More resources and lower caseloads: How to improve social workers’ wellbeing

Speaking at the COMPASS Jobs Fair this week, academics and representatives from the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and Social Workers Union (SWU) outlined the results of their recent national survey and offered practical ways for the system to improve professionals’ wellbeing.

16/03/22

More resources and lower caseloads: How to improve social workers’ wellbeing

A national survey shows that UK social workers face growing caseloads and are working longer hours, even more than other professionals such as teachers, doctors and nurses.

Professor Jermaine Ravalier, of Bath Spa University and John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union (SWU), discussed these and other findings from the survey into Social Work Wellbeing, at the COMPASS Jobs Fair in Birmingham on Monday this week.

The research began in 2017/2018, as a collaboration between Bath Spa University, the Social Workers Union (SWU) and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW). Since then, over 5,000 social workers have contributed, giving details of their work circumstances, and their views about their jobs.

Professor Ravalier said that results of the research across the last six years showed that working conditions had worsened during the pandemic, and had improved slightly since the restrictions eased. Even so, social work compared badly to other occupations across the public, private and third sector. Asked what support they received during the pandemic, many social workers said that they received none. A frequent response was that, “We are expected to just get on with it.”

John McGowan told the seminar, “typically, social workers work an extra 11 hours a week. And while stress is not always bad thing but they each deal with ten stressful situations a day, which is far too much.”

The project looked at ways social workers thought wellbeing and working conditions could be improved.

“We asked some qualitative questions,” said Professor Ravalier, adding that it was not surprising that the one issue highlighted more than any other was improvement around caseloads: “lower caseloads would allow a person-centred approach, relationship building and time to develop.”

More resources to allow for earlier intervention when supporting families were also important; so too was streamlining paperwork so social workers had more time to go out to see service users. Greater respect for the profession was another key issue – many felt people saw social workers’ role solely as “taking people’s kids away”.

The results of the survey led to the Social Worker Wellbeing and Working Conditions Good Practice Toolkit, written by Professor Ravalier and Dr Ruth Allen, BASW’s Chief Executive Officer. It is an online resource that aims to accelerate action to improve conditions across the workplace.

Professor Ravalier told the seminar that wellbeing can be improved by developing peer support; encouraging and supporting flexible working; and allowing social workers time away from work so that they rest with their families.

Despite the problems, he said: “social workers love the actual job. But they say that too much is expected with too few resources.”

Underfunding had increased demand and many survey respondents talked about this resulting in having to work while ill –- and making them want to leave the profession. More positively, he concluded, “social workers are making a difference every day – and there aren’t too many jobs where you can say that.”

Social Worker Wellbeing and Working Conditions Good Practice Toolkit available from: https://www.basw.co.uk/social-worker-wellbeing-and-working-conditions-0

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