Significance of social work in England reflected in major new report

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Social work in England: State of the nation 2023 brings together data, research and first-hand accounts compiled by the organisation in its first 3 years.

The role of social work in society is more significant than ever before, according to a major new report.

Social Work England, which regulates around 100,000 social workers in England, has shared a unique insight into the state of social work today. Social work in England: State of the nation 2023 brings together data, research and first-hand accounts compiled by the organisation in its first 3 years.

Social Work England has worked with social workers, and people with social workers in their lives, to publish the most comprehensive picture of social work since it started as a profession in England the 19th century. Pulling together a wide range of data and insight, the report shows:

The changing face of social work

  • There are 100,654 people registered as social workers in England. This is 1,463 more than last year.*
  • We have seen a 175.6% increase in applications from overseas social workers in the past 3 years.**
  • Diversity data has been collected for 94.3% of the workforce for the very first time. Early analysis (when compared to the Census 2021) shows the workforce is more diverse than the population of England and Wales in relation to ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, and representative of the population in relation to religion and disability.
  • London has the highest number of social workers per head of local population with 1 social worker to every 495 people. The east of England has the least number of social workers per head of local population with 1 social worker to every 671 people. 

Unprecedented demand for social work

  • There is unprecedented demand for social workers, with recruitment and retention now the biggest pressures on the profession.
  • An increase in social work referrals has been seen alongside the upheaval of the pandemic followed by the cost of living crisis.

The future of social work  

  • COVID-19 caused unprecedented challenges for social workers. The way they adapted their practice during the pandemic has left a permanent mark on how social work will be delivered in the future.
  • There are almost 300 higher education courses for social work students but there needs to be a new approach to education and training to ensure consistent, high quality and inclusive experiences.
  • Social work is increasingly operating outside of local authority statutory settings and in multi-disciplinary teams, health services and the voluntary sector.

Colum Conway, Chief Executive of Social Work England said,

“Since we became the specialist regulator of social work in 2019, we have developed an in-depth understanding of the profession through engagement with the sector and people with lived experience of social work. The report was co-produced to include as many voices and perspectives as possible. It reinforces the vital role of social work in society and highlights the challenges the sector must now collectively address. Overall, it demonstrates the commitment, dedication and resilience of social workers across the country.”

Social workers support millions of people to improve their chances in life. They work in a vast range of settings in advisory, educational, safeguarding and protection, and direct support roles – helping to protect vulnerable people from harm or abuse and supporting people to live independently. They provide a voice for those that need it, and promote the human rights and wellbeing of those they support. Anyone could need a social worker in their life at any time.

View the full report here

*As at 30 November 2022. The size of the register at 30 November 2021 was 99,191.

** During the 2021 to 2022 registration year (1 December 2021 to 30 November 2022), we received 1,684 applications from overseas applicants, a 175.6% increase compared to the number of applications we received in the 2019 to 2020 registration year (611).

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