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Impact of cost-of-living on social workers

Social workers are being hit by the cost-of-living crisis both professionally, and personally.

This week the British Association of Social Workers has warned that “the cost-of-living crisis is a crisis for social workers”.

While social workers frequently witness the impact of rising energy bills and increased living costs on the people they work with, they are becoming increasingly personally affected, BASW warns, with social workers who use their cars for work being the hardest hit.

“Practitioners who use their cars for work are absorbing the impact from the rising cost of fuel leaving them facing real term pay cuts,” said the Association. “The rate set by the government is 45p per mile, which has not been updated since 2011.”

“We need a national review of regional and local Terms and Conditions of social workers, and this must include car mileage allowance,” added BASW.

In addition, BASW highlights that social work student bursaries have been frozen for an eighth year despite the rising cost of living. The grants for the 2022-3 academic year are the same as have been in place since 2014.

The number of new bursaries will also remain capped, at 1,500 postgraduate and 2,500 undergraduate awards in the coming year, as it has been since 2013, meaning not all relevant students receive a bursary.

Students are therefore facing financial difficulties and the pressure is pushing students to leave social work courses, while others have resorted to food banks or are turning to family or friends for support.

“To achieve and retain an effective workforce, we need to keep our skilled social work practitioners, and support experienced social care workers (who are not yet qualified social workers) to undertake training (through routes like Step Up and Apprenticeships). We must increase the number of well-motivated students in these programmes and on the mainstream university undergraduate and post-graduate programmes,” added BASW.

Indeed, the University of Essex which runs the social work degree, is based in Colchester and Colchester Foodbank has become the busiest not only in Essex, but it was the busiest in the East of England last year. Colchester Foodbank  helped 16,500 people last year and demand is rising. Over the last three months, demand has increased by 12% as the cost-of-living crisis starts to kick in.

“We are concerned about the cost-of-living crisis, rising fuel bills, a possible recession and the possibility of a harsh winter ahead, we thank our supporters who help us prepare for this and to be as ready as we can be for whatever life will throw at our clients next,” said a statement from the foodbank.

“As a nation, we know it isn’t right that anyone should be left hungry or living in extreme poverty. But whilst we work for long-term change, our network of foodbanks provides emergency food and compassionate, dignified support to people locked in crisis,” it added.

Meanwhile, the effects of the cost of living on the people social workers are working with which will likely result in an increase in workloads as problems escalate.

Over half of foster carer respondents to a recent survey by FosterWiki said they are considering giving up fostering due to the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

In addition, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis is preventing victims of domestic abuse from leaving their abusive partners, the charity Refuge has said. Alarmingly, Refuge’s frontline workers have reported that some women who have left perpetrators of abuse have returned to them as they cannot afford to live alone or as a single parent.

Experienced social worker and Head of Services at WillisPalmer, Dave Wareham, said: “The problems of the cost-of-living crisis are far reaching. Many vulnerable people are still feeling the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic which plunged many families into poverty through job losses or people unable to work for health reasons or shielding. They are now faced with increased energy bills and rising living costs and are simply unable to make ends meet.”

“We have already heard that over half of foster carers who are saying that they are considering giving up their fostering role as they have no choice due to the financial pressures brought on by the crisis.”

“Furthermore, the charity Refuge has warned that the cost-of-living crisis has become a barrier to many victims of domestic abuse from leaving their abusive partners.

“It is therefore unsurprising that BASW has highlighted that social workers are going to be affected. Not only are they facing increasing families needing assistance and support, but also those who use their cars for work are absorbing the impact from the rising cost of fuel leaving them facing real term pay cuts, the Association has said.”

“It is of grave concern that at a time when social workers – who are already juggling heavy caseloads and providing an immense service to many struggling families - are going to be working with even more families experiencing difficulties, and yet they will be penalised financially due to the current rate of 45p a mile for fuel allowance.”

“BASW is right to stand up for the profession and urge a national review of local and regional terms and conditions for the profession, including care mileage allowances. Our campaign #Respect4SocialWork urges greater appreciation of the whole social work sector. Yet this is a further blow to hard-working, passionate and dedicated social workers.”

“It is little wonder that Ofsted recently warned that long-standing staffing challenges in children’s social care have been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. And the cost of living crisis may well exacerbate problems further – which is bad news for social work but also for the vulnerable children we seek to protect,” concluded Dave.

Dave Wareham
Working Together For Children

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