Over three-quarters of social work roles not offered on part-time basis despite small rise in rate

Social Workers Union finds 23% of job advertisements offered part-time or flexible hours, up from 19% last year, but warns some of these roles are not suitable for those unable to work full-time

PART-TIME and FULL-TIME written on notebook on wooden desk with marker pen and glasses.
Photo: ogichobanov/Adobe Stock

Can social work be done effectively on a part-time basis?

  • Yes, employers should be offering more part-time roles. (66%, 176 Votes)
  • Depends on the sector of social work. (17%, 46 Votes)
  • No, the social worker will end up with a full-time caseload. (17%, 44 Votes)

Total Voters: 266

Loading ... Loading ...

Over three-quarters of social work roles are not being advertised on a part-time or flexible-hours basis, despite a rise in their proportion since last year.

Twenty three per cent of online adverts studied by the Social Workers Union (SWU) on two dates earlier this year offered part-time or flexible hours, up from 18.7% in a similar exercise last year.

The SWU is campaigning for employers to increase the number of part-time roles to enable social workers who cannot work full-time to re-enter practice, and help tackle mounting staff shortages.

The SWU’s findings on part-time roles

The union studied 4,694 UK social work adverts on Community Care, Total Jobs and The Guardian on 20 April and 18 May. It found:

  • 77.4% (3,635) were available only on a full-time basis.
  • 20.1% (942) were available only on a part-time basis.
  • 1.6% (76) were for full- or part-time roles and 0.9% (41) on a flexible-hours basis.
  • Scotland had the highest proportion of part-time/flexible roles, 29.8% (273 out of 944 roles), slightly down on the 2022 rate (30.5%).
  • Wales saw the biggest rise in the proportion of part-time/flexible roles, from 14.6% in 2022 to 27% (144 out of 534).
  • England’s proportion of part-time/flexible roles rose slightly, from 18.7% to 19.5% (624 out of 3,208).
  • Of the relatively few Northern Ireland roles, 48.7% were available on a part-time/flexible basis, up from 37.3%.

‘Limited progress’ on part-time hours

SWU national organiser Carol Reid said it was “encouraging to start to see some green shoots of progress in some areas of the country”.

“However, with recruitment for social workers still proving challenging for employers, we now need to see this support for the aims of the campaign translate into more concerted action and more roles offered on part-time or flexible hours contracts,” she added.

“The growth we have seen is sluggish at best and we’re also hearing worrying reports that not all roles advertised as part-time are really suitable to part-time applicants.”

The last point was highlighted by social worker from the North West, who was interviewed for role which was advertised as being open to part-time hours.

“I put in a lot of hard work for the interview and it went really well. However, one of the managers said, ‘ideally we want someone full time’ and I did not get the job,” they said.

“I just feel like part-time workers are at the bottom of the pecking order and brought in ‘just in case’ there was nobody suitable from the full-time applicants.”

Impact on social workers with protected characteristics

The union also raised concerns about social workers having difficulty when requesting to switch from full- to part-time hours.

“We must move away from the idea that social workers going part time is a negative development or an accommodation for someone who isn’t coping,” said Derbyshire social worker Deb Solomon, who is also chair of the British Association of Social Workers’ Neurodivergent Social Workers Special Interest Group.

“Flexibility is essential to retain staff with protected characteristics and boost workforce opportunities for development. For example, some neurodivergent staff can really benefit from part-time working, and the positives can be seen in productivity, retention and wellbeing.”

She added: “We also need to ensure that when part-time roles are offered, this is not just a full-time role squashed into fewer days, which is impossible for the post-holder to manage.”

SWU sees an increase in part-time roles as a way of tackling mounting workforce churn and shortages in social work.

Workforce pressures

In England, the number of council children’s services social workers leaving their jobs annually has risen by 40% over the past five years, while one in five posts lay vacant, as of September 2022. Meanwhile, in adults’ services, 17.1% of social workers left their posts in the year to September 2022, up from 13.6% in 2019-20, while the vacancy rate rose from 9.5% to 11.6%.

In response to SWU’s research, social work leaders said they recognised the value of giving practitioners the opportunity to work part-time but struggled to do so because of service pressures.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said it recognised that “social work and social care has in some cases been slow to develop in this area for its professionally qualified workers”.

“This is an opportunity and challenge for councils,” said ADASS joint chief executive Sheila Norris.

“This type of structural change could make a huge difference to social workers and occupational therapists, too many of whom who we know are exhausted and leaving their roles.  Faced with an ongoing recruitment challenge, employers need to as flexible as possible if they are to attract and retain their experienced, professionally qualified workforce.

Barriers to more flexible roles

“Our members tell us that maintaining service continuity, increasing supervision time when everyone is stretched, managing increasing levels of need and complexity, and providing cover across all hours are some of the blockers to offering flexible roles.”

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) acknowledged that “many people in our workforce would prefer not to work full-time but are keen to remain in the profession and it is important we can accommodate their preferences where possible”.

Workforce policy committee chair Rachael Wardell added: “As employers we are absolutely committed to creating the conditions where great social work can flourish, including by ensuring social workers are well supported, have manageable workloads and safe and appropriate places to work.

“However, we struggle to recruit and retain enough social workers nationally, especially after a decade of year-on-year cuts to local authority budgets which makes it harder to reliably sustain the ideal conditions.

“We need government to provide a strong, national voice that promotes the value of this transformative profession and the lasting positive impact social work can have on children and families.”

