Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Surveys point to concerns re social work cover, warns UNISON

Date: Tue 14 July 2009

UNISON, Scotland's social care workers union, today highlighted their concern about increasing pressure and stress on social care workers, highlighted by a survey released by the BBC today (based on a Freedom of Information request showing very high caseloads per social worker in some authorities.)

UNISON's own Freedom of Information survey (released last month) done across all local authorities in the UK showed vacancy rates with a UK average of 12%. In Scotland, six councils exceeded the UK average. In Scottish Borders, almost a quarter (24.06%) of social work posts are vacant. This is followed by Inverclyde (20.8%), West Dunbartonshire (19.6%), Falkirk (15%), Highland (13.1%) and West Lothian (12%).

Ronnie Stevenson, UNISON Convenor of social work tewards in the largest local authority and a children and families social worker, says:
“What all these surveys are saying is that social workers are battling against the odds to protect our young children and vulnerable adults. The figures themselves are bad, but they only point to the real problem - if there are too few social workers and too many cases, the crucial element of time spent on any one child is squeezed - especially if this is exacerbated by high levels of paper work. This situation is no good for social workers and it’s no good for their clients who desperately need help."

Colin Turbett, UNISON North Ayrshire Branch Chair and a social worker says:
"What we do know is that few employers operate effective workload management systems, with the result that social workers commmonly work excessive overtime just to keep their heads above water. Frontline managers are under constant pressure to ensure reports are done timeously with score sheets comparing performance across and between authorities, and that cases are not 'unallocated'. A comprehensive integrated assessment (such as a report for a Children's Hearing) for a child now takes some 10-12 hours of work."

And UNISON points out that referral rates are rising all the time, without increasing resources.

The union along with the social work professional organisation - BASW - has recently released a manifesto for Scottish Social Work. It demands urgent action to address the issues affecting their social work members attract new staff into social work and to stem the stream of workers leaving the profession by making working conditions more bearable.

This means that councils must ensure that they not only fill vacancies but reassess the number of staff needed to cover the high volume of work. Without such measures the union is warning that there is a very real possibility of another tragedy like Brandon Muir.


Notes for Editors:

1. UNISON Scotland and the BASW's Social Work Manifesto Helping people change their lives calls for a ten point plan:

2. The ten points it wants addressed are:
- Introduction of effective workload management
- Reduction in meaningless bureaucracy
- Guideline for appropriate staffing levels
- Access to good quality support and supervision
- Ensuring employers are accountable to staff and service users
- Providing an effective reporting mechanism for problems
- A clear career path allowing experienced practitioners to remain in practice
- A universal service as ‘accessible as the NHS’ with welcoming buildings
- Social work professionals being able to practice their skills in the community
- An end to cuts and threats to budgets.

The manifesto is on the UNISON Scotland website at www.unison-scotland.org.uk/socialwork


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