BASW Annual Survey of membership highlights investment needed for social work
A BASW survey of around 1600 social workers and students from across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales provides insight into the challenges, the professional motivations and ambitions of social workers. Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond.
The findings underlined the commitment, enthusiasm and drive social workers have to support people and have a positive impact on their lives. Almost three-fifths of respondents (59%) said they were happy in the profession and 61% stated that they were happy in their current role.
However, the findings also highlighted that social workers continue to experience high demands, which are likely being exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis and worsening levels of poverty across the UK.
Over three quarters of respondents (76%) felt that rising costs were pushing the people they support into further poverty, while almost four-fifths (79%) of social workers attributed the economic crisis to creating additional problems for people.
Commenting, BASW CEO, Dr Ruth Allen said:
“Most social workers are happy in the professions and particularly value their relationships with their peers. These may be other social workers but also the nurses, teachers, doctors they work closely with. Social work remains a strong professional community but is under great pressure.
“Social workers remain deeply committed to the people they work with and value the privileged, values-based work they do to promote wellbeing, social justice, empowerment and choice.
“The repeat reporting of poor experiences at work are unacceptable. This is underpinned by too high work demands and too few resources which are governmental and funding failures. But we can also do more through collaboration across the sector and with others to improve working conditions. There are great efforts being made across some employers to change this.
“BASW brings an independent, professional perspective and the voice of social workers from the grassroots to that. We also bring a strategic and evidential perspective on what works to improve practice through better working conditions. We need to learn from best practices within social work and care, and from outside.”
“We work closely with our partner trade union the Social Workers Union (SWU) who offer specialised support and knowledge, and BASW will work with all other relevant bodies where we can”
BASW UK held an online discussion with BASW CEO, Dr Ruth Allen, BASW UK Chair, Julia Ross and members to discuss the findings from the survey. You can watch the recording here.
Key findings and BASW’s response
Benefits and Challenges
The passion social workers have for their work shone through in the survey findings. One social worker said: “There are amazing people in social work who do fantastic work against the odds. And resilient children and families with whom it is a privilege to work.” And the importance to social workers of being able to develop strong relationships with people was also apparent, with one respondent explaining “I receive thank you from most families that I work with because I supported them, their loved ones or their carers to stay safe and have a quality of live.”
More than half (54%) of respondents said that peer support was having the most positive impact on them at work, which was higher than the previous year’s findings. This could be the result of there now being more opportunities for face-to-face working compared to in 2021.
There were also positive findings in the sections focused on career opportunities. Almost four-fifths of respondents (79%) said they were now working in a higher pay band or grade than when they joined the profession. While 64% agreed or strongly agreed that they felt secure in their current role.
Responses were more mixed when it came to professional development. 44% believed they had sufficient opportunities to advance their careers compared to 42% who felt they did not. The top three barriers were: limited number of promotional opportunities (32%), not enough opportunities to advance in my area or specialism (26%) and lack of time off for training or development (20%).
Whilst respondents expressed pride in their profession, they also laid bare the challenging working conditions and pressure they were under. Many of these centred on high workloads and shortages in resources and capacity. Almost 75% revealed they are unable to complete their work during contracted hours, a slight increase from last year. Of these, nearly a quarter reported working ten or more additional hours per week, and 90% said they were not paid for overtime.
Workload (45%), admin demands (41%), and staff shortages (34.8%) were identified as the most pressing workplace issues, with a lack of funding for social care (68%), recruitment and retention problems (54%) and cuts to local services (42%) being pinpointed as the biggest concerns for the profession as a whole.
The survey revealed that the squeeze on people’s finances is compounding pressure on social work services. When combined with a lack of investment or focus on improving workforce recruitment and retention, it is creating the perfect storm of challenges.
Over three quarters of respondents (76%) felt that rising costs were pushing the people they support into further poverty, while almost four-fifths (79%) of social workers attributed the economic crisis to creating additional problems for people. Almost half of respondents (49.8%) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that the number of people they worked with had increased as the cost of living had increased. In addition, 32.7% of respondents highlighted that they supported people with their own resources because of higher costs.
While social workers are going above and beyond to support those struggling most, respondents generally felt that public perceptions of social work are not improving. Social workers were asked: “On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is ‘poor’ and ‘10’ is excellent, how would you rate the public’s current perception of social workers?” The average score was 3.3, lower than the 2021 score of 3.6.
Furthermore, while many social workers enjoy their roles and people they work with, they worry about the toll the job is having on their mental health and wellbeing. One social worker commented: “I love my profession, I’ve been in social work for over 20 years and I don’t want to leave but it’s getting so difficult. I’m not sure I’ll be able to continue in the profession for much longer.”
Poor Experiences at Work
Worrying reports of bullying, harassment and abuse were noted in responses to this year’s survey. Almost two-fifths of respondents (38%) reported that they had either personally experienced bullying, harassment and/or discrimination in the workplace, or were aware of someone who had.
The most common experiences were bullying, harassment and/or discrimination (61.5 per cent); someone confiding that they had experienced this (55%), and witnessing behaviour that could be seen as bullying, harassment and/or discrimination (42%). The most common reasons given were professional grievance (37%), ethnicity (33%) other (20%) and gender (18%). Managers or someone more senior were cited as the cause in 58% and 45% of responses, respectively.
When asked about experiences of abuse from people using social work services, 49% of respondents said that they had experienced verbal abuse and 24% had received threats of physical violence. One social worker explained: “I absolutely love being a social worker, however feel we have no protection at all as frontline workers.”
BASW continues to call on the UK Government to deliver long overdue investment in social work, with an acute focus on improving recruitment, easing demands and reversing the flow of social workers leaving the profession.
The survey findings demonstrate that social workers urgently need more resources to stem the tide of rising caseloads. A nationwide recruitment strategy, funded and coordinated by central government, would be a step in the right direction. While improving accessibility, equal distribution and value of student bursaries in all parts of the UK would encourage more people into the profession and properly fund the next generation of social workers.
In addition, BASW is campaigning for a better supported workforce to help improve retention rates across the UK. This includes lobbying for an immediate increase in the car mileage allowance and in the remote working allowance.
Finally, BASW is urging the UK Government to do far more to alleviate the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. The survey showed how worsening poverty is leading to higher and more complex caseloads. Ending the two-child cap on benefits, extending the debt breathing space scheme and freezing evictions are all policies that Ministers could introduce now to deliver essential support to those who need it most.
BASW launched its first annual survey of members in 2021, which helped shape how BASW delivered services, focused its campaigns and represented social workers throughout 2022. The findings from this year’s survey will similarly influence BASW’s priorities in the year ahead and we’re grateful to all members who have shared their views with us.
SWU General Secretary, John McGowan commented:
“The BASW Annual Survey 2022 is indeed further and continued evidence that the social work sector in the UK continues to be in crisis with social workers having clear concerns particularly regarding workload demand, administrative tasks and staffing levels. The BASW member findings almost duplicate the 2017 - 2022 larger research study from SWU/ BASW and Bath Spa University regarding UK Working Conditions of Social Workers.
“It is clearly evident throughout the member survey that those who work in social work are incredibly committed to their work, to maintaining the highest of standards for service users, and for the most part, they want to find a way to remain working in social work; with 59.17% happy in the social work profession. However, a positive working environment with suitable working conditions is essential for social workers’ psychological and physical welfare and to keep social workers in posts. The UK Government needs to listen to this and address the wider gaps in recruitment, retention and the funding of social work or we will see a further erosion in our key services.”