Ex Barnet Council Mental Health social worker explains why she had to leave.

For the past two years Barnet UNISON has tried to engage with senior management in Adult Social Care to address the chronic exodus of experienced Mental Health social workers from the frontline Mental Health teams. There has been a catastrophic failure to understand the fundamental risks both for service users and staff because of the ongoing turnover of staff.

Our strikers have already taken 27 days of strike action and by the end of this next phase they will have taken 72 days of strike which equates to 1,305 lost working days or 13.050 lost contacts with Mental Health service users.

Below is a email which was sent by an ex Mental Health social worker. I will repeat what I have repeatedly said to senior management: “Don’t listen to me, listen to someone who actually works in these services, they are the ones who know what is happening and how bad it is.”

After you have read the email below, I hope you can do one of the following:

  1. Visit the picket line outside Colindale on Monday 15 April between 8-10 am
  2. Send a message of support to contactus@barnetunison.org.uk

Best wishes

John Burgess, Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON.

“Dear Executive Director Adult Social Care

I am writing to you as an ex-Barnet mental health social worker in the hope that when you read my experience it will encourage you to meaningfully negotiate with striking social workers.

I left because the conditions that social workers were working in were unsafe for workers and unsafe for service users. I was part of efforts to alter this for 2 years. These efforts started as hopeful conversations with managers in which we expressed our concerns and were promised changes and ended with strike action as the situation worsened and none of the promises made by managers were fulfilled. In my first couple of weeks as a student mental health social worker in LBB I remember the Director of Adult Social Care asking me if I hoped to stay when I qualified. I replied that I couldn’t see a reason to leave as the location was good, the work interesting and the team supportive but after trying my best to stay, I realised that doing so would be to the detriment of my health and wellbeing due to under-resourcing, a reliance on junior staff for exceptionally complex work and huge waiting lists growing ever longer (to name just a few reasons).

The community mental health social work teams work with adults with some of the most complex and enduring mental health needs. They work with adults whose mental health has impacted their ability to complete the activities everyone needs to do in order to survive such as eating, safely using their homes, taking medication and attending essential medical appointments. They also work with adults where there are safeguarding concerns including concerns about self-neglect which is the most common category of abuse found in adult safeguarding reviews. However despite the complexity and risk involved in community work, it is viewed as “non-specialist”.

In my new role as a social worker in an NHS specialist mental health team my salary is 10% higher than it was in a community team while my caseload involves working with fewer adults at risk of serious harm and in which risk is shared among a multi-disciplinary team including psychiatrists, psychologists and community nurses who have decades of mental health experience between them. This experience safeguards the adults we work with and reduces the likelihood of individual practitioners feeling overwhelmed and stressed which is a leading cause of staff burnout in Barnet.

Alongside improved pay, more manageable caseloads, better resources and being able to learn from experienced mental health practitioners I also currently benefit from specialist training, better lone working practices and team administrative support. When I worked for LBB one of the arguments managers gave as to not provide a recruitment and retention payment was that social workers experience the same issues wherever they work and conditions and pay are the same everywhere. This is something said to keep social workers in their place and to stop them asking for improvements. I am proof that it is not true.

In the two months since I left LBB my mental health, physical health and work/life balance has improved. My colleagues who remain do so because they are trying their best to create working conditions that will enable them to stay in their jobs so they can support residents of Barnet but so far management seems to be against its workers and against supporting adults in Barnet who would benefit from the expertise and support of specialist, experienced community mental health social workers.

Please meaningfully negotiate with UNISON before all the mental health social workers leave or become unwell. It is your responsibility to work with social workers towards a solution but at the moment it feels senior management are hiding their heads in the sand which feels insulting to the social workers whose health is being put on the line trying to provide the service that Barnet residents deserve.

Yours sincerely,

Ex Barnet Council Mental Health social worker.”


***Strike preparations commence for 15 April***

8 April 2024.

Dear Supporter

Barnet UNISON Mental Health strikers are due to start the next phase of strike action on Monday 15 April.

Our strikers have already taken 27 days of strike action and by the end of this next phase they will have taken 72 days of strike which equates to 1,305 lost working days or 13.050 lost contacts with Mental Health service users.

We have had two meetings with Acas where we have established that Barnet Council have confirmed that they do have twice the funding they would need to settle this dispute. It is now clear that thus dispute is not about the money and as each day that goes by it feels like this is an attempt by senior officers to break UNISON.

On behalf of our members, I am requesting all our supporters to join us on our picket line this Monday 15 April between 8-10 am.

