Social workers seeing increasing poverty and greater need on back of cost of living crisis, finds BASW

One-third of practitioners say they are providing more support to people from their own resources, while annual survey by association also suggests workload pressures are rising

Older Man Wearing Extra Clothes With Hot Drink Trying To Keep Warm At Home In Energy Crisis
Photo: Daisy Daisy/Adobe Stock

Social workers are seeing more poverty and greater need for their support on the back of the cost of living crisis, with some resorting to supporting people from their own resources.

Those were among the findings of British Association of Social Workers’ (BASW) second annual survey, issued this week

Most of its 1,602 respondents – social workers and students who were both members and non-members of the association – also reported struggling with their workloads with a greater proportion working beyond their contracted hours – mostly unpaid – than in last year’s survey.

However, as with its first survey, the majority of practitioners also expressed their happiness to be in the profession, as well as in their current roles, while BASW found that they were increasingly benefiting from peer support.

Growing poverty and need

Social workers reported that the cost of living crisis – driven by inflation rates that have stayed above 9% since April 2022 – had increased demand and the level of need experienced by those they worked with. BASW found that:

  • Over half of respondents (54.8%) said they were working with more people due to the cost of living crisis.
  • Three-quarters (75.4%) said they were working with more people in poverty now than before the cost of living crisis.
  • More than four in five (83.2%) said the crisis had driven the people they worked with into greater poverty.

The association’s findings came as government data showed that child poverty had worsened in the year to April 2022, prior to the onset of high inflation. Overall, 29% of children (4.2m) were living in relative poverty in 2021-22 – meaning they lived in a household on 60% of median average income after housing costs were taken into account – up from 27% the year before.

There had also been a reduction, from 83% to 79%, in the proportion of children in relative poverty who lived in a food secure household, meaning they were considered to have “sufficient, varied food to facilitate an active and healthy lifestyle”, found the annual households below average income analysis.

More practitioners struggling with workloads

BASW’s survey, conducted between December 2022 and January 2023, also suggested that practitioners were struggling increasingly with their workloads.

The last survey, carried out from December 2021 to January 2022, found that 37.8% of respondents disagreed that they could manage their current workloads, however, that figure rose to 57.8% in the latest one. In part, this is likely to be because this year’s survey did not provide respondents with a ‘neither agree nor disagree’ option, which last year accounted for 16.2% of responses.

There was also a rise in the proportion who reported being unable to complete their work during their contracted hours, from 71.9% to 74.9%, though a lower percentage reported working at least an extra five hours a week on average (51% compared with 57.9% in the 2021-22 survey).

As last year, the vast majority (90.3%) were not paid for any overtime they did.

The UK-wide survey comes against the backdrop of deepening workforce challenges for the profession. Figures for England show that:

Happy to be in profession

However, despite the challenges, BASW found, as last year, that most social workers were positive about the profession. Almost two-thirds (65%) said they were happy to be in the social work, up from 60.6% last year, while 67.9% said they were happy in their role, compared with 58.5% in the 2021-22 survey.

As last year, respondents selected peer support as the factor that had the most positive impact on their workplace experience, but the proportion saying this was up by 10 percentage points, from 46.8% to 57.2%. This was far ahead of the next most popular option, appropriate management and supervision (32.3%).

BASW suggested that the increasing value placed on peer support may reflect a shift towards more office working over the past year.

Commenting on the results, BASW chief executive Ruth Allen: “Social work remains a strong professional community but is under great pressure. Social workers remain deeply committed to the people they work with and value the privileged, values-based work they do to promote wellbeing, social justice, empowerment and choice.

“The repeat reporting of poor experiences at work are unacceptable. This is underpinned by too high work demands and too few resources which are governmental and funding failures. But we can also do more through collaboration across the sector and with others to improve working conditions. There are great efforts being made across some employers to change this.”

BASW is part of a working group looking at how to tackle workforce issues in England, convened by Social Work England and also including UNISON, director and principal social worker bodies, as well as people with lived experience of the the profession. They will look at issues including recruitment, retention and the use of agency staff.

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3 Responses to Social workers seeing increasing poverty and greater need on back of cost of living crisis, finds BASW

  1. Tahin March 25, 2023 at 9:22 am #

    A more perfect example of the vacuous impotence of BASW will not be found this year. See poverty, see staff work overload and respond by joining a “working group”. No direct action, no standing up to increasing authoritarianism and stigmatising. More talk, more chums together wringing hands and blaming others whilst not acknowledging culpability. Looking forward to the next ‘survey’ that tells us the wheels go round when the bus moves by mysterious indefinable magic. Or is driven by a sentient being by the rest of us.

  2. Sarah Thompson March 28, 2023 at 8:08 am #

    How very true. Expecting a buraucracy like BASW puppy desperate to get near the laps of the power wielders to stand up for social justice and actually do politics is akin to looking at a chicken and not noticing the eggs just laid. See what’s expedient, pretend it’s better to be in than out of the big tent, sip tea with disgraced politicians, cosy up to SWE and hope those of us who care about our profession don’t notice the mutual dependency. Any one still remember Ubuntu?

    • Ian April 1, 2023 at 12:19 am #

      I’ll be nicking “puppy desperate”!