Unemployed Social Workers Petition – Deputy Minister present

Social Development

01 November 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mvana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee on Social Development convened to address issues raised in a petition submitted by unemployed social workers. The petition highlighted the shortage of qualified social workers in the country, with over 9 000 vacant positions within the Department of Social Development. Unemployment among graduate social workers was discussed, emphasising its multifaceted impact on social services, national development, and social unrest. Recommendations included collaborating with stakeholders to expand social services, reviewing social worker employment policies, developing job creation programs, and retaining social workers in rural areas. Data collection and funding for non-government organisations (NGOs) employing social workers were also emphasised.

The Department of Social Development outlined various interventions, including scholarship programmes, and placing social workers in nonprofit organisations to gain the necessary skills. The Department is collaborating with other government departments to employ social workers and is finalising the White Paper on Social Development to determine the required Social Service Professionals (SSPs).

In response to questions and comments from Committee Members, the need for budget allocation for employing social workers, efforts to engage various departments in social worker placement, and concerns about low salaries for social workers were discussed. The impact of budget constraints on social worker employment was also addressed.

Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu expressed agreement with the committee's concerns and discussed the challenges social workers face, including a lack of resources and supervision. Initiatives to provide social workers with necessary equipment and support were mentioned. The Deputy Minister also emphasised the importance of addressing social issues like teenage pregnancy and reiterated the Department's commitment to supporting social workers and their skills development.

The meeting concluded with a call for continued engagement and collaboration among departments to address the employment of social workers and improve the well-being of South Africa's vulnerable populations.

Meeting report

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Social Development, Ms N Mvana (ANC), welcomed all to the meeting and apologised for the delay in the start of the meeting. Apologies were acknowledged.

Unemployed social worker’s petition

Ms Kedibone Kekana, who is a social worker in practice, took the Committee through the petition by the unemployed social workers.

In the field of social work, individuals are dedicated to helping those facing social challenges which has a profound impact. This profession brings hope to our most vulnerable citizens and is instrumental in transforming lives, healing communities, and fostering a more just and compassionate society. To become a qualified social worker, one typically pursues a bachelor's or master's degree in social work. Social work is a professional service rooted in scientific knowledge and human relations skills. It assists individuals, either alone or in groups, in achieving social and personal satisfaction and independence. In the realm of social work, students often complement their studies with subjects like Psychology, Criminology, and Sociology, among others, to acquire valuable skills for diverse settings.

The unemployed social work movement in South Africa gained momentum due to a significant shortage of skilled social workers, officially recognised as a scarce skill. Despite this shortage, over 9,000 vacant positions for qualified social workers remained unfilled within the Department of Social Development. Minister Lindiwe Zulu acknowledged this issue and expressed a commitment to address it in collaboration with government and the private sector. The Department of Social Development initiated a registration process for unemployed social workers to gain insights into their numbers, revealing that 7 000 social workers had registered. Social workers play a vital role in society by providing support, advocacy, and resources to individuals, families, groups, and communities facing various challenges. Social workers enhance individual and community well-being by addressing emotional, social, and economic needs, and offering counselling, guidance, and support. Social workers also advocate for justice, challenge systematic injustices and discrimination, and protect vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and others.

The impact of unemployment among graduate social workers is multifaceted. It represents an untapped skilled workforce, leads to the erosion of essential social services, increases dependency on social welfare, hampers national development, has economic implications, fosters social unrest and dissatisfaction, and may result in a “brain drain”. To mitigate these challenges, government should collaborate with relevant stakeholders to invest in expanding social services, review and reform policies related to social worker employment, develop targeted job creation programs, establish mentorship and training initiatives, promote public-private partnerships, and consider expanding the roles of social workers in various sectors. Additionally, strategies should be implemented to retain social workers in rural areas.

Continual data collection on social work graduate employment and the demand for social services is essential for informed policy decisions and workforce planning. Allocating more funding to non-government organisations (NGOs) that employ social workers is also recommended, as these organisations play a vital role in delivering social services. Legally, all social workers, whether employed or not, must be registered with the South African Council for Social Service Professions (SACSSP) and pay their annual fees. Non-compliance renders individuals ineligible to practice or apply for jobs requiring SACSSP registration. It is crucial to adhere to ethical and legal obligations in the profession, and new rules should be drafted to protect unemployed social workers or social science professionals.

In conclusion, unemployment among social workers in South Africa is a pressing concern with far-reaching implications. Recognising the importance of social workers and taking meaningful action is imperative. Together, we have the power to transform this challenge into an opportunity, unlocking the potential of a skilled workforce and ensuring the well-being and prosperity of our nation. It is time to make South Africa's social work sector a pillar of strength, contributing to a more just, equitable, and thriving society.

Department of Social Development response to a petition received from unemployed social workers in South Africa

The Deputy Minister of Social Development (DSD), Ms Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu, expressed thanks and appreciation to the social workers indicating that she agrees with the issues raised in the presentation, especially with unemployed social workers in the country. The status of the country requires the employment of more social workers to prevent the social ills seen across the country.

