Pandemic has “left a legacy of higher caseloads”, new research says

A new survey by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has revealed a picture of increasing caseloads across adults and children’s services with seven out of ten social workers saying they feel unable to complete their work within contracted hours.

09/03/22

Pandemic has “left a legacy of higher caseloads”, new research says

A BASW survey of over 2,000 social workers from across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales has identified challenges faced for the profession – such as increased workload, public perceptions, levels of harassment and discrimination, the consequences of the pandemic and the issue of ‘moral distress’.

Whilst most social workers surveyed reported an increase in caseload during the last two years of the pandemic, of these, more than a third (37%) said their caseloads had still not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

When asked what the biggest challenges were facing social work, cuts to services came top (66%) followed by failure to adequately fund social care (63%) and not having enough time to spend with service users (53%).

Despite this, a majority either agreed (44%) or strongly agreed (17%) with the statement “I am happy working in the social work profession”.

“I love my job regardless of its challenges and the impact to my own emotional wellbeing,” said one social worker, responding to the survey. “Limited resources, reduced funding, increased caseloads and lack of multi-agency working during covid has placed increasing pressures to protect the most vulnerable in society.”

Nearly a quarter (23%) of those surveyed said they intend to continue in their current role over the next three years; a further 17% said they plan to apply for promotion and 18% to change area of practice.

Asked to choose the biggest challenge in their current workplace, most identified administrative tasks (51%) followed by staffing levels (50%) and workload (47%). Accessing resources for service users was highlighted by 43%.

More than half of respondents said their mental health had suffered from working during the peak of the pandemic, with more than one in five (22%) of these still suffering.

Asked to rate the public’s perception of social workers on sliding scale from one (poor) to ten (excellent), the average score was 3.6.

As a result of the findings BASW has called on the Government to “urgently stem the flow of social workers leaving the profession”, as its new member survey reveals an increased workload due to the pandemic has further exacerbated working conditions in social work.

BASW says the Government needs to invest in the social work recruitment, education, professional development and retention initiatives; tackle poor working conditions and unfeasibly high workloads of social workers; and enable more time for relationship-based practice by cutting admin and red tape.

Dr Ruth Allen, BASW’s Chief Executive Officer, said the survey has gauged the temperature to provide important insight for social workers, employers and policy makers across the UK.

“It is no surprise that despite working in the most challenging of environments with stretched resources and poor working conditions that social workers continue to deliver in their role with a genuine enthusiasm and drive to support people and to have a positive impact on their lives.

“This can only be achieved if social workers have adequate resources and with the right professional working conditions to do their jobs.

“BASW will continue to campaign on these areas.”

The survey also explores what had the most positive impact on workplace experience, citing peer support, effective multi-agency or partnership working, and level of management and supervision the most important.

Social Workers Union General Secretary John McGowan said terrific that many of our members are leading campaigns focused on issues highlighted, “showing that the passion social workers have for their profession is a powerful and driving force.”

“As a union we are keenly aware of the impact of working conditions on social workers and – in addition to updating research on working conditions and wellbeing and new research on reflective supervision best practices – one of our new member led campaigns is focusing on encouraging the creation of more part-time work opportunities for social workers with the aim to improve working conditions, provide opportunities for those who need part time work, and improve retention of social workers.”

John McGowan will be sharing insights into the findings in a session at the COMPASS Jobs Fair, Birmingham on 14th March. Book your free ticket to the event: https://www.compassjobsfair.com/Events/Birmingham/Book-Tickets

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