This is a survey of staff working in social work teams. As well as social workers and social work assistants/support workers, it also includes social work managers, business support, administrative and clerical roles, mental health officers, occupational therapists, care workers, residential care workers, addictions workers and welfare rights officers.
It is part of UNISON Scotland’s Damage series – a range of reports into the impact of austerity cuts on the delivery of public services.
This report looks at issues facing our members working in social work teams in Scottish local authorities.
UNISON members were keen to speak out. It is obvious they are a dedicated workforce working hard to support the public but they are under enormous pressure. They feel exhausted, undervalued and suffer violence regularly. Many are looking for new jobs. They are struggling to deal with the demands placed upon them. Social work teams are severely underfunded and services are at breaking point.
As well as the sheer volume of work, many staff commented that work has become much more reactive. Workloads are heavier and staff shortages mean that work is being pushed down to less qualified and/or experienced staff. Staff report problems in providing support in crisis services like child protection and supervision of offenders. Many areas like home and residential care are seeing a high turnover of a staff, impacting on building and maintaining relationships with clients.
Members say they are often forced to work unpaid hours in order to protect service users. While many are concerned about their own health because of stress and exhaustion.
Violence at work was a big issue among staff with half (49%) experiencing verbal abuse, 14% experiencing both physical and verbal abuse and 3% experiencing physical abuse. No one should be expected to consider abuse as ‘part of the job’.
Key issues are:
- 76% of respondents stated their teams did not have enough staff
- 82% stated their workload had got heavier in the last few years
- 89% of staff are working late and skipping skipping breaks to keep on top of their workload
- Two thirds of staff had experienced physical or verbal abuse at work
- Only one third of those who had experienced abuse knew of a risk assessment following that abuse
- One third describe morale in their teams as poor and a further 26% as very poor
- Almost a third of respondents rated their stress as 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10
- 90% of respondents are considering leaving their jobs in social work.
- Only 31% would recommend social work teams as a place to work
- There are 176 fewer social workers and 605 fewer business support staff than last year
- Local authorities are short 55 mental health officers
- In 2016, Audit Scotland estimated that social work services needed a 16-21% increase in funding to cope with growing demand. The funding has not been put in place.