Labour Social Work Group submission to the National Policy Forum consultation providing more detailed proposals for a Labour Social Work and Social Care programme for government
About Labour Social Work Group and this response
This response to the Labour Policy Forum Consultation is from the Labour Social Work Group- a member-led group recognised by the Labour Party which seeks to contribute to improved wellbeing and life chances of some of the most vulnerable members of society, by strengthening the place of socialist principles within social work policy and practice and within the broader social care and community public and voluntary sector services.
Because social workers provide services across age and needs groups, and work collaboratively across public services and with people who use services, their carers and advocacy groups, we found that what we needed to say did not fit into any section of the consultation. We have submitted responses under Prevention, Early Intervention and Better Public Services for all, Safe and Secure Communities and A future where families come first but are also providing this longer submission to set out a more complete account of our concerns and proposals.
LEVEL AND COMPLEXITY OF NEED
We want to draw attention to the high level of social, emotional mental health needs arising from neglect, trauma, abuse. This applies to adults and children and especially to families where both parents and children have disabilities or have experienced trauma. Because of this we urge that Labour proposals for public services must take in services for all family members and pay particular attention to services for parents with physical, cognitive, and mental health difficulties, and those who are carers for elderly relatives alongside child care responsibilities. For the same reason we argue that Local Authority adult and child and family social work and social care services must be considered alongside each other.
LOCAL AUTHORITY FUNDING
The first step to ensuring that local authorities can fulfil their statutory and human rights duties to provide the range of social care services to appropriately meet differing needs is to arrive at a new funding model. The present funding system is broken: many are left without necessary services or wait so long that their conditions deteriorate. We concur with Clive Betts MP who opened a House of Commons debate on social care services on 8 March:
‘We cannot carry on believing that the existing local government settlement finance system, with occasional top-ups from Government on an ad-hoc basis every year or so, will sustain adult social care for the longer term’.
The arguments (across children’s and adults’ services) are now incontrovertible for bringing one or more additional government funding streams into local government.
The role of social workers
The policy consultation documents omit mention of social work and social work services specifically (not the case with teachers, police, care workers) despite the well documented knowledge of the crisis in recruitment and retention of social workers and the documented harm and distress that this is causing to many of the most vulnerable adults and children.
We entirely support the proposals to improve the recognition, recruitment, payment, training, and retention of social care workers in community and residential services. However we need to draw attention to the fact that professionally qualified, registered social workers are a distinct professional group within social care and health services, who are essential to the fulfilment of statutory responsibilities for both children and adults. These include, for example, child protection and instigating care proceedings, safeguarding vulnerable adults, making assessments under the provisions of mental health and mental capacity legislation about whether it is appropriate to detain or restrict liberty of vulnerable people. In local authority services for both children and adults social workers undertake essential roles in assessing the needs of people who have complex and multiple needs, working with families in which relationships are complex, multi-generational and conflictual, forming relationships with people whose experiences and personalities make them resistant to engaging with services they urgently need, mobilising partnerships with people from other services to respond to complex needs and supporting people to exercise choice and achieve greater independence by developing their own potential and accessing the support they need.
Social workers fulfil these roles by drawing on a unique professional set of knowledge and skills, including advanced and flexible engagement skills, the ability to develop and sustain relationships of trust, a systemic understanding of family and inter-professional dynamics, analytical skills, a sound working knowledge of relevant legislation; together with a powerful commitment to compassionate care and human rights.
Labour’s policies towards refugees and asylum seekers are also of relevance to social workers since we have important roles in providing and co-ordinating services to these groups- especially unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and to parents and single adults who have no recourse to public funds.
The position of social workers needs urgent attention, as highlighted by recent reports into local authority and Children’s services from government, Labour LGA, Directors of Adults’ and Children’s Services, professional associations, unions, and the regulator, Social Work England. These combine to evidence that there is an acute recruitment and retention shortage of qualified and especially of experienced social workers. This is leading to a lower than acceptable standard of social work and social care services, especially to those in greatest need and distress and in need of protection from serious harm and abuse. Frequent changes of social worker mean that some of those in the greatest distress cannot establish a trusting relationship with a social worker which is essential if their needs are to be sensitively and professionally assessed and they are to receive the practical and emotional services that the evidence with respect to individuals and whole communities shows to be so necessary. The result is that all too often their circumstances deteriorate and that they can no longer receive the assistance they need in their own homes. In short, an effective, ethical, and reliable social work service is essential to meet the Labour aim to emphasise preventive and community services, and to meet the needs of those in greatest distress and at risk of serious harm.
