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Education Training, Union

Report reveals ways govt can end placement poverty for social work students

Australian Services Union 2 mins read

A coalition of students, academics and union representatives are demanding an end to unpaid placements for social work students, as new research unveils models the federal government could adopt.

The Per Capita report, commissioned by the Australian Council of Heads of Social Work Education (ACHSWE), analyses a range of options to compensate students, with the preferred being a government-funded stipend that social work students would receive from the employer-host at the minimum wage.

Social work students are required to complete 1,000 hours of unpaid placements - equivalent to working six months full-time with no pay.

It comes after the Australian Universities Accord recommended the federal government work with universities, unions and other stakeholders to introduce financial support for unpaid work placements.

ASU NSW & ACT secretary Angus McFarland said: “Placement poverty among social work students is rife and must end. The very students who are dedicated to helping society’s most vulnerable are facing disadvantage and financial hardship themselves as a result of unpaid work placements.

"Students can’t afford to complete an already expensive degree and forgo their paid job for months. Unpaid placements are an issue of poverty, equity and gender equality - most social work students are women and many are mature aged and have caring responsibilities.

“One in five social work students are withdrawing from study due to financial stress. In a sector riddled with workforce shortages, unpaid work placements risk the loss of future staff in vital services including family violence, homelessness, and disability. We need the federal government to seriously consider the options presented to them and act swiftly on the best solution for social work students - our future community heroes.”

ACHSWE representative Professor Christine Morley said: “Unpaid placements have huge consequences for students and the future of tertiary education. Social work students experience a significant reduction in income resulting in a real poverty trap with some struggling to afford rent and basic necessities.

"It’s resulting in students delaying taking placements and dropping out of their courses altogether. Social work degrees have high rates of students from diverse backgrounds yet unpaid placements are becoming a barrier for these students to complete their degrees.

“To improve inclusivity and access to higher education, social work placements must be paid. The Accord recommendations must be implemented in a way that promotes greater access to our higher education system for all students.”

Per Capita executive director Emma Dawson said: “There’s mounting pressure on the federal government to provide an appropriate policy response to unpaid student placements, especially for the social work education sector.

“Our research recommends a government-funded stipend paid to the employer-host because it is the most equitable and inclusive of the examined models. This option is also the most effective and legislatively simple model.

“Regardless of the federal government’s decision, the payment must be the Commonwealth’s responsibility, inclusive of all students and equivalent to the minimum wage.”

Media contact: Sofie Wainwright 0403 920 301

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