A Social Workers Union (SWU) survey has found that up to a third of social workers are considering leaving the profession in the wake of Covid-19 - 23% as a result of practising through the pandemic and a further 11% who were considering leaving beforehand.
During the health crisis, social workers have managed in a system which had already suffered from the effects of austerity. They have witnessed at first hand the impact of the public health crisis with spikes in domestic abuse, and the levels of risk for vulnerable children as they are unable to go to school, and care leavers facing further isolation in lockdown.
Key front line role
Back in March, government and Social Work England seemed keen to help social workers cope in their ‘key’ front line role. They fast tracked emergency, temporary registration so that former social workers could re-join the profession and help combat coronavirus and gave local authorities the ability to ‘ease’ their statutory duties under the Care Act.
In reality, being a social worker in 2020 has been far from straightforward. The SWU survey shows that over half of the respondents felt that they did not have the PPE they needed. A third reported having to provide their own face masks. Some social workers have also felt intimidated by managers giving unsafe instructions. Over 11% of them report having been threatened with disciplinary action for complaining about being at risk in unsafe situations.
Unsurprisingly, deteriorating mental health has been a feature of the past few months. Sickness and fatalities among clients have taken their toll. Official figures show that many social workers have seen colleagues become seriously ill with the virus and 21 have lost their lives.
The SWU survey also highlighted that almost a tenth of social workers felt that agency staff were used as a ‘human shield’ to protect permanent staff from going into unsafe situations. As an agency, we were delighted to be able to source PPE for our workers and delivered masks, gloves and hand sanitiser when they were particularly hard to come by.
Six-Point Action Plan
The SWU presents a Six-Point Action Plan in response to the concerns raised in the survey. It acknowledges that adequate PPE and risk assessments are a basic minimum requirement of social workers reporting to work, and calls for improved mental health support.
Better treatment for agency staff
We’re also particularly grateful to see a call for better treatment for agency staff. It’s simply not acceptable to treat agency staff like “second class employees” and that needs to change. Employers must ensure there is parity in the way agency staff are treated.
The UK cannot afford to lose any of its social workers, and it would be a disaster if a third of them decided to leave the profession. Now more than ever, they should receive the acknowledgement they deserve. Every member of staff, whether agency or permanent, should be able to carry out their role with confidence that they are valued, and that austerity is a thing of the past.