The Social Workers Union has called on the government and social work employers to take immediate and long term steps to support the profession.
In launching a six point action plan, the Union set out short-term steps needed such as more availability of mental health support, guaranteed PPE, a social work recruitment drive and a pledge not to re-introduce austerity measures.
It argues that this should be coupled with a long-term approach to introduce measures set out in a “working conditions toolkit”, developed by the Union, Bath Spa University and the British Association of Social Workers.
The Union made the plea for action after findings from a survey of its members showed that the UK’s social work system faces collapse as a third of social workers look to leave the profession.
The Union says the UK faces an avalanche of referrals as lockdown eases but that government and employers have neglected social workers’ concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic and failed to safeguard their physical and mental health.
Findings from the survey show that half of social workers have put their own health at risk as a result of working during the pandemic. And while 21 social workers have died after testing positive for COVID-19, one in ten (11%) have felt threatened with disciplinary measures for raising safety concerns.
Over 60% of social workers say their mental health has been affected negatively by working through COVID-19, with 1 in 20 suffering a total collapse. Hundreds of the respondents chose to provide the Social Workers Union with written accounts of their situation.
John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union commented:
The situation is dire and the social work system is on the precipice of collapse.
Our members are considering leaving the profession en-masse if their concerns aren’t addressed. We have long argued that working conditions for social workers need to be drastically improved and sadly COVID-19 has acerbated the problems.
Social workers have put their health on the line safeguarding the public, but little has been done to safeguard them.
Carol Reid, National Organiser for the Union added:
Some of the stories we’ve heard from our Members are truly shocking and very concerning. We want urgent action now from the Government and employers to provide better working conditions for social workers.
Doug Nicholls, General Secretary from the General Federation of Trade Unions, which represents specialist trade unions, commented:
The study from the Social Workers Union tells a tragic tale which government and employers such as local authorities must listen to. As we move onto the recovery phase of the pandemic, protecting and improving the working conditions of key workers across the country is vital work being undertaken by trade unions across all sectors.