Social workers provide vital services and support to people across the UK. Like all professionals, social workers need the right context and resources to do their job, ongoing support, and development opportunities. They need respect and recognition from multi-professional colleagues, control over their workload and autonomy to use their professional skills to the full.
Since 2017, Dr Jermaine Ravalier and colleagues from Bath Spa University have worked with BASW and SWU to conduct two of the largest surveys of social worker wellbeing and working conditions in the UK.
Our findings showed coordinated action is needed to improve working conditions across the UK to enable social workers to thrive and prevent burn out and loss of staff, particularly from statutory roles. This finding is not new, but our research evidence helps define the changes needed for a better supported workforce.
- Fair pay, professional development and clear career pathway
- Wellbeing support and time for reflective supervision to work through complex cases
- Manageable caseloads and a consistent approach to caseload allocation
- More social workers and administrative staff
- More flexible, part-time working and remote working opportunities
- Respect, recognition and increased public understanding of the role of social work
- More time for therapeutic, relationship-based practice
Good Practice Toolkit
In 2020, BASW and SWU launched the Social Worker Wellbeing and Working Conditions Good Practice Toolkit.
This toolkit is aimed at accelerating action across all parts of the workplace. It is for social workers in practice, social work supervisors, workforce development leads, managers, and leaders.
Professional Support Service
BASW launched the Social Work Professional Support Service (SWPSS) in 2020 to support social workers and social work students with their wellbeing and to address any professional or personal concerns.
Designed by and for social workers, SWPSS is a peer-to-peer listening service in which trained volunteer coaches are able to support colleagues in confidence and completely independent from employers.
Access support and resources
Click below to view our campaign work
- Over 1200 social workers participated and overwhelmingly named the same triggers for burn out: unmanageable caseloads, lack of resources and little professional support.
- For most job roles working conditions are at a completely unacceptable level. Workload, including too many cases or too high a complexity, and paperwork/administrative duties were the two biggest issues.
- A standout finding was that 52% of UK social workers intend to leave the profession within 18 months due to burn out, increasing to 55% for social workers working specifically in children’s services.
- Compared to the UK average, working conditions were worse than 90%-95% of other employees in both public and private sector occupations. Main problems were high case and administrative loads, and lack of resources.
- Nearly half of all social workers are also dissatisfied in their jobs and two thirds have attended work while ill at least twice in the previous year
- Social workers worked an average of 64 days per year more than they are contracted to.
- 60% looking to leave their current job within 15 months with nearly 40% looking to leave the profession entirely.
- 71.87% of respondents felt unable to complete their work within their contracted hours, with almost one quarter reporting working an additional 10 hours or more per work. The vast majority were unpaid.
- More than one-third 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 the profession were considered to be: the failure to adequately fund social care and cuts to local services.
- Recruitment and retention is considered to be one of the biggest challenges facing the profession.
- 74.91% of respondents reported feeling unable to complete their work during their contracted hours
- More social workers feel unable to manage their workload (52.19%), those who do work additional hours go unpaid (90.27%).
- 49.56% have been verbally abused whilst working and 24.03% threatened with physical violence.
- 79.08% report that the cost-of living crisis causes more problems for people using social work services.
Lobbying & Influencing
BASW & SWU proactively lobby politicians from all parties to back our campaign for better working conditions for social workers and are calling on the UK Government to deliver urgent reforms. View some of our activity below.
- In December 2019 we launched the BASW UK manifesto which calls for action to support social workers. This includes a call to tackle poor working conditions and unfeasibly high workloads of social workers.
- Following the General Election, we wrote to all new government ministers and MPs urging them to support the BASW UK social work manifesto and to meet with them to discuss the campaign.
- In March 2022, BASW worked with Cat Smith MP to secure a debate in Westminster on the impact of the pandemic on social work and calling for much improved working conditions. Watch the full debate here.
BASW & SWU work hard to raise awareness of the impact of poor working conditions on social worker's wellbeing and amplify the case for long overdue and desperately needed improvements through our reach in the national media. Read highlights of our coverage below.
- BASW chair, Gerry Nosowska, speaks to Radio Cornwall about social workers working conditions.
