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Students unite to call for English bursary reform

Hundreds of social work students and recent graduates have joined a call to reform bursaries across England.

An “open letter” to the UK Secretaries of State for Health and Education has set out arguments for an end to the unique nature of hardships social work students face.

Students on social work courses often complete front-line work as part of their courses, helping the most vulnerable in society. This means many social work students face unique levels of financial hardship as they are unable to work part-time while completing their studies.

The letter sets out that current arrangements for student bursaries for social workers in England are unequally distributed and limited in number. 

Where bursaries are available, the funding for them has been frozen for over eight years resulting in a real-terms cut in support for many students.

In addition, bursaries available have been capped at the same numbers (1,500 postgraduate and 2,500 undergraduate) since 2013, despite the growing recruitment crisis in the social work profession.

The campaign is being coordinated by the Social Workers Union and British Association of Social Workers following representations from students affected by the issue. The organisations have already written to Labour policy makers to ask for their support for reform.

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, commented:“At a time of a recruitment crisis in social work, with 8.6% having left the profession in 2020-2021, the government in England must act quickly to attract and retain practitioners. 

“We’ve heard from students just how difficult their situations are at the moment and Ministers must listen to their testimony.

“The Social Workers Union has already supported Welsh students in their successful campaign to have the Welsh Government increase funding for student support by 50% and helped Scottish students win a review of finance for social work students. 

“Now it is the English Government’s turn to take action.” 

Rebekah Pierre, BASW Professional Officer, added: “The current student bursary system for social workers is not fit for purpose. Yet again, social work has been excluded from any government discussions around fairer and more equitable bursaries – given that we have just had a once in a generation review into children’s social care which highlighted desperate recruitment issues, this is not just unacceptable, but potentially dangerous for those we support. 

“The recent Kings Honour List recognised the incredible contribution social work makes across society, but to truly thrive, social workers also need to be recognised in tangible ways on the ground, which means more investment in students, fairer bursaries, and inclusive routes to graduating which do not penalise those from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

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