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Special Report: Cost-of-living impact on social workers, foster carers and service users

More children will go into care as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, social workers are predicting.

A survey of social workers carried out by BASW and SWU found that social workers overwhelmingly predicted vulnerable adults could die this winter, that more children would go into care, there will be a spike in domestic violence, crime and social unrest.

John McGowan, general secretary of the Social Workers Union, said: “This winter thousands of children and adults will be cold in their own homes and that simply is not acceptable in 2022. The time for talking is over. We need real action from government.”

The survey found:

  • 95% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement that vulnerable people may die this winter due to cost-of-living crisis.
  • 95% strongly agreed that domestic violence will increase.
  • 75% strongly agreed that more children will come into care due to cost of living crisis.
  • 55% strongly agreed that caseloads will become unmanageable.

It also emerged that 43% of social workers themselves will struggle to pay their own bills, 20% expect to use a food bank themselves soon and 9% already have used a food bank recently.

BASW chief executive Ruth Allen said: “Social workers are among the best placed professionals to comment on the cost-of-living crisis. What they have told us is shocking and an important insight into the impact on real lives.

“To hear of social workers being forced to use food banks shows how deeply poverty and governmental neglect has penetrated.”

Ruth Allen has written to new prime minister Liz Truss highlighting the urgency of the situation.

Family Review

The news came after the children’s commissioner for England published a Family Review which found that the most common challenge for families is worries about financial pressures and the rise in the cost of living.

The Family Review found that 38% of parents said it was fairly difficult or very difficult to make ends meet. By comparison, 24% of adults without children said it would be ‘very or fairly difficult’.

Lone parents and households with more than two children were significantly more likely to find making ends meet difficult, compared to households with two parents and households with one or two children.

Families frequently mentioned the pressure of childcare on family life, particularly the need to juggle childcare with work life and other commitments. These pressures varied over the course of a year and was understandably higher during school holidays.

The Family Review shows that 53% of families had used some form of childcare, rising to 60% for families where the oldest child was under 5 years old. Regionally, households in the London were most likely to use childcare (66%, compared to 40% in the East of England). Households of a higher socio-economic grade were also more likely to use some form of childcare (60%) compared to 43% for lower socio-economic households.

The findings were reiterated in The Children’s Society’s Good Childhood report which found that 85% of parents and carers are concerned about the impact of the cost of living crisis on their household/family over the next 12 months, which will only get worse as this crisis unfolds.

Parents said they are concerned about how it will affect their families in the next year, especially as over a third of parents and carers reported they already struggled with costs of school trips and uniform over the last year, the charity found.

Fostering

Meanwhile, a survey by FosterWiki in August revealed that over half of foster carer respondents said they are considering giving up fostering due to the impact of the cost-of-living crisis.

More than 1,000 foster carers took part in the FosterWiki cost-of-living crisis survey and 89% said they are having to cut back on money spent on the children, impacting on food, heating, travel and activities, and 2.5% had resorted to food banks. Fifty four per cent of the foster carers questioned have said they are considering giving up fostering as they will be left with no alternative.

“When we launched the FosterWiki survey on the cost-of-living crisis I was not expecting such a stark and shocking picture to emerge. What struck me the most was a fostering community struggling for its very existence and children, many of who have been taken out of poverty and scarcity being plunged back into it,” said Sarah Anderson, founder of FosterWiki.

The survey reveals a sector in crisis:

  • 97% said they are significantly impacted by the cost of living crisis
  • 87% reporting that they have had no financial help at all
  • 86% reported no help or any discounted rates on their council tax
  • 71% saying the travel allowances don’t cover transporting children
  • 23% saying they don’t even get paid fuel allowances
  • Nearly 40% of foster carers have no other income, fostering is their main job and only source of income.

Recruiting and retaining sufficient numbers of foster carers, with the skills, capacity, motivation, and resilience to provide children with what they need to thrive remains challenging and without adequate remuneration in an economy in crisis is not going to be possible, the report by FosterWiki warned.

At the same time, 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.

BASW also 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.

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.

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