Meeting notes and annual reports

Chair’s Annual Report and Notes of Westminster meeting 25/07/2019

Notes from the Labour social work group, 25 June, 2019

1 Attenders  Emma Lewell-Buck MP and Lord Mike Watson; 18 supporters/members came to the meeting, including 6 new members and a good mix of students, practitioners, social work educators and retired social workers and academics.

2 Apologies for absence were received from 7 parliamentarians and 29 members/supporters, several of whom provided comments and offered assistance with the group.

3  A brief Chair’s report was presented by June Thobuen and members were   referred to the website 2019 report for more information on activities.


Members/ supporters:  140

Labour MPs/ Lords who are members/ with whom we have been in contact     29 MPs  6 Lords

Website  June 2018-June 2019    454 Views  223 visits

Twitter   996  Followers,    Following 576

Points that have come in from members of the group about issues they would like the group to concentrate on for the coming year, especially with a view having an input on Labour Manifesto and policy process. (Not all agreed LSWG policy but indication of views of Group members )

  • Ideologically, develop a public owned equivalent of ‘disrupted innovation’ currently owned by the Tories. Something around Innovation and quality for public trust type thing. I’ve mentioned it to a couple of MPs who seem to like the idea!
  • Investment in public first – this term appears politically neutral and therefore may appeal to a wider range of voters but is based on putting the public and public institutions first for social and economic investment. It may be the counter argument to ‘disrupted innovation’.
  • Social and economic investment in prevention for communities and people and public. Linked to this, development of Labour run localized services and networks. (eg in Brazil  ALL political parties whether in government or opposition fund social/community networks and services. If Labour had stuck to this instead of moving to centralized systems, they would be in a better place! They need to start a local grassroots system of community participation even when in government.
  • RE Health and social care integration:  Investment in care and care services. They really need to come out and say care should be publicly funded, and not as the government is floating via the media, subject to insurance schemes which again favour the wealthy. I’ve heard that this is the sticking point in the Green paper but I noticed that they are quietly embarking on a media communication strategy. I call this ‘political kite flying’ so once its announced, people are prepared. I’d suggest a way round this for Labour is via taxation, taxation to enter and depart the UK via airports for foreign nationals. May sound quite simple, but given most countries now have inward and outward bound tax it seems a very quick win for us and ALL this money would then be channeled to social care!
  • Abolish internal markets and internal single organisation commissioning procurement rules. Its against integration! This would require legislative changes. Develop an alternative pubic focused commissioning process which measures against outcomes and involvement and avoids making contracts subject to annual tender.
  • Continue to call for the ending of the preferential funding of Frontline and fast track social work education more generally. Engage with Labour MPs and councillors, public and vol sector employers and HEIs towards equitable distribution of whatever funding is available for qualifying social work education and training. (Background Note:  funding for FL is continuing whilst funding for the generally successful Teaching Partnerships (covering adults as well as children’s services is being phased out and sum allocated to HEI student bursaries and other government funding has not increased for several years (UPDATE- no increase for 2019-20)
  • Urge Labour policy makers to move towards making Social Work a unified profession/ service   within government i.e remove DHSC & DfE separation  (at local authority level too)
  • Must continue to oppose roll-out of NAAS  and attempts by government to dictate what is social work, and emphasise that LSWG should work with UNISON on this.
  • Continue to show how austerity policies (and hostile environment towards the most in need) (education, health, social security, justice (lack of legal aid) Housing, refugee and immigration services are impacting on the ability of social workers to provide a service to those most in need of their assistance.
  • Encourage moves towards neighbourhood-based community social work
  • Positive responses were received in responses to the recently circulated Labour Party strategy  document on strengthening Civil Society ‘From  Paternalism to Participation  But it was noted that there needs to be stronger commitment to the role of a properly funded local government bring this about. file:///C:/Users/June%20Thoburn/Documents/Documents/labour%20soc%20wk/Labour-Civil-Society-Strategy-June-2019.pdf   (UPDATE The lead MP for this Steve Reed MP has just moved from his role as Civil Society Shadow Minister to the Shadow Children’s Minister.

