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Social work students launch formal petition for equal treatment

Social work students have taken action to fight for more funding by launching a formal petition to the Scottish Parliament.

When social work undergraduates spend nine months on full-time placements in their third and fourth years there are no bursaries to help them, unlike for the current situation for nurses and paramedics.

This means social work students have to work full-time on a placement, study and work anti-social shifts or rely on foodbanks to make ends meet.

The students from universities across Scotland have been backed by the Social Workers Union and the Scottish Association of Social Workers in calling for better support.

The group proposed that the Scottish Government makes funding available to provide bursaries to all third and fourth year undergraduate social work students in Scotland for the full length of their nine-month placements and funded at parity to those bursaries for nurses and paramedics. 

But after their plea for help was rejected by Higher Education Minister Jamie Hepburn MSP, the students have now launched a petition to the Scottish Parliament asking MSPs to debate the issue.

Lucy Challoner, who studies at Glasgow Caledonian University and one of the signatories to the letter, commented:

“Without reform we risk not having enough social workers in the future to meet the statutory roles they play, let alone enabling social workers to help ‘keep The Promise’ to those in need and play a full role in ensuring Scotland is a fairer, safer place to live.”

Recent figures from Social Work Scotland found that 20% of the social work workforce is approaching retirement age and 25% leave the profession within their first six years of starting.

For post-graduate students, there are bursary funds available. However, in a reply to the letter from the Scottish Social Services Council and the government’s chief social work adviser, it has been confirmed that the funding for these bursaries has remained the same since 2012/13, while the costs of goods and services have increase by 39.9% since then.

The students argue that these bursaries are in need of more funding and further reform.

David Grimm, a student who has helped organise the letter, said:

“Presently, postgraduate students often have to be nominated for funding by their lecturers. This means that often older and wealthier lecturers are in a position to nominate often younger and poorer students for funding. This is an untenable situation.”

The students, who have also been backed by 20 lecturers, have called for reform to funding for postgraduate social work students’ bursaries to ensure objective assessment criteria are used to assess need. 

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, added:

“We have seen first hand the impact of the cost of living crisis on social work students.”

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