'Shocking' sickness rates in social work

Stress blamed for absence rate that is 60% higher than national average

Social workers are taking "shocking" levels of sick leave – far higher than the national average – prompting protests they are being subjected to intolerable pressure.

Freedom of Information requests discovered that the average social worker takes almost 12 days off a year through illness – with one in 10 calling in sick at least 20 times. The figures emerged after the government launched a campaign to recruit more than 5,000 new social workers. There are currently 2,700 vacancies in the profession amid fears that the outrage over Baby P's death has deterred many people from choosing a social work career.

The sickness totals, compiled by the Liberal Democrat MP Annette Brooke, were based on returns from more than two-thirds of councils in England.

Social workers' annual absence rate was 11.8 days a year – 60 per cent higher than the national average of 7.4 days for all employees. The highest figure was in the London Borough of Hounslow, whose social workers took almost a month (28.3 days) off through illness.

The problem was recorded in all parts of England and in both urban and predominantly rural authorities. Particularly high sickness rates were reported in Somerset (27.8 days), Coventry (19.2), Cornwall (17.7), Sefton in Merseyside (17.5), Cumbria (17.3) and Bournemouth (16.1). The figures will be contained in a child protection paper to next week's Liberal Democrat conference.

Ms Brooke, the party's children's spokeswoman, told The Independent: "These shocking figures show the impact of the huge stresses social workers are under. The incredibly high number of vacancies leaves them spread too thin, working under huge pressure and dealing with a lack of resources and mountains of paperwork."

The sickness rate is more than two days higher than the national average in the public sector of 9.7 days, including 11 in the National Health Service, 10.2 in the police and 7.5 in education. The average in the private sector is 6.4 days' absence.

Some 80 per cent of social workers told a recent union survey that the pressures at work had increased over the past year. They reported that they worked 12 per cent longer hours than their contract specified.

Last night Hilton Dawson, the chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said: "They face stress, an inordinate workload, intrusive managements and very difficult work situations. The media coverage of the profession is horrendous. It's the most undervalued, least respected and least understood profession in Britain."

He said that new recruits were often thrown into the most difficult situations, adding: "I regularly hear about newly qualified social workers being burnt-out after just 18 months in the job."

Local council leaders have warned that potential recruits are being deterred from the profession because of the "witch-hunt" over the Baby P tragedy. Ministers this month launched a recruitment campaign, including advertisements featuring the actress Samantha Morton and the musician Goldie, who were raised in children's homes. It has already produced interest from thousands of candidates.

* Employees taken ill while they are on leave would be able to claim back the holiday time they have lost, following a ruling in the European Court of Justice. The CBI warned that the judgement, in a case involving a Spanish council worker, was "open to abuse".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower