Most social workers out of pocket from inadequate mileage allowances, survey finds

Vast majority of practitioners say employers not mitigating impact of cost of living crisis on them, with most who gave figures at least £100 out of pocket each month for petrol

Person holding empty wallet to symbolise cost of living crisis
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A majority of social workers are out of pocket from inadequate mileage allowances while battling the cost of living crisis, a Community Care survey has found.

Three-quarters (77%) of the 253 respondents had been ‘severely’ or ‘significantly’ affected by rising costs, and for 90%, their mileage allowance did not cover the cost of petrol used during working hours.

Most (173 out of 253) also shared how out of pocket they were each month due to petrol expenses for work. Of these:

    • 60% spent up to £125 extra;
    • 28% an additional £150 to £250;
    • 12% a further £300 to £400.

Newly qualified social worker Sophie* previously borrowed money from her parents to afford travelling for work, but was now in debt, using a credit card to cover her travel costs, providing for her three children and childcare.

“Just getting to the office alone in a week is usually a tank and a half – that’s £60 to £110,” she said. “And then you’ve got all the visits. For a lot of my visits I have to go out of area.

I get into the end of the second week after being paid and I don’t have any money. Finding money to pay for petrol to come to work is a big nightmare.”

Sophie was among a number of respondents who either borrowed from family and friends or went into debt to complete their home visits because of rising fuel costs. Others had to resort to limiting the number of visits they did. Such issues particularly affected staff working for county councils covering large areas.

“There are days when I know I need to visit children but I have no fuel,” said one. “I usually end up having to borrow money.”

Mileage allowance frozen since 2012

Responding to these findings, social work and local government leaders said the government’s tax-free mileage allowance for work journeys needed to increase. HMRC’s allowance, currently 45p per mile, has not increased since 2012 , although some local authorities offer more than this.

Alongside petrol cost pressures, rising gas and electricity bills meant some practitioners were struggling to afford homeworking, forcing some to leave heating or lights off to save money. Others reported becoming more stringent with food shopping, personal use of their car and family activities.

In certain cases, social workers worked overtime, took second jobs or changed jobs altogether to make ends meet.

Sophie said going on benefits could be the best option to ensure her family gets by.

“I want my kids eating well, and I want them dressed appropriately and that they at least have a school uniform. If we’re actually going to be happier with me in the benefits system, then why not? Why push poverty on my family unnecessarily?”

Employers ‘not mitigating impact of crisis’

Illustration of man worrying about cost of living

Photo credit: Rudzhan/ Adobe Stock

With most social workers not having seen a salary rise yet this year because of ongoing nationwide council pay negotiations, the vast majority of respondents (94%) said their employers had taken no steps to address the impact of rising costs on them. The small minority who had been helped cited measures such as wage supplements, one-off £3,000 payments for permanent staff, free parking and wellbeing days.

“We’ve had a couple of conversations, just acknowledging how difficult things have been for us,” said Sophie, who was among those to report not being helped. “[That] if we feel that we’re struggling [we should] let our managers know – more about emotional support. But in terms of financial support, there have been no discussions, we’ve just been encouraged to write good evidence-based reflections so we can apply for a pay rise.”

Our findings come after another survey of practitioners, by the British Association of Social Workers’ (BASW) Professional Social Work magazine, found 43% of social workers feared struggling to pay their bills this winter.

The impact of the crisis has also been felt by the only charity helping practitioners in financial distress, The Social Workers Benevolent Trust, which has recently seen a spike in applications for its grants. With one month of its reporting year left to go, it has received 246 applications, compared to 174 in the whole of last year, leading to the charity putting out an urgent call for donors.

Government energy package

Both PSW’s survey and ours were carried out before the government unveiled a £2,500 cap on annual energy bills for the average household, for the next two years, starting next month, which supplements a previously announced £400 discount over the next six months. Ministers said their package would save the average household £1,000 a year.

A BASW spokesperson described the plan as “a step in the right direction”, but highlighted the need for an increase in mileage allowances as “social workers are struggling with increased costs to run their cars to carry out their statutory duties in visiting people who need services”.

“These professionals cannot keep dipping into their own pockets to cover what is being asked of them,” the spokesperson added

The Local Government Association said it had lobbied the government to increase the HMRC’s mileage rates and had been told they were kept under review.

Many contemplate turning to agency work

While 95% of respondents were permanently employed, over half (52%) said they were considering switching to agency work over the next 12 months due to rising costs.

Sophie said she was considering this route, as well as going on benefits. She added:

An agency would be a last resort. But if that’s the only thing that gives me the money, then that’s what I’ll do.”

The finding comes amid widespread concerns among social work leaders about the costs and practices of social work employment agencies. This prompted Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) president Steve Crocker to call for agencies to be regulated or banned to tackle profiteering, in a speech in July.

‘Recruitment and retention crisis’

Rachael Wardell, chair of the ADCS’s workforce development policy committee, said councils were already seeing the impact on workforce stability of social workers turning to agency work. She added: “It is vital that we have a strong, consistent, permanent workforce to support children and families but we face a recruitment and retention crisis.”

BASW also confirmed members had been switching to agencies or taken second jobs to manage bills.

“We risk losing social workers to other employer markets, and we cannot afford to do this as stable workforces are the backbone of good social work – there will be a knock-on effect to service users,” said Maris Stratulis, the national director for BASW England.

She also highlighted the impact on social workers’ mental wellbeing, as “people will be managing extreme situations of stress”.

Salary offer below inflation

Woman working in the dark to illustrate saving energy costs

Photo credit: adam121/ Adobe Stock

In July, council leaders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland offered staff a £1,925 pay rise for the year 2022-23, worth 5-6% for the average practitioner. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has offered a £1,925 or 5% rise for staff in Scotland earning up to £60,000, whichever is larger. The main local government unions, UNISON, Unite and GMB, are currently consulting members on the offers, which, though the highest in many years, fall short of the current rate of inflation, 9.9%.