The issue of unemployed social workers has been raised in Cabinet in the past and this was followed by various interventions such as the scholarship for social workers. However, in the process, a gap in balancing the social workers who benefited from the scholarship versus those who paid for themselves to study as the demand increased was uneven. There was also an issue with social workers who have been unemployed for a while and recent graduates who are also unemployed, causing a burden on the employment of the social workers.

Another intervention the Department attempted was placing social workers in nonprofit organisations (NPOs) implementing statutory services. However, there was always a salary gap as the placed social workers received payment without the Department decreasing its grants to the NPOs.

The further intervention was ensuring that all the Department’s social behavioural change programmes are facilitated by social workers who are then given a stipend of R6 500. Although this was not enough, it was an intervention aimed at ensuring that social workers gained the necessary skills for continued professional development.

DSD has been meeting with other departments, such as the Department of Education and the Department of Correctional Services, to encourage it to have social workers in its departments. However, departments are slow in absorbing social workers as they also have other priorities. DSD is finalising the White Paper on Social Development which will assist in the costing of all the needed Social Service Professionals (SSPs) in the country.

In response to the petition received from Honourable Bridget Masango dated 22 April 2023, Acting Deputy Director-General, DSD, Mr Khumbula Ndaba and Chief Financial Officer, DSD, Mr Fanie Esterhuizen, presented a comprehensive overview of the current situation regarding the employment of SSPs in South Africa. The purpose of this report was to provide the Committee with an in-depth understanding of the context, challenges, and progress made in addressing the critical need for employing SSPs to address various social issues and challenges in the country.

The National Development Plan (NDP) recognises the critical need for Social Welfare services, particularly in areas such as gender-based violence, crime, child protection, violence prevention, substance abuse, trauma counselling, mental health, and care of the elderly. Increased demand for social services has arisen due to factors like climate change and natural disasters. Vulnerable groups, including the elderly, women, and children, are most affected by poverty and social ills. Gender-based violence and femicide, as well as violence against children, have been described as the country's second pandemic, further exacerbating the situation.

The workforce of SSPs at DSD has grown significantly in recent years. While progress has been made, the sector still faces a shortage of SSPs to meet the country's growing needs. The introduction of a comprehensive strategy aims to coordinate, cooperate, and commit to employing more SSPs in various departments and sectors.

Stakeholder collaboration has been instrumental in shaping the strategy for employing SSPs. DSD has worked closely with various government departments and entities to effectively develop a strategy that addresses pervasive social issues. The inter-sectoral forum, comprising multiple participating departments, plays a crucial role in refining the strategy and data collation. The strategy outlines various ways to facilitate the employment of SSPs in different government departments, including education, correctional services, police, defence, health, state agencies, and embassies. It also encourages funding for SSP internships and redirects social work scholarship funding to related programmes.

The cost analysis of implementing the strategy involves a significant financial commitment. Based on workforce needs to reach 55 000 SSPs by 2030, the estimated cost is approximately R9 578 552 700 billion. This costing is expected to be implemented in phases over six years. Several key factors are essential for successfully implementing the strategy, including adequate resourcing of sector departments, workforce planning, and ensuring that social service professionals are appropriately skilled and optimally utilised.

Challenges include the need for funding, the current economic situation, low economic growth, the impact of the reduction in the public service wage bill, and potential litigation. It is crucial to have credible data and regular reporting to support the strategy's success. The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) has issued a directive with control measures affecting the creation, upgrading, and abolition of vacant posts within government departments. This directive is effective from 01 October 2023, until 31 March 2024.

The Department has engaged with key stakeholders, such as the Department of Basic Education and the private sector, to explore employment opportunities for SSPs. Further engagements are planned with organisations like the South African Council for Social Service Professions (SACSSP), the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), NPOs, the Department of Employment and Labour, and more.

In conclusion, the Committee was encouraged to consider the progress made thus far in employing SSPs and the challenges faced due to the DPSA directive. The employment of SSPs is vital to address pressing social issues and the support and intervention of social workers is crucial in ensuring that this strategy is successfully implemented to benefit South Africa and its vulnerable populations.


Ms L Arries (EFF) requested that DSD provide information on how much has been budgeted for the employment of social workers next year?

Regarding the 2018 Cabinet Resolution, did the Department engage with other departments to see how social workers could be absorbed within the various departments?

Ms Arries highlighted that social work is a profession and it is unfair that social workers, especially newly qualified graduates who are unemployed, are not paid well. When looking at the Children’s Amendment Bill that has recently been passed, the country will need more social workers to respond to the social ills across the country.

Ms B Masango (DA) thanked the social workers and the Department for the briefings. Although the Department’s response provides answers to some questions, it raises more questions. It is undoubted that due to the social challenges faced in the country, such as the COVID-19 crisis, the goalposts of the the 2030 targets have surely shifted to accommodate the intersecting social challenges. This has thus created a heavier load for the Department in ensuring that there are SSPs to respond. It is therefore important to consider these changes when planning interventions.

Ms Masango added that it is concerning that social work graduates are not being sufficiently absorbed in the system to ensure that they have jobs.