Our specific recommendations for Labour are:
• A Labour government should urgently fund and put in place a high profile national recruitment campaign to encourage people, from diverse ethnic, social and educational backgrounds to apply to train as social workers in locally accessible training programmes. It should do so in partnership with local authority Adults’ and Children’s Services, Health Service Trusts (especially
mental health services employing social workers),University Schools of Social Work, people who use social work services and their advocates, voluntary sector employers of social workers, the regulator (Social Work England) and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW). This should include an increase in bursaries for student social workers, so that all entering the profession, whether as students or employees/ apprentices are equitably treated and enabled to complete their training without being burdened by financial worries.
- Noting that the social work recruitment problem is compounded by an acute retention problem, much of it caused or made worse by high vacancy rates, and stress caused by dangerously high workloads, a Labour Government should improve the professional support and supervision available and increase post qualifying training and development services across all the areas of social work, for example by supporting locally based Teaching Partnerships in which local Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and employers work together
- A Labour government should, additionally, take steps to reduce the need for and extent of social workers employed by profit-making agencies, which imposes additional costs but also crucially means that those who need a social work service are faced with multiple changes of social worker and the impossibility to establish a trusting relationship with the professional accountable for making key decisions about the services available to them.
- LSWG supports the recommendations of UNISON and Labour LGA on workforce development and pay and conditions of service for social workers and all those within the broader social care and social/ community services.SOCIAL WORK/ SOCIAL CARE AND COMMUNITY SERVICES FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIESHelen Hayes MP spoke out forcibly against the Government’s response to the MacAlister Review of children’s social care, saying ‘There is no vision for the direction of children’s social care. There is no ambition for our most vulnerable children. There is no cross-cutting commitment from the top of government to deliver better for every child and every care-experienced person in every part of our country.’ (House of Commons, 3rd February 2023).We welcome that prevention and partnership are at the heart of Labour’s vision but these needs extending so that there is a similar ambition to make appropriate provision for high level and specialist needs. The twin concepts of prevention and partnership informed by research, policy and practice and set in the context of the current legal framework have the potential to offer a coherent approach to transform children’s social care.Primary or structural prevention is about preventing problems before they occur. It includes a set of universal and targeted policies aimed at radically reducing inequalities.Labour Social Work Group members, from across child and family social services delivery, policy, and research, support the principles and broad policy direction set out in the Policy Forum Consultation Documents. We welcome the critique of the years of neglect, mismanagement, and wasteful expenditure of public funds during the Tory years that have been made by Shadow team members and Labour MPs. We welcome plans to reverse the damage done to ‘universal’ services (child care, youth work, social security system, housing and homelessness services) but have yet to hear of detailed plans to replace the Tory government’s ill-thought through, poorly evidenced ‘improvement’ plans in response to their review of children’s social care. Whilst aware that there
are limits to the detail that can go into the Manifesto, it is now timely for the Labour Shadow team to work on detailed plans to tackle the acknowledged problems that a Labour government will inherit. Plans are needed both for families who need local authority-led social work services in the community and for children in care and care experienced adults.
Secondary prevention is about helping children and families when problems first arise – or early help – through developing kinship and community networks and preventative children’s services. A failure to provide these services since 2011 has led to an escalation of family difficulties and increasing numbers of young people coming into care. The evidence base for these is already available (much of it from evaluations of the Sure Start centres and others of Labour’s Every Child Matters policies).
Tertiary prevention is about helping children and young people when the problems they face may continue at home, in the community, or in care. The aim is to ensure children across the age groups, including teenagers, their family members, and carers, receive high quality, rights-based support, and care, to prevent longer-term problems and do all that is possible to help young people fulfil their potential into adulthood. Building on structural and secondary prevention this will contribute to creating ‘safer and secure communities’.
