- UNISON is working to highlight the contribution of social workers
- The union has made four new Standing up for Social Work films which can be found below or at the social work page.
Social workers play an important role in supporting the most vulnerable in society and make a real difference to individuals and families by helping them live their lives more successfully. This could be helping to protect vulnerable people from harm or supporting people to live independently.
But it’s a job that is often either hidden or portrayed negatively in much of the media – social workers help thousands of vulnerable citizens along with their families and carers, yet many publications and reporters are only interested when something goes wrong.
This negative image for the profession leads to staff demoralisation and even causes some to quit. On top of that, social workers have endured a decade of cuts, rising demand for services, growing caseloads and more, causing unimaginable pressure in an already stressful job.
UNISON is the lead union for social workers, with over 40,000 members in the profession.
Those members need investment in wider services in order to do their own jobs. After thirteen years of austerity there are not the community services to refer people to – clubs for disabled children, youth groups, hostels, counselling and mental health services, parent groups and children’s centres.
It means social workers are seeing people at breaking point and the cases they are holding are more complex.
Showing the benefits of social work
“I enjoy achieving change for people who strive to have more successful lives.”
UNISON wants to highlight the positive contributions that social workers make, the benefits of being a union member, and the value and challenges of being a social worker.
To help do that, four films were commissioned earlier this year, featuring UNISON members Angela Medford, Evelyn Williams, Istvan Gulyas, and they are now available to watch and share.
“I enjoy achieving change for people who strive to have more successful lives,” says Angela, a senior social worker in South Lanarkshire (pictured above).
“We are presented within the media as being a relatively negative concept. What is not represented is the positive attributes that the social work profession can bring to people’s lives.
“Being a member of UNISON gives you some comfort in utilising your own autonomy in terms of decision making.
“The thing I most enjoy about social work is making a difference.”
For senior social worker Istvan (pictured above), who’s based in Surrey, “the thing I most enjoy about social work is making a difference,” but he’s clear that one of the biggest challenges facing the profession is retention.
“I think it’s vital to join the unions for protection at work, improving terms and conditions and pay, and enhancing organisational culture so that you can have a healthy environment to work in.”
Now a UNISON rep, he says it allows him to support his colleagues “through individual and collective issues.
“My advice to my colleagues who haven’t yet joined the trade union is to join one. Social work is a high-risk environment … you can be subject to complaints which the union can effectively help you out.”
“That sense of making positive change for others, that’s a real sense of achievement for me.”
Evelyn (pictured above) is also a senior social worker – in her case, in Caerffili/Caerphilly. “That sense of making positive change for others, that’s a real sense of achievement for me.”
Noting that her part of Cmyru/Wales is “not diverse,” she explains that: “I’ve seen, listened to and been subjected to racism, not just within the workplace, within the community.”
But she is full of praise for the “real commitment, certainly led by UNISON, who have had that dialogue over and over again with the employers, to say you need to change.
“UNISON are the people who give you that voice. They’re the one who will fight for you and recognise when you haven’t had the training, when you haven’t had the support.”
To find out more about UNISON and social work, watch the four films:
On 3 November, the national Social Worker of the Year Awards take place, with UNISON sponsoring the Team of the Year, Adult Services category.