West Midlands social workers put at physical and mental health risk during pandemic

The UK’s social work system faces collapse as a third of social workers look to leave the profession, according to data collated by the Social Workers Union.

The Union says the UK faces an avalanche of referrals as lockdown eases but that government and employers have neglected social workers’ concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic and failed to safeguard their physical and mental health. 

It is calling on government and social work employers to take both immediate short-term steps such as more availability of mental health support, guaranteed PPE, a social work recruitment drive and a pledge not to re-introduce austerity measures. 

This should be coupled with a long-term approach to introduce measures set out in a “working conditions toolkit”, developed by the Union, Bath Spa University and the British Association of Social Workers.

Findings from the survey show that half of social workers have put their own health at risk as a result of working during the pandemic. And while 21 social workers have died after testing positive for COVID-19, one in ten (11%) have felt threatened with disciplinary measures for raising safety concerns. 

A third of those surveyed are now considering alternative careers.

Further analysis of social workers in the West Midlands shows:

  • Two-fifths (46%) of social workers in the West Midlands have put their own health at risk as a result of working during COVID-19
  • Over half (54%) have been provided with inadequate PPE
  • One in 10 (12%) have felt threatened with disciplinary measures for raising safety concerns
  • 47% say their job has affected their mental health during COVID-19
  • A third of social workers (30%) in the region are now considering leaving the profession

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

“The situation is dire and the social work system is on the precipice of collapse.

“Our members are considering leaving the profession en masse if their concerns aren’t addressed. We have long argued that working conditions for social workers need to be drastically improved and sadly COVID-19 has acerbated the problems.

“Social workers have put their health on the line safeguarding the public, but little has been done to safeguard them.”

Carol Reid, National Organiser for the Union added:

“Some of the stories we’ve heard from our Members are truly shocking and very concerning. We want urgent action now from the Government and employers to provide better working conditions for social workers.

“It’s clear from our research that the social work system is not ready for the avalanche of social work referrals which our members expect to happen as lockdown eases.

Doug Nicholls, General Secretary from the General Federation of Trade Unions, which represents specialist trade unions, commented:

“The study from the Social Workers Union tells a tragic tale which government and employers such as local authorities must listen to.

“As we move onto the recovery phase of the pandemic, protecting and improving the working conditions of key workers across the country is vital work being undertaken by trade unions across all sectors."

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