Social workers case loads putting vulnerable at risk

Almost two-thirds 58% of social workers say their caseloads are unmanageable, according research for Social Workers Union, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and LBC Radio, carried out by Campaign Collective.

With almost all social workers (97%) saying that the vulnerable would be better protected if case loads were lighter, the Union and BASW have called for urgent action to better support front-line social workers.

In the last 18 months almost half (48%) of social workers have raised concerns about cases where they don’t believe appropriate action was taken. Of these, 29% have highlighted more than 5 cases in that time.

In addition, most social workers expected to see referrals increase over the next 12 months (94%), with 71% expecting to be inundated.

But increasing case loads are pushing social workers to the brink. Eight out of ten (82%) social workers suffer from stress at work with two-thirds (65%) saying that their mental health is suffering because of their job.

A quarter (24%) admitted to finding themselves suffering an emotional response to their work (crying / feeling unwell) at least once a week. Resulting in half of social workers considering leaving their posts.

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, commented:

This recent member survey has highlighted what the reality of being a social worker in 2022 is and reflects the pressures our members are presently under.

It is a great concern that half of social workers are considering leaving the profession due to the pressures of the work and the impact the work is having on their mental health.

Social work intervention can greatly improve the quality of life and opportunities for the children, families, adults and communities we support 24/7. However, it is fair to say that unless the pressures we are under are addressed we will not be able to reach the very people who need our service and support.

One social worker told researchers:

Working long hours takes its toll on self and my own family life. Recent media coverage puts the onus on social workers failing and blaming people who often make a positive difference in many children’s lives.

While another wrote:

Raising concerns about the lack of action on cases is the norm, however with lack of resources it is difficult to take the right action at the right time sometimes. Managers here listen to us but it’s the way the system is and we have had to learn to accept it most of the time.

Another social worker added:

We need more staff to bring caseloads down. Stop expecting us to work late and work over our hours. A 60 hour week when you are paid for only 35 means we are practically on minimum wage. We need to be looked after by the services we work for. Our job is unsafe and unhealthy.

The Social Workers Union invited all members to respond to a survey commissioned by LBC Radio between 10-17 January 2022. 824 social workers responded. The Social Workers Union is one of the fastest growing unions in the UK with a present UK membership of just under 16,000 members.