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Social workers demand ‘respect’ to stem exodus from profession

Social workers launched a campaign today demanding respect for their profession after report revealed they work more than £600m of unpaid overtime a year.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and Social Workers Union (SWU) say there is an urgent need to stop damaging levels of stress among social workers to prevent skilled staff leaving the profession.

The campaign — entitled Respect for Social Work: the campaign for professional working conditions — follows an independent study which found 52% of UK social workers intend to leave the profession within 15 months — a figure that increases to 55% for social workers working in children's services.

Produced by Bath Spa University’s Dr. Jermaine Ravalier, the report also found 70% of the 1,600 social workers surveyed said high, unmanageable caseloads, a lack of professional and peer support and burdensome red-tape and bureaucracy were among their many concerns.

‘The concept seems to be that social workers can give endlessly to others and not need anything in return. Cars breakdown if they are not properly serviced and maintained – so do people in caring professions like social work,’ said BASW member Mike Bush.

‘A burnt-out social worker is no good to anyone. Nobody is winning from this situation. We need to address this now and it would be wise for the Government to listen to what BASW and SWU are saying and take heed of the solutions they recommend.’

Dr Ravalier said: ‘What our research has revealed is that most social workers are actually deeply fulfilled by their work but the satisfaction they feel can no longer outweigh the lack of support they are experiencing.

‘Deep budget cuts are forcing social workers to take on more cases than ever, putting them under pressure to deliver a service to people that are often vulnerable with fewer resources. To keep up, they are simply giving away days of their personal time.

‘If this keeps up, and the social workers we spoke with do leave the profession, local authorities will be forced to pay for contract workers who are expensive and transient.’

Financial pressures in the social work sector are also having a negative impact on children.

According to research earlier this month by the National Children’s Bureau and BASW, 70% of social workers said the threshold for qualifying as a ‘child in need’ had risen in the last three years and 60% said financial pressures influenced their decisions about whether to offer early help.