Have you taken sick leave for stress or mental health-related reasons in the last year?
- No (41%, 78 Votes)
- Yes, I've taken sick leave for stress. (36%, 68 Votes)
- Yes, for mental health issues worsened by work. (18%, 34 Votes)
- Yes, but for mental health reasons not related to work. (4%, 8 Votes)
Total Voters: 188
Councils in England lost over 500,000 working days to mental ill-health and stress among their social care staff last year, research has found.
Poor mental health and stress accounted for 30% of sickness absence among local authority adults’ and children’s services staff in 2021-22, councils disclosed.
The findings came from a freedom of information request sent to all English councils with social services responsibilities by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and British Association of Social Workers (BASW).
BPS and BASW received usable responses from 114 councils, three-quarters of the total. They found that:
- Adults’ and children’s services staff took 1,653,117 full-time equivalent (FTE) days of sickness absence during 2022-23.
- Mental health issues accounted for 406,796 of these days, 25% of the total.
- Stress, including work-related stress, accounted for a further 93,225 FTE days (6%).
- Mental health issues and stress, combined, was the most common reason for sickness absence among adults’ and children’s services staff in 76 of the 98 councils who provided responses to this question.
Rising levels of social worker sickness
While the specific dataset obtained by the BPS and BASW is not publicly available, official data shows sickness absence rates rising among local authority social workers in England.
Department for Education figures showed 3.5% of children’s social workers’ working days were lost to sickness absence in the year to September 2022, up from 3.1% the previous year and the highest figure since records began in 2017.
Meanwhile, council adults’ services social workers took an average of 12.1 days of sickness absence in the year to September 2022, up from 10.3 the previous year and also the highest since records began, in 2012.
The rising levels of sickness absence comes against a backdrop of increasing social worker vacancy rates, in both children’s and adults’ services, and increasing proportions of children’s services practitioners reporting that their workloads were too high and they felt stressed by their job.
‘High caseloads, chronic stress, and insufficient resources’
Commenting on the figures released today, a BASW England spokesperson said: “These shocking figures highlight the urgent need for action to address the wellbeing of our social care workforce. It’s crucial that the government not only acknowledge this issue but also takes proactive steps to support dedicated social care professionals.
“To gain a clearer understanding of the reasons behind these absences, BASW urges for monthly reporting of staff absences to identify common themes. Feedback from BASW social workers consistently underscores the challenges faced by social care workers, including high caseloads, chronic stress, and insufficient resources.
“The wellbeing of our social care workforce should be a top priority, and we call upon healthcare leaders and policymakers to allocate the necessary resources and funding to address these issues and provide much-needed support to those who care for our most vulnerable in our society.”
Cuts to mental health support criticised
On the back of its findings, the BPS criticised the government’s decision to end funding for NHS staff mental health and wellbeing hubs in March of this year. The hubs were set up in February 2021 to provide health and social care staff with fast access to free and confidential mental health support.
Though NHS England has provided £2.3m in funding for the hubs in 2023-24, the BPS said it estimated their annual running cost as £40m, and that 15 of the 42 hubs had closed or were pending closure.
“These troubling figures are yet more evidence of the staffing crisis and working conditions within social care, and the deeply concerning toll it is taking on the mental health of a demoralised and burnt out workforce,” said the society’s president-elect, Dr Roman Raczka.
“Despite this, funding for the NHS staff mental health and wellbeing hubs was cut just as many had started to make inroads into reaching social care staff who needed help, leaving significant unmet need.
Leaders ‘can’t afford not to invest in wellbeing’
“Health and social care leaders simply can’t afford not to invest in staff wellbeing if they wish to retain staff, recruit new talent, and provide the effective, safe services people deserve.
“We urge them to commit to long-term ring-fenced funding for dedicated mental health and wellbeing support for health and care staff, including through the remaining [hubs].
Giving the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ response to the findings, joint chief executive Sheila Norris said: “Social care work can be incredibly rewarding – but also challenging, and it is one of the lowest paid jobs, with poor working conditions. ADASS continues to make the case to improve pay and conditions for social care workers, and to achieve greater recognition for the vital work they do. We need to value and support all those who do this caring, compassionate and skilled work.”
The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.