The Cost-of-Living Crisis and Me
I have been a qualified and registered social worker for nearly three years now. I knew social work was never big money, and I didn't enter social work for the money. Before the cost-of-living crisis, I thought I would live comfortably as a working professional. I qualified and moved into a home with my housemate straight out of university and into the rental market.
When I got my first job, it wasn't the best paid out of all the local authorities in the area. I applied, had an interview and I was offered the job. I remember creating a budget in 2021 for my personal finances and thought I would be okay. I would clear my debts, start saving, and hopefully get a pay rise as I developed my career. I wanted to remain a permanent worker.
Then, in 2022 when the economic picture became much worse, I began struggling to keep up with all the increases in outgoings, and the debt started to mount up! I ended up with final notice letters on some outstanding finances. During this time, I was in a community adult social work team. Many people using social work services were also facing financial difficulties to the point where they could not pay their assessed financial contribution towards their care costs or they were asking for financial help from the council, which was very limited partly due to councils working with overspent budgets already before the cost-of-living crisis. This was hard sometimes to hear when having financial issues myself, it seemed like a crisis that would get worse and never end.
It still hasn't!
More and more concerns were raised about adults deciding to skip meals, with empty fridges, or not put the heating on as either their welfare payments or pension didn't cover the costs. It came to some adults who self-funded their care, not arranging all the care they needed due to the cost. Their families would cover these reduced hours of care instead. This added pressure onto families who are working as well as looking after a relative.
By the end of 2022, I changed jobs where I was paid more money. I felt I was keeping up with the demands of the workload, but in terms of my financial situation I was falling behind. I had to decide whether to put fuel in the car to get to work or do weekly shopping to feed myself. I decided to do both and get myself into more recurring debt. My essential outgoings were causing the debt, to spending on luxury items. I realised this could not go on and I had to decide. I made a big decision to leave the role and join an agency. I had many thoughts about joining an agency; the money was appealing but I did have worries about job stability.
But many of us are now questioning, why should we have to work for an agency to make ends meet? The answer is we shouldn’t. . With councils now facing bankruptcy or overspent budgets, I worry about how stable agency work will be in the future. There will always be a need for agency workers, it goes back to poor pay for social workers and unfilled posts. We all work so hard, and we have to listen to the people we support who are facing financial difficulties, and I am pretty sure many social workers are, too!
We should now ensure that the two pay rises social workers have had over the last two years continue for the next five years to ensure we are paid what we should be! I ask all social workers to approach their union to ask what they are doing to ensure we are paid fairly. I feel the government has a lot to answer for around the poor retention and recruitment of social workers over the last ten or more years. Unions try to put our voice out there around pay and working conditions, but we must continue this for the next few years individually and collectively. We have had our pay frozen for long enough!
In my local BASW branch, we’ve been focusing on many of these issues, and I’ve found it particularly worthwhile to discuss them with others in practice. I would encourage other social workers to do the same to keep these discussions at the forefront and to help understand the widest range of experiences and perspectives as possible.
As professionals, we shouldn't be deciding to put fuel in the car or get a weekly food shop. This shouldn't be happening to anyone in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. If we can help ourselves and ensure we are paid fairly. We can then focus on giving people we support the voice they need to ensure they have money to get by, as few people do now! We can ensure we all have a voice through the cost-of-living crisis in 2024.