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Petition launched after minister snubs social work students’ call for fair treatment

A letter signed by over 300 students on social work courses and calling for fair treatment has been rejected by ministers and officials, forcing the students to launch a formal petition to the Scottish Parliament.

13/12/22

Petition launched after minister snubs social work students’ call for fair treatment

A formal petition asking the government to provide bursaries to all third and fourth year undergraduate social work students in Scotland has reached more than 2000 signatures.

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 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.

The campaigners calculate that the proposals would have an annual cost of £7.4m to the Scottish Government.

Lucy Challoner, who studies at Glasgow Caledonian University and who is one of the signatories to the letter, said that the failure to provide adequate funding for students could have an impact on staffing issues down the line.

“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 at £2.65m, while the costs of goods and services have increased by 40% 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 (SWU), added: “We have seen first-hand the impact of the cost of living crisis on social work students and now students have been forced to ask MSPs for help.”

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