Racism is a significant presence in the social work sector.
According to survey findings published in March 2022, one in four social workers had experienced racism from colleagues or managers at least once in the preceding 12 months.
Racism may also be contributing to minoritised practitioners abandoning permanent local authority posts for agency work, according to a survey of 1,035 London and South East-based children’s social workers and managers.
Of these, 300 were black and global majority (BGM) staff, a group that accounted for the majority of agency respondents (51.5%), well in excess of their representation in the whole sample (29%). They reported that racism was “a very significant factor” for BGM workers choosing agency social work.
“The BGM workers we spoke to do not describe making this decision by choice, but rather expressing a feeling of being forced to do so due to poor experiences, lack of support and economic necessity,” said the report of the Big Listen survey, carried out by the London Innovation and Improvement Alliance and South East Sector Led Improvement Programme.
BGM staff were also significantly more likely to be worried about the cost of living crisis than their white colleagues, and were much less likely to say they were paid fairly.
‘A big issue across the board’
The findings were consistent with a recent Community Care poll on the subject. When asked how big an issue BGM social workers switching to agencies because of racism was, the majority (74%) of the 669 respondents said it was significant “across the board”.
Only 10% said it was prevalent only with some problem employers, while 16% were not aware of such a problem.
In a comment under the article, one reader, Alex, branded the Big Listen survey results “sad” but eye-opening, adding: “Since I moved to practise social work outside of London, I have noticed that a large number of agency staff are black global majority and it did make me curious as to why this is. We must do better.”
Pauline O said: “If a white middle-class person were to apply for a social work position, the likelihood is they would be offered the job and secure a senior position within a short period, regardless of whether they were fully equipped to carry out the role. This is because their development would be invested in.”
A BGM worker would face more struggles due to misconceptions and “subconscious biases” that should be “addressed and be called out on if progress is to take place”, she added.
“The culture in social work is becoming more and more divided, black workers receive less support and are scrutinized more than none BGM workers. Society is built up of many cultures therefore so should the workforce.”
What are your thoughts on whether racism is driving black and ethnic minority social workers into agency work? Comment below.