Do you believe discrimination plays a role in the fitness to practise process?
- Yes, often. (72%, 754 Votes)
- Yes, occasionally. (12%, 130 Votes)
- No (9%, 94 Votes)
- I'm not sure. (7%, 71 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,049
Black, male and 40-plus social workers are disproportionately subject to fitness to practise processes, Social Work England has found.
The three groups are overrepresented not only in concerns referred to the regulator but also in cases that reach the hearings stage, when a panel determines whether the social worker’s fitness to practise is impaired, said Social Work England
The regulator also found that the groups had higher rates of progression from the triage stage – when it determines whether there are reasonable grounds to investigate the person’s fitness to practise – than comparator groups.
Black social workers, those aged over 40 and men were also disproportionately likely to progress from the case examination stage to a hearing. Case examiners’ role is to determine whether there is a realistic prospect that hearing adjudicators will determine that a person’s fitness to practise is impaired.
Biggest disparities on race
The biggest disparities set out in the report concerned black social workers, who accounted for one in six registered practitioners but one in three cases referred to a hearing. They were also almost twice as likely as white practitioners to see their case progress from case examiners to a hearing (36% as against 19%).
The findings were based on an analysis of diversity data supplied to the regulator by 94% of registered practitioners from 2021-23, along with fitness to practice referrals received since Social Work England started work in December 2019.
The data on disproportionality in fitness to practise has been long-awaited, amid concerns that certain groups are discriminated against within the system, including black social workers and men.
However, Social Work England urged caution in interpreting the findings.
“We must take considerable care in drawing conclusions, because the apparent differences identified in this analysis do not necessarily indicate that differences in outcomes are caused by a social worker belonging to a group within a particular characteristic,” it said in a report on the findings.
It said it would use this analysis as our analysis as a foundation for further work to examine any apparent differences in our fitness to practise process and their association to social workers’ protected characteristics, and to understand these interactions more fully.
‘Extremely concerning’ data
The Social Workers Union described the data as “extremely concerning”, in the context of the majority of fitness to practise referrals that passed the triage test being made by employers.
“This is a grim but realistic picture of potential racism that Black, Asian and other minority and ethnic background social workers are facing every day in workplaces,” said assistant general secretary Calum Gallacher.
“Social Work England’s candour in producing the statistics offers some hope that prompt decision making and actions to redress actual bias, prejudice and discrimination in the concerns raised about social workers and the ensuing regulatory processes will follow.
“Delivering the change required goes beyond Social Work England’s own organisational learning and improvement in terms of screening referrals; arguably this needs to be addressed at source ie working with employers directly to outline the impact bias, prejudice and discrimination are playing in the concerns raised about social workers and the wider ramifications for the profession.
“We now have the evidence showing a portion of registrants are being subjected to prejudicial treatment by employers, or indeed racism personified in FTP referrals to Social Work England. What is needed is a clear stepped plan of what SWE are going to do about it.”
Disproportionate impact of fitness to practise
Social workers aged 40 and over:
- Accounted for 66% of registered social workers, 71% of fitness to practise referrals and 82% of cases referred to a hearing
- 43% of cases that were considered at triage progressed to investigation (under 40s: 34%)
- 33% of cases considered by case examiners progressed to a hearing (under 40s: 26%)
Male social workers
- Accounted for 17% of social workers, 21% of fitness to practise referrals and 31% of cases referred to a hearing
- 53% of cases considered at triage progressed to investigation (female social workers: 37%)
- 37% of cases considered by case examiners progressed to a hearing (female social workers: 30%)
Black, African, Caribbean or Black British social workers:
- Accounted for 16% of social workers, 18% of fitness to practice referrals and 32% of cases referred to a hearing
- 50% of cases considered at triage progressed to investigation (white social workers: 34%)
- 36% of cases considered by case examiners progressed to a hearing (white social workers: 19%)