We recommend that:
- The Labour government should set up effective cross-departmental structures (to include Local Authority representatives) so that housing, social security, schools, health services (especially child and adult mental health and addictions services), youth and adult justice safeguarding services work collaboratively.
- Labour should consider setting up a Government Department for the Family (recognising families in all their diversities and across generations).
- We urge the NPF to build on the soundly evidenced recommendations of the Marmot Committee, which closely align with proposals in the Consultation document including reducing poverty by raising universal credit to ensure a living income without dependency on food banks and charity – which will also raise minimum and living wage levels.
- We support the developing plans for an early years education, day care and family support service and urge that policy and detailed plans build on the learning from the Labour government’s Sure Start and Every Child Matters provisions.
- However, these should be more fully developed into a comprehensive network of open access Family Centres for children across the age groups, with an emphasis on support for the diversity of families. including kinship families, foster families, and where needed, adoptive families. These must be ‘open access’ and ‘joined up’ with the wider ‘universal’ early years strategies. They should also work collaboratively with the multi-agency ‘targeted’ services for families with more complex difficulties, to bring together education, social work, child protection, youth offending and advocacy services, including for children and parents with physical and cognitive disabilities and mental health and addiction problems and relationship problems including violence.
- Policies need to ensure there is continuity of relationships with social workers and other professionals across ‘early help’ and child protection and in care services.
- Labour should put an end to Tory unnecessary use of ‘pilots’. Central government funding for these services should be allocated to each local authority based on an agreed model for assessing needs.
- Labour should end the profiteering in children’s social care by increasing the supply and range of high quality local authority foster families and Children’s Homes as homely environments where the diverse needs of children and young people in care can be met.
- This should be achieved at the local level and with regional planning as appropriate but without the added bureaucracy and the failed market approach underpinning the Government’s plans for ‘regional cooperatives’.
- Labour must end the discrimination against young people living in independent and semiindependent accommodation by enacting their entitlement to ‘care’ up to 18 years of age.
- Labour should enact legislation to require that asylum seeking children and young people are legally ‘looked after’ as ‘children’ by local authorities under the 1989 Act provisions (within DfE government department remit) and not subject to the authority of the Home Office
- Labour should introduce care experience as a ‘protected status’ under the Equalities Act for all qualified young people.
- Labour should implement the robust research findings on promoting the resilience of young people from care to adulthood. Specific measures that should be put in place for all children in care and care leavers:
- provide stable placements, giving love, attachments and continuity, and a positive sense of identity, including an understanding of their culture and heritage.
- help young people to succeed at school or return later to education which leads to young people developing normative social networks, leisure activities and new opportunities.
- Involve young people in individual decisions which shape their lives, and collective decision making to improve policy and practice.
- preparing young people in self-care, practical and inter-personal skills.
- ensuring young people leave care later, including extending care to 21 – ‘staying put’ in fostercare and ‘staying close’ to their Children’s Homes and existing community networks.
- develop informal social networks, including extended family, partner, friendship, andcommunity support.
- ensure access to leaving care services, to help young people with life skills, education,employment and training, housing, finance and wellbeing, and support those who require additional help – those from diverse backgrounds, young parents, those with mental health problems and disabilities, LGBTQ+, and asylum-seeking young people.Working in partnership:Including the participation of children, young people, family members and carers in decision making, underpins making a reality of prevention. Changes in law since the Children Act 1989 and the ratification of the UNCRC have highlighted the importance of upholding children’s rights which have seen expression through participation in individual and collective decision making, advocacy and rights movements. Recommendations
• Labour policy should ensure that children and young people wherever and whenever have access to rights-based services and have access to independent advocacy services, legal advice where needed, Independent Reviewing Officers, and support by care experienced individuals and groups.
• The Labour government should Invest in models of social work practice and service provision which increase the involvement of adult family members (including kinship carers and family members of children in care) and carers in decisions about their children.