The following speakers are currently:

  1. Libby Nolan UNISON President.
  2. Jo Galloway Regional Secretary, UNISON London Region.
  3. John McDonnell MP
  4. Lord John Hendy KC
  5. Shelly Asquith Health & Safety TUC
  6. Sam Gurney Regional Secretary London, East and South East TUC
  7. Kerie Anne Branch Secretary Tower Hamlets UNISON
  8. Liz Wheatley UNISON NEC rep and Branch Secretary, Camden UNISON.

More speakers to be announced later.

The Location of our picket line is 2 Bristol Avenue, Colindale, London NW9 4EW. Colindale station on the Northern line is the nearest station to our picket line. It is a 5-minute walk, turn first left out of the station.


John Burgess, Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON.


BREAKING NEWS: Two more experienced Mental Health social workers due to leave this month.

Two more experienced Mental health social workers are about to start work in the NHS this month which is devastating news for the service and the morale of the workforce. Barnet Council have failed to acknowledge that they have a problem reciting social workers with Mental health experience to the team which has meant the exodus of experienced mental health social workers is having a critical impact on the remaining workforce.

The chronic turnover of staff across our acute Mental Health teams is plunging the service into a deeper crisis as Barnet Council refuses to submit a reasonable proposal to resolve this long-standing dispute.

UNISON has repeatedly urged the Council over the last nine months to take this matter seriously by doing the right thing and working with UNISON to stop the mass exodus of social workers from these acute Mental Health social work teams.

UNISON has warned the Council that if senior officers continue to take an adversarial approach to negotiations, then a nine weeks strike action over a 13 week period will begin on Monday 15 April.

If our members do take part in the next phase of strike action, it will mean that Barnet UNISON Mental Health social workers will have taken 72 strike days which equates to 1,305 lost working days or 13,050 lost contacts with Mental Health service users.

The power to end this dispute is in the hands of Barnet Council.


Countdown begins just 10 Days before 9 weeks of strike action……

-40Days -22Hours -39Minutes -9Seconds

Date 3 April 2024.

The start date of unprecedented strike action is only 11 days away.

To date Barnet UNISON Mental Health social workers have already taken 27 days of strike action which equates to 405 lost working days across the Mental Health service, or 4,050 service user contacts lost.

Incredibly despite two meetings with Acas, Barnet Council has yet to make a reasonable offer to try and resolve this dispute.

Last week to try and avert the escalation of the dispute Barnet UNISON submitted more information to Barnet Council including the news that two more experienced Mental Health social workers are due to leave the teams in April thus escalating the crisis within the frontline Mental Health teams.

We are waiting for a response.

In the absence of a meaningful offer which UNISON could recommend to their members the escalation of the strike takes place over three time periods.

The first period is a two-week strike from 15 April to 26 April 2024.

The second period is a three-week strike from 13 May to 1 June 2024

The third period is a four-week strike from 17 June to 12 July 2024. (four weeks).


Breaking News: UNISON issues strike notice to Barnet Council on World Social Work day.

Today, Tuesday 19 March 2024 (also World Social Work Day) UNISON wrote to Barnet Council Chief Executive to inform him that UNISON intends to call its Mental Health social worker members to take part in industrial action. The intended dates for members to take part in discontinuous strike action are:

  • 15 April 2024 to 26 April 2024.
  • 13 May 2024 to 1 June 2024
  • 17 June 2024 to 12 July 2024.

This is unprecedented strike action which will see Barnet UNISON Mental Health social workers and assessment and enablement officers taking nine weeks of strike action over a 13-week period.

John Burgess, Branch Secretary, Barnet UNISON: “This is a pivotal moment in this long running industrial dispute where our members have already taken 27 days of strike action which equates to 405 lost working days for service users in Barnet. Our members are deeply upset at the lack of understanding about the chronic turnover of staff across the three mental health social work teams. As each month goes by another worker leaves (3 have left this year) which is de-stabilising the teams. The Council is failing to follow its own policy and is in complete denial about the implications of further strike action. Talks in ACAS broke down because the Council came with the wrong attitude. Tomorrow UNISON is back in ACAS with Barnet Council. I hope that this time senior management are coming to ACAS with a genuine proposal to resolve this dispute.”


Helen Davies, Branch Chair, Barnet UNISON: “The fact the notification has been sent on World Social Work Day reminds us that we believe the striking social workers are right to say ‘This is what social work looks like!’ as they are reclaiming the tradition of calling out poor and unsafe practice by those with power. No registration body has ever stopped social workers practicing in unsafe conditions. We are backing our members all the way to make the service safe for workers and safe for service users.”



