Interview - Ruth Allen

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Chief executive, British Association of Social Workers (BASW)


Ruth Allen, chief executive, British Association of Social Workers (BASW)

You’ve just launched the Respect for Social Work campaign…

What current research clearly shows is social workers are at risk of leaving the job they love through high demand and austerity cuts. There is urgent need to stem damaging levels of stress among social workers and the risk of vital, skilled staff leaving the profession.

Social workers are often invisible while other public-sector workers get noticed in the media, or if we are noticed it seems to be in only negative terms. If social workers are to continue protecting and supporting children, adults and families, they need good professional working conditions.

You’re acting in response to a study by Bath Spa University. What are the key findings?

It was an independent study produced in conjunction with BASW and Social Workers Union. More than 1,600 social workers were questioned. It was the first research to look solely at the well-being of social workers.

A standout finding was that 52 per cent of UK social workers intend to leave the profession within 15 months; this increases to 55 per cent for those working in children’s services. And UK social workers are working more than £600 million of unpaid overtime.

What are the key issues for children and families social work?

The Bath Spa study was insightful as it also shone a light on the chief reasons social workers gave for wanting to leave the profession. Once again, it was familiar reasons: high, unmanageable caseloads, a lack of professional and peer support and burdensome bureaucracy came top for over 70 per cent of social workers surveyed.

We know the key issues from what our members are telling us, what local authorities are reporting and what the wider social care network is saying, and they all come back to a familiar central theme of a service that is in increasing demand yet is increasingly underfunded.

What should the Government be doing to support social workers?

The Government needs to listen to social workers and treat them as professionals who have solutions as well as legitimate concerns.

A stable and well-trained workforce, with replenishment of new joiners as well as ongoing development of advanced skills, is essential.

Funding is needed to end management regimes of unmanageable workloads to reduce stress and attrition rates: employ more social workers, ensure good caseload management, enable flexible working and smarter use of technology.

There are further improvements that need considering. These include the fact that less-experienced social workers need mentoring from experienced staff. We must stem the risks of losing – and wasting – the skills of experienced staff. We also need to ensure social workers have time for reflective supervision to work through complex cases.

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