, , , ,

11 Responses to Over three-quarters of social work roles not offered on part-time basis despite small rise in rate

  1. Kathy B June 9, 2023 at 6:07 pm #

    After nearly 20 years as a social worker in Children’s Services, I moved locality and cannot get a job. I was working 30 hours a week over 5 days, but local councils will not consider offering part time hours, even for 30 hours. I feel this is a disgraceful waste of skills and talent when in the next breath they offer an additional 15% pay ‘because they can’t recruit’. I wanted to work in my chosen profession, now feeling devalued.

    • Jo June 14, 2023 at 8:34 am #

      Hiya Kathy it’s crazy . Local authorities are missing the opportunities to recruit experienced practioners. I left a local authority 5 years ago and became an independent social worker. It worked for me as I too wasn’t interested in full time work. There seems to be plenty of agency sw roles advertised as part time, so maybe this could work whilst you find a permanent position ? Wish you well.

  2. T June 10, 2023 at 7:55 am #

    As a social worker who is employed full-time I think I can still see the benefits and disadvantages of employing part-time workers. I understand that it may increase the number of workers available to employ which would be great. I also understand that in an incredibly difficult industry, working part time can help workers to achieve that work-life balance we are supposed to be able to achieve. However I also happened to work for a team that does employ part-time workers. Allocation of our cases is weighted according to complexity and pro-rata according to the hours we work. Whilst they would not be able to work full-time and we would therefore miss out on their expertise if this was essential, they struggle to manage their cases. So much can happen on their non working days that the majority of their time is spent trying to catch up on what happened while they weren’t there. Very little progress is made and is slow. This is unfair on them motivationally speaking as well as the people they are supporting. They also face pressure when considering training courses as this would mean more time away from their cases, which is unfair on their professional development and even career progression. This is the same for when they take annual leave. There is also additional pressure on the wider team who have to know their cases and pick up work that cannot wait for their return each week. That said I don’t know what the answer is.

  3. Janet June 10, 2023 at 11:36 am #

    Way back in 1996 I was a job share of 16 hours per week- working Monday to Wednesday lunch time. This was increased gradually to 18 then 20 hours as my job share partner left. I made the decision then to become full time as my children were older.

    My daughter is an OT in a mental health unit and also works part time, doing bank work when there is a staff shortage in the community team. She had previously worked full time with social services but chose to go back to NHS for the flexibility.

    My other daughter teaches in an exclusion unit part time but is seeking to change her job, however very few teaching posts part time. She has primary aged children and to work full time would see the child care cost rise by £150 – £200 per week.

  4. Tom June 12, 2023 at 12:56 pm #

    I’ve never met a part time social worker that didn’t have a full time case load!

    They also end up working more than their contracted hours, don’t get paid for these extra hours and have more chance of meeting the pope that getting the “Flexi time” back for those hours.

  5. Eldris Idba June 13, 2023 at 7:50 am #

    Part time workers are at a constant disadvantage, and the same ends up being true for their service users. Progress is slower, more time is used catching up, if meetings are booked the worker may end up only having 1 free day per week that isn’t meetings or duty! I also feel newly qualified workers cannot get the induction and ASYE experience they need if part time. The largest turnover in our team is part time workers, generally their caseload is not reflective of pro rata, duty spends time doing their cases on their non working days, and they always feel behind. They also get less Peer and manager support. It also feels ineffective and inefficient for teams to hire people that do x2 days a week – what case progress is realistically being made in this time once all admin, meetings etc are done? I appreciate for certain people and certain roles this may not be true, eg non case holding roles or something, but my experience of part time social work has been largely negative and negatively impacts on the team.

  6. Andi June 13, 2023 at 8:20 am #

    Part time SWs means that full time SWs have to cover if something happens on the case of the part timer in their absence – FACT.
    This means that various duty SWs become involved in the case – not good for service user relationship or decision making.
    In addition the part timers fixed working days refuse the flexibility for full time workers in relation to holiday cover and duty rotas etc.
    Just a question- in the 21st Century, where are the fathers of the SWs children when it comes to childcare- which appears to be a feature of the need for flexibility?

    • Feminist June 15, 2023 at 2:14 pm #

      Wake up, it’s 2023. Women are allowed to raise children alone. Relationships break down and some of us choose single parenthood. If Social Work really held the anti discriminatory views it is supposed to espouse, then part-time single parents would not be discriminated against in the employment market. Our children matter too.

    • Beth June 16, 2023 at 6:00 pm #

      Then this profession has a major issue why no job shares of other ways!! I don’t want to work full time I’ve worked in health & social care for 38 years!! I have a lot to offer & like to think social work could be more creative instead of burning people out of the profession they have worked so hard in..
      Enough said!

      • Disillusioned June 18, 2023 at 8:44 am #

        I agree Beth. I am now 60 yrs old, my 26 yo ‘child’ long gone but now I am carer for mum and her partner. Whilst my manager is supportive I have been declined flexi retirement as I am in a small specialist team. A move to NH S a few years ago which didn’t work for me cost me over 30 years continued service…. I have worked for this L A for over 30 years in total and feel totally shafted. It seems higher managers are recruited and recompensed well. I am totally disillusioned with this job…I’m tired and worn down and now considering agency work where I can be more in control of my WLB


  1. Sluggish growth in part-time social work roles - SWU Social Workers Union - June 9, 2023

    […] The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) have also commented on this in the Community Care article “Over three-quarters of social work roles not offered on part-time bas…. […]