Tag Archives: coalition government

Back to the future for social care

I had a peculiar sense of déjà vu reading new care services minister Paul Burstow’s interview in the Daily Telegraph the other day. While spoke about his hopes – and the need – for reform of adult social care, I had the funniest sense I’d heard it somewhere before.

Maybe because I have; about the time the green paper on adult social care was first mooted by the old Labour government a few years back. And a various points since then, up to and including the run-up to last month’s election (Doesn’t it seem a long time ago now?).

In the Telegraph interview, Burstow – who has a decent reputation within the sector – spoke of the need to find “a sustainable funding settlement for social care” and to reform a system that will soon become “not fit for purpose”.

Nothing new there. Many commentators – as well as service users and workers in the sector – have been saying this for years, to no avail.

There is also nothing new in his outline for the funding options that will be discussed by the upcoming independent commission; a voluntary scheme, a partnership scheme where state and individuals contribute, and a compulsory levy after death – yep, Labour’s much-derided ‘Death Tax’.

This is something of a turnaround for the government, which only referred to the partnership and voluntary models in its coalition document, released just a couple of weeks ago.

But what is new is a little detail on the timescale for reform. Those of us who thought that the coalition’s plans kicked the issue into the long grass now know how far; Burstow wants the soon-to-be-formed independent commission report back on funding options within a year, with a White Paper ready by autumn 2011.

He admits this is ambitious, but necessary as the Baby Boomers hit old age.

Nevertheless, it is good to see a timescale being laid out, even if it isn’t the one most people involved in the sector would have liked – in an ideal world reform would already have been carried out.

Also, carrying on with the positives, Burstow does seem to have a good handle on what needs to be done – saying it would be wrong to fixate on the problem of older people having to sell their homes to pay for residential care, something that the last consultation seemed to, almost with an eye on the upcoming election – and is willing to consider a range of options.

But what the independent commission comes up with remains to be seen – as does how different it will be to what came out of last year’s Big Care Debate – although the rumoured presence of economists on it suggests that it may be geared towards saving money.

Again, it feels like we’ve been here before. So while this could easily be a false dawn – and there have been enough of those over the years – at the moment, it is probably best to give the benefit of the doubt to the government, while all the time reminding them of what is needed and why, and to call them to account if they let the sector down.

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Children’s social workers warn of increased risk if services are cut

As warnings go, it is a stark one; cut budgets in children’s social work and put vulnerable children at far greater risk of harm.

This is the headline message from a survey by BASW, conducted over the bank holiday weekend.

A massive 96.6% of respondents said they are concerned at the effects any cuts could have on already understaffed and overworked social workers. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs (such as Baby P effect sustained) vacancy rates in children’s social work departments are running nationally at about 10% and since Baby P the number of referrals to them has increased markedly. Any more cuts would exacerbate the situation.

This survey is obviously designed to act as a warning to government and local authority purse-string-holders who are currently scrabbling around trying to make billions of pounds worth of cuts – cut children’s social services at your peril. The more subtle subtext is that they would be effectively to blame if another Baby P occurred.

It’s also something of a pre-emptive strike by BASW; the coalition government hasn’t said much about children’s services yet, other than announcing the scrapping of ContactPoint and supporting the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force, and this has worried many in the sector, who fear that children’s service isn’t a priority and therefore a prime target for cuts.

While this was only a small survey – 151 respondents – and so by no means representative of the national picture, it does give an interesting snapshot of the continuing problems in children’s social work.

For instance, only 5% of child protection social workers say their team is fully staffed with permanent social workers, with more than half (52.5%) saying their team is understaffed by 30% or more and 13.1% saying it is by half or even more than that. More than 63% say that their department is understaffed, even with agency staff – who aren’t ideal because they are often short-term and don’t offer the continuity permanent staff do to vulnerable children.

For those in the sector, this will be nothing new. But that’s not really what matters here; it is whether it makes an impression on those who control the money – and I suspect it won’t. A lot of uncomfortable fiscal decisions will be made in the coming weeks and children’s services may well find its budget squeezed, as will many other sectors who also view their funding as crucial.

I’m not saying I agree with this, but this is what I suspect will happen, and there is little that I can see that can be done to stop it.

If budgets are cut, obviously children’s social workers will continue to do their best, but it stands to reason that it would raise the chances of another tragedy along the lines of Baby P happening – you can’t easily do more with less.

If a tragedy were to occur, it would raise some very challenging questions, not only of the profession, but also of government this time.

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Gaps in coalition plans for children and families

The coalition government has outlined its plans for children and families, but there are some significant gaps in them.

For instance, while there are several commitments to helping families – such as funding for relationship support – details on what will be happening to children’s services are relatively thin on the ground.

While there is a vague commitment to investigate a new approach to helping families with multiple problems, how or what this new approach will be is not discussed, and this rather sets the tone.

There are also references to a ‘re-focusing’ of Sure Start back to its original purpose of early intervention and focusing on the neediest families.

A more concrete commitment to try and address the workload of children’s social workers comes with the scrapping of the Comprehensive Area Assessment, which has caused concern about the time it takes to do.

But there is nothing on how the rising level of referrals is to be combated, whether there will be greater funding for children’s services or if there will be help with recruitment – although local authorities will have greater autonomy with their budgets.

Elsewhere, the Vetting & Barring Scheme – due to be phased in from July – is due for another review to get it to “common sense levels”. This is again suitably vague – what is their definition of common sense, for example – and makes you wonder what last year’s Singleton review achieved.

In addition, in part of a wider push towards greater transparency, serious case reviews are to be published in full, with identifying details removed.

As I have said before [SCRS: To publish or not to publish], I am sceptical about this. While I can see the logic of publishing reviews in full, I worry that there may still be ways to identify those involved, and that journalists may use them to damn social workers, especially in high-profile Baby P-type cases.

So, as with adult social care, the proposals are a mixed bag and the publication of details about how these policies will be enacted will reveal whether they will be successful or not.

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