When asked what pay rise they should receive this year, over a third of survey respondents (35%) called for more than 10%, while another 28% backed an 8-10% rise.

Sarah, a single parent, said she was making just enough to get by each month, despite having a senior practitioner’s salary, and had had to take out a credit card for extra expenses.

“When I took on this role, I was thinking an extra higher salary will make things easier,” she said. “But I can genuinely say that my net salary covers my mortgage, bills, petrol and food and there is nothing left over.

If something goes wrong with the car, there’s no money to fix it.”

She added: “When my friends say they’ll have to cut back, they’ve got non-essential things that they can cut back on. Whereas, because all of my money goes on essential things, there’s nothing that I can cut back on. And that is very stressful.”

Andrew Western, chair of the LGA’s resources board, said its 2022-23 pay offer “compares well with offers to other parts of the public sector”.

Wardell highlighted the significant cuts and pay freezes that local government had had to deal with, “which has a knock-on impact on our workforce and services”.

“We need the government to provide long-term solutions to these problems which will affect all parts of our workforce, including those working in frontline services with children and families,” she added.

Are you struggling financially? Here are some links you may find helpful

BASW’s Professional Support Service: offers free and confidential peer-to-peer support for all social workers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and BASW members in England.

Social Workers’ Benevolent Trust: provides grants of up to £450 and help and advice to social workers in financial distress.

Social Workers’ Educational Trust: provides learning grants of up to £500 for social workers and £1,000 for teams.

Step Change: offers debt advice.

Turn2Us: provides practical help and advice for people in financial hardship.

*Name has been changed

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10 Responses to Most social workers out of pocket from inadequate mileage allowances, survey finds

  1. Abdul September 23, 2022 at 7:39 pm #

    This again highlights the unreasonable and oppressive working conditions those who choose to work in the Social Care field are working under. This is not to mention the enormous amount of unpaid regular overtime Social Workers do, due to the high caseloads, and demands of the job, and also not to mention the lack of managerial support and staff to do the job. No other workforce has these sort of oppressive practices.

    • Phil S September 23, 2022 at 8:33 pm #

      I fully agree Abdul. Add Social Work England to that mix and it’s clear why social work is a toxic profession these days.

    • Lillian September 24, 2022 at 9:43 am #

      So your employer not paying for your commute into work is oppressive now. Ask for better pay and better work conditions but have the humility to reflect. Ever been to a supermarket? Ever had your bins emptied? Ever had a delivery to your home? Do you know what the minimum wage rate is? Social workers have a lot to contend with but I for one can never say “no other workforce has these set of oppressive practices”. Ever been to an abattoir?

      • Marilyn Perring September 26, 2022 at 2:25 pm #

        I don’t feel that social workers are complaining about home to work commute. It is the huge cost of attending home visits, meetings and other mandatory attendance, which often means travelling by car. I have to cover countywide (Kent) visits and meetings and at times out of county visits /meetings. It is also the wear and tear of significant mileage on cars, and car maintenance and repairs. I am not sure the point you are making actually, as not clear?
        People who do sterling work in emptying bins, home delivery and working in an abattoir is not a relevant comparison in my view.

        • Lillian September 26, 2022 at 5:17 pm #

          Well if the cost of a commute is not than surely it’s irrelevant that borrowing money to get into work didn’t need to be mentioned didn’t? My bad for also mentioning the little people who apparently get paid the minimum wage if they are lucky. Agfeed, social workers are the paragons of all that is worthy. The little people do sterling work but don’t need the same sterling due the qualified registered social worker. I’ll do my penance by dropping litter in the street. People, even some social workers like me, clearly don’t understand how complex and stressful social work is compared to merely murdering a calf.

  2. Elizabeth Moorehead September 24, 2022 at 4:20 am #

    I despair….why is this country/government not capable of joined up common sense thinking. Losing committed workforce. The vulnerable suffer. Increased workloads, staff leave. Agency (many of whom are good social workers) used at a cost. This impacts budgets…….
    And so on and so forth.

  3. Rose September 26, 2022 at 4:07 pm #

    MP’s pay has risen 28% since 2010 and their latest pay increase was 2.7%.
    They don’t care about the little people (ie around 95% of the population).

  4. Friendly Neighbourhood Social worker September 27, 2022 at 8:25 am #

    Simple Solution don’t use your vehicles for work purposes. I appreciate Social workers in Urban areas will find this easier than social workers in more rural regions.

    I think for the most part it is a myth that ” you cant be a social worker without a car” i have been practicing Social work in a community setting for 10 years without driving.

    i feel that i am having a positive effect upon the Environment by the fact that i do use public transport.

    I am not going to lie to you to say that there are not times when my job would be easier if i did drive. but there are generally ways around not been a driver.

    I am sure if you Social workers that used your personal vehicles for work took a united stance on use of your personal vehicles that you could trigger change in your local areas.

    • Cynthia September 27, 2022 at 9:53 am #

      For the first 7 years of my career I worked in an authority that provided office pool cars. You booked a car and off you went. It meant that you had to be organised and planned your visits with collagues so you could be going out with others with clients near where you were going. Great for team cohesion and peer support. I learnt a huge amount travelling with colleagues. The scheme was scrapped for being too costly. Some colleagues who still drove their own vehicles accelerated that when they were bribed with an extra 10 pence on their mileage allowance. Curiously some of the most vehement recycling advocates were the private car users. So yes, if you work cant be efficiently done without a car float thas idea to your employer. If they complain that insuring, servicing, cleaning pool cars is too expensive walk them to yours and ask them how they think your car gets you about.


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