June Thoburn announced that she will be retiring as Chair following this meeting.  She proposed that Prof Sam Baron  a social work academic and researcher at Manchester Met University, with a specialism in Adult social Services take up the role as Chair following time for a careful handover and that Helen Wood (a former Labour Councillor and currently children with disabilities specialist social worker be appointed as a Vice Chair.  (Bios of these will be on the website shortly- the hand-over will take place over the Summer)

8 attenders or those sending apologies offered to be committee members; additionally 12 members/supporters offered assistance with different aspects of the group’s work

4  Hon Treasurer’s Report Jackie Mitchell, Hon Treasurer has sent her apologies. Her report is:

Current Bank balance  £201   Main expense  Website fee  £15

It was noted that UNISON has funded 2 Pop-ups for the group to use an conferences etc.

Jackie has been Hon Treasurer since the start of the group in 2015 but gives notice that she is retiring from this position.  JT thanked Jackie for taking on this role and undertaking the complex business of getting bank account set up.  The incoming Chair and Vic-Chair will seek a new Chair within their own areas and a handover will be arranged.

5  Professor Ray Jones distributed and talked through his briefing on what LSWG would be looking for in a Labour Manifesto/ Policy document.


a) Rescind the 2014 statutory regulatory changes which allow statutory children’s social work services to be contracted out to commercial companies and other non-public organisations.

 The current position is that in England [unlike anywhere else in the world] any profit or not-for-profit company can be contracted by local authorities – forced or coerced by the government – to undertake all statutory children’s social work responsibilities including:

  • Children in need assessments and child protection investigations
  • Setting and managing children in need and child protection plans
  • Initiating court proceedings to have children removed from their families.
  • Deciding where and with whom children subject to a care order should then live.

Outsourcing generates:

  • Additional (continuing) cash and time costs
  • Takes attention away from current services.
  • Adds complexity and confused and distant accountability
  • Creates unnecessary change and churn and instability
  • Delays service improvement
  • Drains children’s social services of public funding

Companies including G4S, Serco, Virgin Care, Amey and Mouchel have engaged with the DfE in discussions about how to open up the market for statutory children’s social work services [in England] with the DfE advised by KPMG and LaingBuisson and with Mott Macdonald now contracted to shape social worker accreditation.

This all generates a poorer riskier service at a higher cost.

Out-sourcing has increasingly been a public concern and found to generate high risks, and the 2014 changes were significantly opposed. Rescinding the power to outsource statutory children’s social work duties and powers is likely to be popular.

There are other actions which can and should be taken if local authorities are continuously not providing safe and adequate services:

  • Mandatory partnerships with well-performing councils.
  • Government-appointed service directors with power to direct a council on its arrangements for children’s social services.
  • A time-limited governance board – with a membership decided following consultation with the LGA -to replace councillors and allocated the powers and duties of the council.

b) Introduce local authority performance measures which promote public sector provision to secure continuity of care for children and families.

c) Amend the Children in Need annual statistical returns to include:

  • Percentage of looked after children within a foster care or residential care placement directly provided by the local authority.
  • Percentage of social workers – and separately of managers – directly employed by the local authority.

The current position is that:

  • 72% of children’s homes [in England] are now provided by private companies.
  • Almost half of local authorities [in England] provide no children’s homes.
  • More than a third of foster children [in England] are placed through private commercial foster care agencies.
  • Almost 20% of children’s social workers working in local authorities are short-term temporary social workers employed through for-profit employment agencies.

This all generates a poorer riskier service at a higher cost.

c)   Similarly for adult social services require assessments to protect vulnerable adults and mental capacity assessments to be undertaken by public authorities and not non-public companies. 

d) Re-fund and re-build community services for families with children under five (Sure Start) and youth provision.

e) Support university-based initial qualifying education for social workers and cease skewed funding for programmes generating too early specialisation and fore-shortened training and education. 

 f) Require Social Work England and the other UK social work regulators to develop – in partnership with social work employers and social work education providers – programmes of post/qualifying training and education and PQ qualifications, noting that retention and career development is at least as important as social worker recruitment if stable and experienced workforces are to be created.

