Is social work viable?

Social work has a positive effect on the well-being and health of the people it helps. It is a broad discipline and focuses on supporting children, youth, the elderly, families, people with general social support needs and/or job seekers. Social Work Works! has asked Ecorys to provide insight into the added value of social work and how many different types of activities contribute to it. Therefore, we have provided a rationale for making decisions on optimal use of the financial resources available to the sector.

Our research shows sufficient indications that social work is socially profitable. In fact, social work has a positive effect in several areas. For example, it has a positive effect on well-being and health, it contributes directly and indirectly to the reduction of healthcare utilization, it leads to a healthier and more productive labor force, and it improves quality of life. Due to a lack of data, it is not possible to generalize the conclusions drawn and make an accurate estimate of the economic returns of social work. Social work is complex and diverse, making interventions difficult to distinguish from one another. For this reason, the effect of one intervention can only be approached with a lot of data.

In our research, we also examined the potential for scaling up social work. Several relevant preconditions exist for this scaling up. The first precondition is program-level factors, such as an established program structure. The second precondition is at the professional level, such as broadening the competencies of social workers. The third is at the (local) political level, such as sustainable relationship management between the municipality and a social work organization. The last is an impact evaluation study of social work, so that we can learn more about the effects of social work.

Finally, the added value of the substitute and preventive functions of social work deserve more attention. This means that social work can take over tasks from caregivers or eliminate the need for expensive support. On the one hand, however, this positive effect is limited by external factors, such as budgets. On the other hand, this positive effect is limited by internal factors, namely the lack of understanding the elements of social work that determine added value.

29 September 2023

2 minute read

Key Experts

Patrick de Wilde

Senior Consultant