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Social workers at breaking point with half at risk of quitting, warns UNISON

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Unacceptable levels of pressure on social work teams will end up costing lives.

Excessive workloads, high stress levels and low morale are rife among social workers who are at breaking point, according to a new report published today (Monday) by UNISON.

The report – Social work and the impact of the Covid pandemic – is based on a survey of nearly 3,000 social workers across the UK. It sheds light on the working conditions of social workers, and limitations on the help they are able to give vulnerable families.

Staff shortages (93%), unmanageable caseloads (90%) and long hours (80%) are identified by social workers as major concerns affecting their ability to do their job​s, according to the union.

Seven in ten (72%) said their workload has increased during the pandemic and 89% are worried about the level of service they are able to provide to the public. Social workers who took part in the survey repeatedly said their first point of contact with families was ​often only at crisis point because they have no time for early intervention and preventative work.

Many face threats of violence to not only them, but ​to their families ​too, from frustrated families in desperate need of support. Social workers described being ‘grabbed and pushed’, receiving death threats and being told by those they’re helping that their houses would be burned down.

More than three quarters (78%) of social workers said they had experienced increased stress levels and 77% of respondents were worried about their mental health due to the pressure they’re under. Seven in ten (70%) also said morale has decreased and almost half (49%) said they​’re ​now less likely to stay in their jobs.

Four in ten (44%) believed harassment and abuse have increased during the pandemic, while a similar number (45%) said they had experienced emotional distress. As many as 78% worry about being blamed publicly in connection with cases.

One worker said: “We get so much blame and hostility, but we have no protection. We have nothing to keep us safe. We’re expected to do so much but no one considers the threat and danger we face. Social workers are disliked as much as the police. But the police don’t find their personal details being used and aren’t at risk of being followed home.”

While the recommendations of the recent MacAlister review address serious failings in England, the union says councils and the government must do much more to ensure safe services for children.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Unacceptable levels of pressure on social work teams will end up costing lives. The safety of vulnerable children, adults and their families must be paramount and that can only be achieved with a strong and valued workforce.

“Social workers’ skills and interventions keep people safe from harm and change lives. But there simply aren’t enough of them to deal with ​increasing demand. New recruits and experienced workers are at breaking point and ​are leaving the profession in their droves.

“Ministers must take these findings seriously. Councils must be sufficiently funded to recruit and retain social workers to ensure communities are properly protected.”

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