6  Emma Lewell-Buck MP  and Lord Mike Watson opened the discussion from the perspective of Labour MPs and Peers work is occurring on these areas.  Labour is committed to campaigning for resources to be put back into adult and children social care services and strengthening local government. M W reported that Labour plans to address Early Help policy in the coming year. Also  focussing on Adult Social Care policy in the coming year as Govt Green Paper expected  (Update note to members  House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee)  has just produced a consultation document on this:

There followed a discussion on this and other key issues that the LSWG wishes to bring to the attention of Labour MPs and Labour councillors. Key points:

  • Discussion on arguments advanced by government to detach statutory children services from local authorities. A key point made by attenders was that neither expense nor quality arguments stand up to close scrutiny. The ideological nature of the changes was discussed.
  • Discussion on the need to bring back theoretical understandings of environmental deprivation including the importance of bringing the voices of children and vulnerable adults into strategic thinking.

The following  national and local concerns were raised in the discussion:

  • The lack of enough good quality children’s homes to meet need and the unresolved issue of education and training for residential child care workers
  • The rise in unregulated provision for teenagers in care or edge of care
  • Access to Education being denied to children in care but also those on the edge of care, and especially those with special Educational needs
  • It was noted that an average of three to five plus moves of carer per year was experienced by older children in care
  • Insecurity of the provision both for community services and for residential providers (adult and children’s services)- many providers are unsure if they will be there in 2 years. Need for Labour to go back to a grant system to Vol Orgs and away from tendering which gets in the way of continuity of relationships
  • An absence in the workforce of the skills for social workers and professional colleagues working with the most vulnerable children and their families: Importance for Labour to have a 5 year plan to address this.
  • Attention was drawn to the ‘Reclaim Social Care’ Google Group which is working to encourage a Labour strategy for adult social care. Links have been established between LSWG and Gordon Peters re their campaign to influence  Labour Manifesto on social care
  • There was a feeling that the terms ‘Social Work’ has become associated only with Local Authority statutory social work and the more prevalent term in adult services ‘Social care’ could lead to a false distinction about the skills required when dealing with vulnerability and complex dynamics.
  • There was discussion on the tendency for direct work with children and adults to be seen as a role for unqualified support workers.
  • the implication of separating out Adults and Children’s social work was discussed (creating a focus on the individual rather than seeing people needing help within families and communities. Information systems which focuss on individual records has a role in this.
  • An over-arching concern expressed was that apart from a small number of knowledgeable and vocal Labour MPs (E L-B and MW being exceptions) there is a lack of vision within Labour of what Social Work stands for and its central position in the provision of services for vulnrable adults and children..
  • There was discussion of qualifying and post-qualifying social work education. Those present expressed support for the position taken by LSWG to date re concerns about expansion of Frontline fast-track resulting in;  inequality of support for students following HEI courses and undue emphasis on child and family social work (risking ‘squeezing out’ training for adult social work). Group should continue to support Labour Party line in last Manifesto to support all University routes into social work and not single out Frontline (as it had done in earlier manifestos).  And ask Labour Shadow education team to support better funding for social work students and social work courses and a fairer distribution of funds between the different training routes.
  • Jill Archer of UNISON led the discussion of concerns about how the new national accreditation system (NAAS) links to retention and performance. E L-B gave a response to a PQ – the initial stage of NAAS was £30m. Concerns raised by attenders were: NAAS is overly focussed on identifying ‘bad’ social workers and not focusing on development and learning in the role; overly focussed on narrowly defined Child Protection rather than child and family social work more broadly (eg community social work, foster care and adoption; potentially undermines local authority social work service as could lead to more experienced social workers leaving rather than ’taking the test);  in summary, generally flawed thinking that has resulted from this set of DfE policies.
  • The view was expressed that incentives provided by the DFE are felt to be affecting the overall evaluation where evaluators (including HEI-based researchers) are tied in by their funding needs to presenting success. BASW is also bidding for some grants to provide learning for those taking the NAAS tests. Some Universities are also believed to be involved. Risk of narrowing qualifying, ASYE and PQ learning- ‘teaching to the test’.
  • The effect of the emphasis of policy attention and also government resources on child protection social work on palliative care social work was discussed- the narrowly-focused accreditation process is marginalising the role of the social worker taking a more wholistic role. This re-defines the profession in a way that is not helpful.
  • General discussion about the trend to divide social workers into ‘supervisors’ and ‘support’ (unqualified) roles- An attender who has worked in both countries commented that this trend has also been seen in the Netherlands. This was felt to link to the wider construction of social problems as individual and social work as policing, taking the analysis out of the role.

