Category Archives: Scottish social care

PR strategy works for Scottish social workers

In terms of image, social workers are up there with traffic wardens, politicians and bankers in the most reviled profession stakes. But there are signs that this is starting to change – in Scotland at least.

A new poll, commissioned by Scottish social work body the Association of Directors of Social Work (ADSW), found that 47% of people rated social work as positive, compared to 38% last year. Additionally, the survey found that 80% of service users were happy with the services they received.

This was despite negative press coverage of the profession because of the Baby Peter and Brandon Muir cases.

As I see it, this result is not down to 2 main factors. Firstly, in Scotland ADSW has run a high-profile PR campaign – ‘Social Work Changes Lives’ – for the past year or so, with the aim of improving the image and understanding of social work, including putting positive stories into the local media.

But the sector also has government support. When the Brandon Muir case came to court last year, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond came out and defended the profession, rather than damned it for its failings. As Scottish social workers have said to me since, this had a great positive impact on morale. The political reaction was also strikingly different to that seen in Westminster to the similar Baby Peter case, where social work was roundly condemned.

Against this backdrop, it makes it easier for positive messages from social work to come through.

It would be interesting to see the results if a similar poll were conducted in England; I don’t think they would be as positive. While there has been an advertising campaign to promote social work, and sterling work done by celebrities like Goldie and Samantha Morton to do the same in the past year, the media coverage of the profession is still overwhelmingly negative, which has a big effect on public perception.

The new government could certainly learn from their colleagues north of the border, as could social work bodies; if a coordinated campaign were to be launched, along with a feed of positive stories about social work to the media, then, as Scotland proves, a demonstrable impact can be made.

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Can England afford free personal care?

This will have set alarm bells ringing in Westminster this morning; Harriet Dempster, president of Scottish social work body the Association of Directors of Social Work, has admitted on radio that Scotland may not be able to afford its policy of free social care for all elderly people for much longer.

With costs for the policy rising – it was up 11% last year to £358 million – and swingeing budget cuts on the horizon, Ms Dempster said the policy may have to become means-tested.

Ms Dempster has called for a debate on the policy’s medium to long-term viability, including whether more well-off elderly people could afford to pay for services. In response, the Scottish Government has said it remains committed to the policy.

The Scottish experience should be heeded by ministers in England as they consider introducing a similar programme, as outlined in its Personal Care at Home Bill earlier this week. The government says that it “will cost £670 million per year”, but these have been widely questioned.

Indeed, the £358 million cost of the Scottish scheme is for only 50,000 people; the English version could cover up to 280,000 people with ‘substantial and critical’ needs. So if the costs were the same on both sides of the border – they won’t be, but this is just for example purposes – in England that could mean the policy costs about £2 billion per year. This figure doesn’t include the further 130,000 people who will help with ‘re-ablement’ in order to regain their independence and prevent ill health.

If – and it’s a big ‘if’ – the policy did come in, that £2 billion figure would quickly rise, simply because of demographics; the UK has an ageing population so more people would need it in time.

Again, with budget cuts coming, where would the money for this come from without making cuts to other services? Answers on a postcard please…

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