Mr D Stock (ANC) appreciated the presentation brought to the Committee. Although there has been progress in responding despite the fiscal challenges and competing priorities, it is a painful exercise for a graduate to be unemployed after having gone through tertiary training.

Another challenge that should be looked at is SSPs leaving the profession to either look for better opportunities in other countries or switch to other departments. This causes a gap in the Department’s ability to achieve the targeted SSPs who will be employed.

The recruitment and retention of social workers requires collective efforts from various stakeholders, therefore, while also applauding the various departments and stakeholders in the employment of social workers for the collaborative initiative, they also need to be implored to move at a faster and more rigorous pace to employ more social workers.

Considering the workforce shortage, how is the Department ensuring that vulnerable groups and those in need continue receiving the social services they need? Furthermore, how are technological advances being used to optimise the work of the available social workers to maximise service delivery and population reach? What incentives will be introduced to attract social workers to work in remote areas of the country? How are the welfare and job satisfaction of currently retained social workers being addressed to reduce their risk of leaving the profession? How are community volunteers empowered to provide social services?

Ms J Manganye (ANC) commended the Department and the unemployed social work movement for the presentation as this will allow room to thoroughly consider innovative steps to address the issues raised. The duty will also lie on the Members of the Committee to ensure that in being part of other portfolio committees, they ensure that they speak about the issue of unemployed social workers so that other departments consider this matter. This will also ensure that there is continued engagement.

Ms P Marais (EFF) shared her experience indicating that when going to DSD offices, she noticed that some of the staff members were not doing their work. Upon enquiring about what was happening, it was brought to light that some staff members do not have cars and some of the available cars do not have fuel. Some of the social workers are even clueless about foster care. Therefore, it is fair to conclude that some of the employed social workers are frustrated because of limited resources due to budget cuts and poor continued professional training. This hinders them from fulfilling their obligations.

It is unacceptable that some schools do not even have a social worker to deal with issues in the school setting. Further, the prevalence of substance abuse in the communities is shockingly high and this is linked to the fact that there are no social workers in schools. This continues to raise social ills such as drug abuse and teenage pregnancy in the communities which ends up being a problem for the Department at the cost of taxpayers' money.

Ms A Hlongo (ANC) thanked the unemployed social workers movement for appearing before the Committee. The frustrations brought to the Committee are understandable and should be closely examined so that they are addressed. Amid these concerns, it is appreciated that the Department is the one that initiated the programme to take young people to school to study social work and due to other reasons, it has been hard to place these graduates in employment. It is however hoped that through working with other departments, DSD will find innovative ways to place unemployed social work graduates.

How many NGOs does the Department fund and support which provide social work and psychosocial support services?

What is the plan for future social workers who are still in school?

There is a noticeable disparity between the number of students who enrol for social work in relation to the low number of graduates. How are the linkages with higher education institutions addressing these disparities?

At what stage of development is the strategy for the employment of social service professionals?

What are the mitigation strategies against the identified challenges and the risk towards addressing the shortage of social workers in the country?

Ms K Bilankulu (ANC) welcomed the presentations brought to the Committee. Unfortunately, the petition was received after National Treasury issued a directive that all vacant posts should be put in abeyance until March 2024.

The appointment of social workers by various departments is not enough as other departments have employed more than others. The Committee and the Department should look into developing strategies that will put pressure on departments to employ more social workers. This is because social workers are needed in various departments due to the prevalent social ills.

Given the budget constraints that DSD is experiencing, what is going to be done if the budget is reduced further in 2024?


Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu welcomed the engagement by the Committee and said that she agrees with some of the points raised. The Deputy Minister indicated that she recommits herself to the challenges the unemployed social workers face. There is a need for more engagement so that there is no gap in assumptions. 

Sometimes, the salary gets prioritised with all the benefits that come, but then the social workers often do not have the basics to fulfil their obligations such as having a laptop, car, or a phone. Another issue is the issue of supervision as it is required that a more experienced social worker should supervise social workers. However, it has been hard to get experienced social workers to provide supervision, hence even retired social workers have been approached and requested to provide supervision.

The Department has come up with a scheme where social workers buy cars at a subsidised rate so that they can fulfil their obligations. DSD has further partnered with the private sector to ensure that social workers have laptops and all the supplies they need to fulfil their professional obligations.

The Deputy Minister agreed with the Committee that there needs to be a joint portfolio committee of all the departments that are supposed to be employing social workers. This would assist DSD and push the agenda of employing social workers even further.

The issue around social ills, specifically teenage pregnancy, is a serious concern. The Deputy Minister indicated that the Department has witnessed the pregnancies of 9-year-old children. This needs social workers including probation officers, where there are cases of statutory rape. This is also the reason the Department has relaunched the Family Matters Programme and the Positive Parenting Programme to reduce these social ills.

In her concluding remarks, the Deputy Minister indicated that as not all social workers are unable to be absorbed into the system because of various challenges, as mentioned, social workers should be encouraged to use their skills in various other sectors. Social work graduates who have benefited from the Department’s scholarships have been provided with an opportunity to cultivate critical skills which can be used in their communities.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.

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