Social workers are ‘at breaking point’, with excessive workloads, high stress levels and low morale meaning that half are at risk of quitting, a union has warned.
A report by Unison has said the profession is suffering from a combination of staff shortages (93%), unmanageable caseloads (90%) and long hours (80%).
The survey of nearly 3,000 social workers also found seven in ten (72%) said their workload has increased during the pandemic and 89% were worried about the level of service they are now able to provide to the public as a result.
Social workers who took part in the survey for the report, Social work and the impact of the Covid pandemic, 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, the union warned.
Many were facing threats of violence not only to them but their families from frustrated families in desperate need of support.
Social workers described themselves as having been ‘grabbed and pushed’, receiving death threats and being told by those they’re helping that their houses would be burned down.
Social work in crisis
More than three quarters (78%) of the social workers polled said they had experienced increased stress levels and 77% of respondents were worried about their mental health because of 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% worried about being blamed publicly in connection with cases.
One worker told the union: “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.”
Another, ‘Hayley’, a social work assistant, told the union: “I’m currently off sick due to being physically assaulted by a service user. He also threatened me. I asked over a period of three months to work elsewhere and this didn’t happen. He then assaulted me again.”
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “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.”