7       Thanks were given to June for her work in the role of founding chair of LSWG.


Apologies for being out of contact for so long.  NOT lack of activity, but so much has been happening that has relevance to social work in children’s or adult services that it has been hard to keep up.  And no doubt in your different roles you have been struggling with the speed and volume of change too (and that is without mentioning the follow up to BREXIT). But here is a summary of activities and plans for the rest of the year.

  1. Funding the group Let’s get this one out of the way. Those who managed to get to the first General Meeting held in London (notes of meeting March 21, 2016 on website) agreed that ‘our needs are small, but donations would be sought to fund the website, meeting placards, and fares for students/ service users to attend meetings. After various complications the group now has an account with the Co-operative Bank. So if you felt able to spare £5 or £10 that would be a great help. We can’t handle anything more complicated than a cheque  – made payable to  Labour Social Work Group  and sent to  Jackie Mitchell, 3 Victoria St, Norwich  NR1 3QXor cash at a meeting or when you see one of us.  We will of course send a receipt or acknowledge by email, whichever you prefer- if the former, don’t forget to give us a postal address.
  1. Now to more important things.

Labour Policy Forum submissions May-June 2016
Several members responded to the request to contribute to LSWG submissions.  The Priority Areas last year were Mental Health and Early years/ Early help so some of the contributions (on broader family support for all age groups, children in care, and on adolescents/young people – including leaving care, and vulnerability to criminalisation or sexual exploitation) were too detailed to include, but were stored in hope that these will become priority areas. Submissions were made to each of the priority areas – and a general one on child and family social work pointing out that mental health and disability are relevant across the age groups. Rob Murphy and I had a meeting with Lucina Berger on mental health social work issues just before the parliamentary recess.  Regrettably, there is no longer a named Cabinet level minister nor shadow minister specifically for mental health.

Our four contributions from 2016 are on the website


  1. The Summer months of 2016 were difficult for all of us with the leadership election and the Tories making hay whilst labour was preoccupied. Group members as individuals held (and voiced in the media) different views on the leadership,  The committee members agreed that the LSWG would remain neutral.


  1. It was great that MPs who have helped the group in its early stages joined the Labour Shadow team in roles that have social work as part of their remit. (Emma Lewell-Buck as Shadow Children’s Minister: Sharon Hodgson as Shadow Minister for Social Care). Angela Rayner as Children’s Minister has to concentrate most of her energies on schools but is showing a keen interest in social work’s role in helping vulnerable children and families. Lucina Berger is ensuring a high profile on mental health as a member of the Health Committee and Lisa Nandy and Steve McCabe have made some powerful and incisive speeches on social work and children’s issues and vulnerable adults and children. We are pleased that Bill Esterson has agreed to continue as Vice Chair of the group but his Shadow role in the BIS team doesn’t allow him much scope to intervene on children or social work issues at the moment.
  1. The Children and Social Work Bill The Bill started off in the Lords before the recess. As individuals and as members of the Labour Social Work Group several of us were active in providing briefings and lobbying as part of the Article 39 led Together for Children alliance as the Bill passed through Lords and Commons stages.  Thanks to some very powerful and incisive speeches by Lords Mike Watson and Philip Hunt leading for Labour with committed and well-informed speeches  by Baronesses Ruth Lister and Jill Pitkeathley and other Labour, Lib Dem and cross benchers or unaligned peers (especially Lords Warner and Ramsbotham) some important changes had been made before the Bill went to the Commons.  The proposal for the new Social Work Regulator (Social Work England) to be directly under the control of the Education Minister was defeated and it will now have more independence than was planned for it (we still don’t know how much so battles still to be engaged in) as a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB). But especially important was the successful amendment to defeat what became known as the ‘innovation clauses’ which would have allowed some local authorities to not implement aspects of primary and secondary children legislation.

