Social work: a resurgent profession worldwide

Social work has never been more relevant to the challenges of modern society worldwide, and people want to do the job.

This was the conclusion of a discussion at a meeting of three international bodies that promote social work and social welfare:

  • the International Federation of Social Workers
  • the International Association of Schools of Social Work
  • the International Council on Social Welfare

The event took place on 31 May 2007 and was jointly sponsored by IDeA and the General Social Care Council (GSCC).

Welcoming delegates, Lynne Berry, Chief Executive of the GSCC, outlined her own work with regulators from 14 other countries. She reported a global interest in social care, and particular the movement of labour. The UK's model of regulation is unique in its coverage of regulation, conduct and social work training. The forthcoming phased regulation of the entire 1.5 million social care workforce is an unprecedented undertaking.

There are 95,000 registered social workers and social work students in England. A minority of these work in local government. Although many work in the voluntary and private sectors, 10,000 are independent practitioners. Social work is now the equal tenth most popular profession for graduates, equal with medicine. This is an extraordinary transformation for a profession that has had a bad press in the past. Lots of social workers are coming to England to work, from over 80 countries in all. The top four are South Africa, Australia, USA and India.

The Department of Health's recruitment campaign has brought 6,000 more social workers into the workforce. But the number of jobs requiring them has grown too, so demand is still exceeding supply. This situation of excess demand is seen around the world. Extraordinarily, Ethiopia's new school of social work had 1,200 applications for 32 places this year and the government asked all 67 MPs to undertake the graduate programme.

What explains this resurgence? The international consensus was that the profession's greatest strength is its flexibility - the way people can work effectively in different contexts, reflecting the diversity of human experience.

Social workers are most valued because they are comfortable with complexity, with balancing conflicts of interest, and dealing with risk and uncertainty. In some parts of the world these skills are needed to deal with acute problems of poverty or the consequences of conflict or disease. In others, their exercise of judgement is most valued.

More information on the work of the international associations is set out at the bottom of this page.

For more details on the General Social Care Council, visit its website

This piece was written by Andrew Cozens of the IDeA. Published June 2007.

The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) is a global organisation based in Berne, Switzerland. It works for social justice, human rights and social development through the development of social work, best practice and international cooperation between social workers and their professional organisations.

The International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) is an international community of schools of social work. It promotes education, training and research for the theory and practice of social work, the administration of social services and the formulation of social policies. The office of IASSW is located in the office of the President, Abye Tasse at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. The International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW) is an international non-governmental organisation working for social welfare, social justice and social development, working actively with the UN. The Secretariat is located in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

25 July 2007

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