Strike fundraiser Friday 5 April – Mental Health social worker strike

Barnet UNISON Mental Health strikers have taken 27 days of strike action which equates to 405 lost working days.

Due to the anti-trade union legislation we had to re-ballot the strikers who voted 100% for more strike action.

Our strikers agreed they needed to escalate the dispute as Barnet Council were not taking this dispute seriously.

They have agreed the following timetable of strike action:

  • From 15 April to 26 April 2024 (two weeks).
  • From 13 May to 1 June 2024 (three weeks).
  • From 17 June to 12 July 2024.(four weeks).

This is serious escalation of the dispute.

On behalf of our strikers, Barnet UNISON is inviting supporters to

Strike Fund raiser on Friday 5 April 6- 11 pm

at Pelican House E1 5QJ.


Tickets and more info here:



The event is being organised by Young UNISON members in London.



Social Care and Repair Workers 87% Vote Yes to Action on Pay

“If the those at the top can’t pay up then one of them should go so we do have money. We don’t need so many big Daddies.”

Anju, The Barnet Group UNISON rep

On a turnout of 70%, 98% agreed with Barnet UNISON’s pay claim and 87% said they were willing to take strike action in favour of the pay claim. The overwhelming majority of these are care and support workers.

Workers in The Barnet Group who are affected by the London Living Wage, having no enhanced rates of pay for working nights, bank holidays or overtime rates were surveyed in an indicative ballot for strength of feeling over these issues. Barnet UNISON’s pay claim was put to them.

Shockingly the lowest paid in The Barnet Group were given no pay rise for the whole of 2023! Paying the new rate of the London Living Wage 6 months after the new rate was announced with no backdate does not help the lowest paid.

The pay claim is: 

  1. Backdate the London Living Wage increase to £13.15 to the 1/11/23 and maintain differentials between other grades in YCB.
  2. Pay Overtime Rates of time and a half Monday to Saturday and double time Sundays and Bank Holidays.
  3. Pay enhanced rates of 25% Saturday 6am to 10pm; 50% Sunday all day; 100% Bank holiday (25% = time and a quarter; 50% = time and a half; 100% = double time)
  4. Pay an increased Rate of time and a third for night working (10pm-6am).

Barnet UNISON hopes that the results of the survey will lead to productive talks where consideration will be given to the demands. If no such consideration will be given we will progress to a formal ballot of these members with a view to taking strike action.

On hearing the results this is what some of our reps had to say:

“It’s a good result for us. Actions speak louder than words. We work so hard, we deserve it. We get no thank you’s.”

Tracy, The Barnet Group UNISON rep.

 “It’s time to act. It’s a call from the trenches.”

Pauline, The Barnet Group UNISON rep

“The COVID heroes have spoken. The Barnet Group needs to listen.”

Patrick Hunter, Assistant Branch Secretary for Barnet UNISON

“Most of these workers are skilled workers and yet they have rates of pay which are lower than for unskilled work. Is it because they are women? Is it because they are predominantly Black? If Equalities actually mean something, then this needs to be sorted.”

Helen Davies, Chair of Barnet UNISON.




Barnet UNISON consultative ballot for care workers


13 February 2024

Dear colleague,

We want you to participate in this consultative ballot to make it clear to senior managers just how strongly you feel about your pay.

We will be letting senior managers know the results of the ballot, so this is your chance to make a difference. If enough people vote yes, then it will not be your last chance and we may progress to balloting our members officially about your willingness to take strike action.

During the COVID pandemic you put your lives and the lives of your families/ loved ones on the line to keep members of the public safe. It took a long time for you to then receive an uplift in your pay, terms and conditions….and it was not enough.

In any case the small gains you made in pay were smashed away by the cost-of-living crisis.

What can The Barnet Group afford? Perhaps we should ask the question differently – You have been identified as essential workers; can any employer afford the cost of you not doing your job?

What you must do now?

If your workplace setting has a UNISON rep, you should ask them for your ballot paper. Your rep should be checking with you that the address on the envelope matches your current home address. If we did go on to carry out an official ballot, the letter would go to your home address. We need to know we have your correct details. Complete the ballot paper and hand it back to your UNISON rep.

If your workplace has no UNISON rep, the ballot paper will be posted to you directly. Please complete the ballot paper and put it back in the pre-paid envelope and post it back to us.

Your ballot paper needs to reach us by 5pm 23rd February 2024


Yours Sincerely


John Burgess                                  Patrick Hunter                           Helen Davies

Barnet UNISON                               Barnet UNISON                         Barnet UNISON

Branch Secretary              TBG Assistant Branch Secretary                Branch Chair





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