- BASW England professional officer, Becky Reynolds, appears on Victoria Derbyshire
- SWU general secretary, John McGowan, promotes BASW/SWU’s Working Conditions campaign on the radio
- BASW England committee member Lewis Roberts tells of increasing pressure on social workers
- BASW chair Gerry Nosowska looks at deteriorating working conditions and an increase in caseload as drivers behind staff shortages
- BASW and SWU reveal levels of violence and abuse social workers can be exposed to, while calling for protection parity with our emergency colleagues
- BASW CEO Ruth Allen joins BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour to discuss the findings from our survey of over 1400 social workers.
- BASW and SWU comment on how COVID-19 is exacerbating the already-high pressures on workforce
- SWU member Carys Phillips joins TalkRadio to highlight the pressures on UK social workers and how they have been exacerbated by Covid-19 and the pandemic
- BASW CEO Ruth Allen speaks to The Guardian about caseloads, the impact of Covid-19 and urges practitioners to be given more self-autonomy
- BASW England’s Maris Stratulis highlights BASW’s Professional Support Service as a tool to help the sector
- Lewis Roberts speaks to BBC News about the challenges that social workers are facing in managing dealing a rise in demand in fostering during the pandemic
- BASW PO Gavin Moorghen and SWU’s John McGowan warn about the consequences of a “burnt out” workforce
- BASW member Andy Tutte guest joins BBC Radio Merseyside to explain how the pandemic, following years of austerity, has impacted social work by increasing caseloads
- BASW’s NI national director Carolyn Ewart calls for the UK government to fund improved working conditions to improve retention
- BASW PO Denise Monks highlights that experienced social workers leaving an under-resourced sector which is facing increasing demand.
- BASW Chair Gerry Nosowska appeared on Channel 4 News and Sky News to highlight the unworkable pressures on social workers and depletion of resources
- BASW raises awareness of abuse of social workers and condemns this unacceptable behaviour
- BASW’s Anthony Dhadwal warns we aren’t doing enough to retain experienced professionals, while new social workers aren’t being supported enough at the beginning of their careers.
- On Channel 4 News BASW’s first annual survey warns of an overstretched workforce dealing with a pandemic driven rise in caseload and deterioration in working conditions
- Coverage of BASW’s survey focuses on staff shortages, high vacancy rates and our call to Government to launch a nationwide recruitment campaign
- SWU’s John McGowan reveals the increased pressures facing social workers from rising poverty levels and calls for union action
- SWU’s John McGowan calls for better protection and working conditions for social workers and says they need to be “feel valued”
- BASW Chair of England Committee, Vava Tampa, is interviewed on BBC Breakfast to highlight the serious and soaring demands on social work services as a result of the cost-of-living crisis.
- BASW member *Andy and BASW England PO Liz Howard join Steph McGovern on her Packed Lunch Channel 4 show to talk about the mental impact on social workers from increased caseloads and complex cases
- “Social work is often the forgotten sector”, argues BASW, while highlighting poor working conditions, stagnant wages and poor levels of support for both experienced and new social workers.
- SWU's John McGowan appears on BBC Radio 5 Live to highlight poor working conditions and a lack of resources that are holding the profession back
- BASW England chair Vava Tampa on Channel 4 News lays out exactly what is needed to help children’s social workers manage poor working conditions and how to lower caseloads
- SASW Chair Jude Esther appears on Channel 5 to defend social work and provide context on increasing pressures from rising complex caseloads and retention of workforce issues
- An interview with BASW CEO Ruth Allen in The Guardian references stats on showing recruitment and retention challenges from our latest survey
There was genuinely strong support and interest from across the political spectrum in our social workers working conditions and wellbeing campaign in Parliament.AttributionBASW CEO, Dr Ruth Allen
BASW/SWU held a Parliamentary reception on 27th November 2018 to engage parliamentarians with our working conditions and wellbeing campaign.
It was an opportunity to inform them of our survey findings and urge them to work with us to deliver our campaign asks, ensuring the social work profession across the UK is better supported, respected, resourced and valued.
Over 20 MPs from across the political divide pledged their support to improving working conditions for social workers.