Lack of data preventing action on inequality

At the time, Social Work England’s head of equality, diversity and inclusion, Ahmina Akhtar told Community Care that without more data it would be unable to draw “reliable conclusions” about the impact of its activities on different groups, including in relation to fitness to practise.

“We haven’t got as much data as we would like. Having that data will enable us to analyse and understand and, if necessary, revise any systems or policies, or look at any trends or differences in outcomes for people with protected characteristics,” she said at the time.

Separately, in a blog post for the regulator, Akhtar said the organisation was  “sensitive to the fact that some people would rather not share their diversity data either because they fear the information will be misused, or because they consider some of the questions to be highly personal”.

She stressed practitioners’ decision whether to share their data would not affect any application to renew registration or fitness to practise process, and would not be accessible to Social Work England staff handling these issues.

“It will only be accessible to employees involved in data analysis, interpretation and reporting, and our IT team for operational purposes,” she added.

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16 Responses to 8% of social workers have shared diversity data with regulator

  1. Tahin July 28, 2022 at 10:08 am #

    So BASW has finally stopped the pretence that it is the junior assistant fanclub promoter for SWE. No more silly shallying about independence and putting social workers first it seems. I will not share my “characteristics” with SWE, an organisation that is enmeshed in the agenda of their Government paymaster. I will not share my “characteristics” so that SWE can monetise me by selling, for it will come to that, my data to organisations I might not be aware of or would distinctly not want having them. If we ever needed further confirmation that both SWE and BASW are simply an echo chamber of self congratulators and not particularly good publicity peddlers this is it. The gall of boasting “effectively mandatory” in the disguise of promoting diversity is rather fabulous in its ineptness. Any trade union endorsing this should consider what they are committing to.

  2. GC July 28, 2022 at 4:48 pm #

    Not that I am brave enough to test this but I wonder what the impact on my registration would be if I was to submit a belief not ‘compatable’ with a belief promoted by SWE? This is not a “fear that the information will be misused” as so casually put by Ahmina Akhtar but based knowing about the actual sanctions imposed on female social workers for expressing their belief in sex based rights.

  3. Moidoid July 29, 2022 at 1:42 pm #

    Having been through the torture that is a fitness to practice process, I would advise other SW to trust SWE at your peril. The FtP took so long that it was unbearable. The hearings would have left me without a career if I was not a union member – they paid for a solicitor and barrister for me. I would have had no chance in the very legalistic hearing without them. The information was left on their public website long after they were supposed to remove it. I asked them to remove it 3 times but they couldn’t manage it and I had to go to the Data Commissioner on the 4th occasion who instructed them to remove it.

  4. Nicky G July 29, 2022 at 3:41 pm #

    Ahmina Akhtar fails to recognise SWE have had ample time to take action on the inequalities in the profession based on the overwhelming evidence that exists. Instead it’s easier for SWE just to ask social workers for more information – to pass the buck. There will never be enough data for those who don’t want to see the problems.

  5. Trina Dacosta July 29, 2022 at 5:02 pm #

    SWE need to explain what this diversity data is going to be used for. It is not enough to say it will be used to change policy and processes, such as FItness to Practice Panel. What do they mean ? Is this collection of going to make a difference to social workers working conditions ? . Is this data going to change which group is more referred to SWE and the way it operates, given its primary function is to maintain standards. While this is a required function of any professional body it seems SWE are not interested in addressing the wider context that social workers work within and often the lack of resources and support we are given to carry out a very challenging and demanding job. When there is a drive for efficiency saving the outcome is always potentially tragic and the social workers always gets the blame rather than those responsible for implementing cuts in the first place.

  6. Rebecca Ashton July 29, 2022 at 6:07 pm #

    It’s a pity SWE’s “one voice” approach doesn’t include the cost of living, working conditions or anti-racism!

  7. Joanne Newsome July 29, 2022 at 9:17 pm #

    Most social workers don’t trust SWE and SWE doesn’t trust social workers. However the go betweens, BASW, Unison the bossess associations, try to convince us otherwise, we can’t be brought round. Show us you actually understand the constraints under which we practice social work today and we might be persuaded otherwise. I don’t envy Ahmina Akhtar the task though.

  8. Marcia July 30, 2022 at 1:04 am #

    Sadly, the rationale for collecting EDI data makes absolutely zero sense

  9. The Watcher July 30, 2022 at 2:22 pm #

    Maybe one day SWE will realise that their endless data requests, mindless surveys and unmistakable lack of action perpetuates institutional discrimination?


  10. Hell to the no July 31, 2022 at 5:38 pm #

    “It will only be accessible to employees involved in data analysis, interpretation and reporting, and our IT team for operational purposes.”

    Not worth me making the effort then.

  11. Dodger August 1, 2022 at 8:05 am #

    Yesterdays failed policies make for more failure tomorrow. It’s a no from me then.

  12. Ian August 1, 2022 at 8:11 am #

    If I was the SWE boss rather than go round the houses on auto-pilot with no tangible results, I would survey social workers about why a good proportion, perhaps most, have no confidence in and distrust my organisation. It can’t be that we are all cynical has beens with no ‘vision’.

  13. Kelly M August 2, 2022 at 8:42 am #

    It’s a no from me too. Soon there won’t be any social workers left to regulate, due to the mass exodus…

  14. Andrew August 3, 2022 at 10:53 am #

    And once we have the most accurate data on the diversity of the workforce will the sanctions meted out by SWE be more diverse too? Will they stop trawling through our social media foot print in the spirit of validating and celebrating diversity? Or will they just ignore the law and do what they already do and tell us what to think? Then punish us if we deviate? I can write this because I am leaving social work and have no need to hoop my way to the “protected title” of social worker.

    • Marsha August 4, 2022 at 9:36 am #

      The ‘law’ doesn’t always promote or celebrate diversity so good on SWE if it ignores the ‘law’ to validate anti-racism and trans rights. Social workers should hold the right thoughts and they should be monitored to ensure they comply with the values of our profession. If you deviate from those values you should be sanctioned. Social work values are more important than the ‘law’. If the ‘law’ is that important to you become a lawyer.

      • Tahin August 4, 2022 at 8:26 pm #

        This is the most worrying comment I have ever read in a social work forum. How is practicing by breaking the law ethical? How is being told there is only one way to think “values” based? Mono culture is not diversity. Complying with the law while challenging the tenents it is built on is not just for lawyers, it’s what citizens are obliged to do to safeguard our liberty. Social work is a predominantly female occupation. If SWE asserted that men as a minority had to be first in line always and forever and embedded that in “values” would you say I better concur otherwise SWE are entitled to sanction me? My guess is you would suddenly find an enthusiasm for that bit of the ‘law’ called the Equality Act.