There is no doubt that the Labour Policy team will need to come up with proposals to counteract the massive deficits, made considerably worse by the impact of the pandemic and cost of living and housing crisis:
- the draconian cuts to local authorities since 2011, amounting to an estimated £2.2 billion, (including 46% cuts in the ‘early help’ budget and 70% cuts in youth services);
- the Government’s two-year funding plan is totally inadequate and picking off ‘reforms’ is likely to do more harm in both the short and long term to the vulnerable parents and children who need services in the longer term;
- A Labour government must end profiteering with local authorities and vulnerable children being viewed as business opportunities to be competed for;
- the inequity of funding arising from the piloting of family hubs and other governmentdirected ‘innovations’ must end, and funding formula arrived at for family services for all local authorities based on need;
- the dubious ‘assumptions’ informing placement savings (especially in regard to residential care) must be challenged.In summary there is an urgent case for developing a transparent funding model, to ensure equitable resourcing for high quality, needs-led, not-for-profit locally accountable community and out of home child and family social services.SOCIAL CARE/SOCIAL WORK AND COMMUNITY SERVICES FOR OLDER PEOPLE AND ADULTS OF WORKING AGE
The priority that is having to be given to the NHS’s urgent needs, especially hospital discharge, has unfortunately distracted attention from the fundamental and vital purpose of social care. This includes but goes well beyond the essential role that social care can play in preventing many avoidable admissions to hospitals and costly residential care and nursing homes. As well as the implications for the NHS, these avoidable admissions are actively damaging to the health and wellbeing of the people concerned, bearing in mind that older people rapidly lose physical strength, confidence and self-care skills and become demoralised as a result of even brief hospital admissions, which can compromise their independence and care options on discharge.More than 50% of national expenditure on Social Care and the area of greatest demand and cost pressure on local Councils comes from the needs of adults of working age. This includes people with a wide range of disabling conditions, including the effects of chronic long-term illnesses, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, troubling mental health and other conditions which disadvantage their quality of life and their ‘ordinary life’ opportunities.
There are huge numbers of people living in their own homes in the community of all ages desperately needing to receive a service, but deemed to be failing to be eligible, or receiving one of insufficient or inadequate quality, often because of the inadequacy of local government funding.
The current model of social care funding and provision is broken. Social care provision is currently provided in a fragmented and uncoordinated way by many different organisations, mostly from the private sector. Care home businesses have been purchased by private equity companies that have asset stripped them so that they have become unviable, and then withdrawn from the market, creating instability, and undermining the safety and wellbeing of highly vulnerable people. Domiciliary and even more so residential care is currently of variable and too often unacceptably poor quality, although it should be acknowledged that some providers, often smaller organisations, provide care that is exemplary.
We recommend that:
- The future Labour government should urgently provide the funding needed to cover the gap identified by council political leaders of all parties, Directors of Adult Social Services, and NHS leaders, for example to stabilise care providers, to cover the real costs of inflation, more people ageing and living longer with disabling conditions, and to fund the increase in national living wage.
- Labour should prioritise measures that provide meaningful support to relatives and carers and to voluntary organisations working in the community to provide important preventive help.
- Labour policy should give priority to services which enhance the quality of life & independence of people according to their own wishes, as advocated by the #socialcarefuture movement.
- The future Labour government should invest in local councils to enable them to use their detailed and specific knowledge of need in their area, to develop and deliver personalised services to people in their own homes, in partnership with voluntary and community organisations.
- Labour should act urgently to remedy the acute shortage of staff in social care by accepting the recommendations on pay from UNISON and Labour LGA and ensuring that they are provided with appropriate training and career advancement opportunities.
- Labour should review and reform the Benefits system to remove anomalies and injustices such as adults of working age who are reliant on Universal Credit and are unable to work or engage in education due to illness or disability, being charged for essential social care; and adults of working age who are terminally ill being unable to access pensions to which they have contributed until they became too incapacitated to work.AND FINALLY, WE WOULD BE HAPPY TO HELP!The Labour Social Work Group includes practising social workers who have years of experience across the range of service user groups, alongside eminent academic researchers and experienced managers and leaders in the sector. We have links with service user led organisations, professional bodies, Trades Unions, and with other groups who have an interest in social work and social care, and with Labour and Cooperative Party councillors and MPs. We would be happy to contribute further to the development of Labour policy in any way that might be helpful.