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More part-time roles on offer following union campaign

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New research by the Social Workers Union has revealed a slight increase in the number of employers offering part-time working conditions.

Last year the Social Workers Union launched a call for more part-time work opportunities to be created for social workers, in order to improve working conditions, provide opportunities for those who need part-time work and improve retention of social workers. 

New figures show that just under a quarter of roles currently on offer were part-time or flexible hours. Last year, an identical study found that 19% of roles offered part-time or flexible hours.

Carol Reid, National Organiser for the Social Workers Union, commented:

“The response to our campaign has been positive with many employers’ organisations happy to hear what we had to say. It’s therefore encouraging to start to see some green shoots of progress in some areas of the country.

“However, with recruitment for social workers still proving challenging for employers, we now need to see this support for the aims of the campaign translate into more concerted action and more roles offered on part-time or flexible hours contracts.

“The growth we have seen is sluggish at best and we’re also hearing worrying reports that not all roles advertised as part-time are really suitable to part-time applicants.”

One social worker from North West England commented:

“After months of trying, I finally got an interview which claimed it would be open to part-time hours. I put in a lot of hard work for the interview and it went really well. However, one of the managers said ‘ideally we want someone full time’ and I did not get the job. 

“I just feel like part-time workers are at the bottom of the pecking order and brought in ‘just incase’ there was nobody suitable from the full time applicants.”

Social workers have also reported issues when requests are made to move to part-time hours when in a role. Deb Solomon, a social worker from Derbyshire, added:

“We must move away from the idea that social workers going part time is a negative development or an accommodation for someone who isn’t coping. This is just not the case.

“Flexibility is essential to retain staff with protected characteristics and boost workforce opportunities for development. For example, some Neurodivergent staff can really benefit from part time working, and the positives can be seen in productivity, retention and wellbeing. 

“We also need to ensure that when part-time roles are offered, this is not just a full-time role squashed into fewer days which is impossible for the post-holder to manage.”

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

“We often hear about staffing shortages in social work and rather than seeing the number of part-time and flexible roles grow at a snail’s pace, we need to see a rapid roll out of better working conditions.”

The growth in popularity for offering flexible hours has been driven by Wales, where 27% of roles are part time (up from 15% in 2022) and Northern Ireland (49% up from 37%, based on  a small sample).

Scotland has slipped backwards with 29.8% of roles being part time in 2023, down from 30.5%. England posted a slight rise, up from 18.7% in 2022 to 22.6% today.

Founder Member of Campaign Collective, chair of the Public Relations & Communications Association Charity and Not-For-Profit Group. Write mainly about charity, public sector and social enterprise campaigns.