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Admin, staffing and workloads main challenges for social workers

Administrative tasks, staffing levels, workload demand and access to resources for service users are the greatest challenges facing social workers today, a report has warned.

The BASW Annual Survey of Social Workers and Social Work 2021 also reveals how 71.87% of respondents to their survey felt unable to complete their work within their contracted hours. Of those, almost one-quarter reported working 10 or more additional hours per week, with the vast majority of these additional hours being unpaid.

“Throughout the pandemic, social workers have demonstrated their resilience, their determination, their creativity and their on-going desire to help and support those with whom they work,” said the report.

“Yet this comes with a price: respondents describe their workload as “impossible”, leaving them “utterly exhausted”, given the challenges the sector faces which have only been aggravated further by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic on funding, on services and on wellbeing,” the report added.

The survey, hosted by BASW, was conducted across the four nations of the UK from 7 December 2021 to 9 January 2022 and open to both member and non-member social workers. In total, 2062 social workers and student social workers, in a range of roles, took part.

Almost 40% reported that the numbers of people with whom they worked had increased during the pandemic and had not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The biggest challenges facing people in their workplace were considered to be:

  • The demands of administrative tasks
  • The adequacy of staffing levels
  • Workload demand
  • Access to resources for the people with whom respondents were working.

The biggest challenges facing the profession currently and in the immediate future were considered to be:

  • The failure to adequately fund social care
  • Cuts to local services.

“Respondents felt that the public perception of social work and social workers tended to be negative,” said the report.

“Better promotion of social work with politicians and policy-makers was clearly identified as being most important for the development of social work in the immediate future,” the report added.

In undertaking a survey on the state of the social work profession in the UK, BASW focused upon the experiences of those currently working within and those training to work within the profession. Questions ranged from asking how they felt the profession was perceived by the general public to the impact of the pandemic on aspects of their work.

On a scale of one to 10 where 1 is poor and 10 is excellent, respondents rated the public’s current perception of social workers as 3.6.

“It is clear that there is concern within the profession that there is a negative public perception of what social work is and what social workers do, and that media portrayal of social work plays a role in how social work is perceived. Numerous respondents describe immense pride in their work, but are left heartbroken and demoralised by negative press and stigma they feel “powerless” to redress,” said the report.

This is one of the key reasons that we launched our #Respect4SocialWork campaign  to challenge the negative perception of social work that so often gets picked up yet the life changing work that social workers carry out on a daily basis – particularly during the pandemic goes unnoticed.

The main reason social workers and student social workers chose social work was the opportunity to work with, support and help people to improve their lives.

Making a positive impact on people’s health and social wellbeing, enabling individuals and families to have more choice and control and promoting social justice and anti-oppressive practice were the three most rewarding parts in the respondents’ current role.

Peer support, effective multi-agency and/or partnership working and an appropriate level of management and supervision were the three most positive impacts of their current role.

In terms of the three most important points when it comes to developing the social work profession in the immediate future, respondents said better promotion of social work with policy makers and politicians, effective multi-agency and/or partnership working and effective practice leadership.

Of the respondents who were working, two-fifths agreed and strongly agreed that they felt able to manage their current workload, whilst almost two-fifths disagreed and strongly disagreed.

Of concern was that more than two-fifths of respondents (43.14%) had experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment or discrimination in the workplace. Of those, almost three fifths (58.25%) reported that they personally had been a victim of bullying, harassment or discrimination. This represents more than one-fifth of the total number of respondents. More than two-fifths (45.29%) reported that someone had confided in them about an experience of bullying, harassment or discrimination.

Finally survey respondents were asked what, if any, career changes they planned to make in the next three years. More than 10% of respondents indicated that they were taking early retirement or planning to retire, which has implications for the challenges of adequate staffing highlighted, earlier, especially when linked with over 15% of respondents who planned to leave social work for an alternative career and over 15% who planned to reduce their hours. It is notable that working more hours, for example moving from part-time to full-time work was the least popular option, being chosen by less than 1%.

  • 23.32% intend to continue in their current role
  • 18.24% intend to change area of practice
  • 17.17% intend to apply for promotion

Following the pandemic, the survey found:

  • 34.25% continue to work or study from home
  • 30.59% divide time between home and being office/ campus based
  • 4.97% returned to office/campus following a period of work/study from home

Almost 20% and a further 35% felt that during the pandemic, they experienced more moral distress in relation to their ability to work with and support people,

BASW makes three calls to action to strengthen social work:

  • Invest in the social work recruitment, education, professional development and retention initiatives. A thriving social work sector also requires a more family friendly approach to the workforce, allowing more flexibility for childcare considerations and more part-time opportunities.
  • Tackle poor working conditions and unfeasibly high workloads of social workers. High case and administrative loads are a major source of stress and the quality of support to children and adults depends on providing social workers with the right conditions, which means more support, reflective practice and resources to do the job.
  • Enable more time for relationship-based practice - cut admin and red tape. BASW’s survey shows over half of social workers say they spend too much time on admin tasks rather than spending time working with families face to face. We need to invest in admin staff and cut red tape to free up social workers to do what they do best.

BASW CEO Dr Ruth Allen, said: “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.

“This is a significant survey which we plan to carry out every year to gauge the temperature of the profession, it will provide important insight for social workers, employers and policy makers across the UK,” she concluded.

The BASW Annual Survey of Social Workers and Social Work: 2021

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