    Emma Lewell-Buck and Steve McCabe took up where the Lords left off on the floor of the House and in committee and despite the apparent determination of the Minister to retain the potentially very destructive clauses, won through – the clauses are now not part of the Bill. They and other Labour colleagues on the |Bill committee (Stella Creasy, Thangam Debbonaire, Kate Green and Tulip Siddique) called attention to the many difficulties for social workers delivering services to children and families despite cuts both to welfare and housing services and to social work services. Here is one of the many examples of how Emma managed to cut through the Minister’s verbiage and tell it as it is.

    Notwithstanding the good work being done through the Pause programme, does the Minister accept that the work is rather piecemeal? It is not happening in every local authority. As I said earlier, we should be offering such services to everyone across the board, not just to some people who live in certain local authority areas.
    What happens when this innovation money runs out? Do we just go back to where we were?

    Important contributions were made on the plight of child refugees (the government’s failure to Honour the ‘Dubbs Amendment) but amendments were voted down.  But thanks to the persistence and informed contributions of Labour members improvements were made to provisions for young people in care and leaving care, and especial congratulations to Stella Creasy for her successful leadership of the battle to get Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) included on the curriculum of all schools.

    Especially with respect to the establishment of the new Regulator and changes to social work qualifying and Post Qualifying Education brought in by the Bill, Labour Social Work Group Members will remain vigilant and keep Labour legislators fully briefed.

  2. There are several other parts of the Government agenda for us to keep a watchful eye on. At the moment the introduction of the National Assessment and Accreditation Scheme (NAAS) is a key one.  LSWG is in touch with UNISON and helped with the wording of the important UNISON survey showing that the majority of social workers consider this is a poor use of scarce resources and is likely to harm both the profession and those who need social work services.
  3. We are also keeping an eye on and will be commenting on in our submission to the Policy Forum the expansion of fast-track specialist  routes into social work  (Frontline, Think Ahead – both linked in with Venture Capitalist funding and influence, and Step-up)  (between them set to be 4 out of 10 entrants to training by 2020). We are particularly concerned at the very unequal treatment (financially and in terms of placement availability) of students on mainstream university courses.
    Please let us have your views on the line the group should take on each of these, especially as in the last Labour Party Manifesto, one of the very small number of comments on social work was to support the expansion of Frontline.


  1. On the adult social work front, we have had less success in engaging with Labour shadow team members and promise to try harder in the next little while. The place of social work within integrated health and social care services has received too little attention – though we reproduce on our website the recent paper from the Chief Social Worker for Adults on this. As a feeble excuse, the children agenda has taken up so much time – and it is not irrelevant here that fundamental changes to social work regulation are in a Bill headed ‘Children and Social Work Bill’ and coming out of the Department for Education.   Lord Hunt made an effort to be heard on this point but it is the DfE that is making the running on all these changes.  The group will attempt to focus the attention of MPs on the fact that large sums of government money are going into education for specialist child and family social work at the same time that bursaries and University funding for generic social work training and opportunities for non-graduates to enter social work are being cut. We shall invite Barbara Kealey and Sharon Hodgson (members of Labour’s shadow health team) to our meeting on 17 May and hope to engage the interest  of Jonathan Ashworth (Shadow Health Minister) in the role of social work as services become more integrated and in the Labour Social Work Group.Do get in touch if you have contacts with shadow ministers in Health, Housing, DCLG, Work and Pensions as all these have some responsibilities for social work issues.


Looking Ahead


            Plans are afoot to organise a (belated) Annual Meeting and meeting with Labour MPs in Westminster after Easter and before the recess.  STOP PRESS Meeting now arranged for pm of 17 May   More details to follow but get in touch now if you think you may be able to come.

BEFORE THEN  we urgently need comments on our submissions to the Policy Forum. You will find details on the two areas that concern at the urls below.  What the group is trying to do (so far with little success except with the Shadow Education team) is to get the Labour Party to take a serious look at the threats to the social work profession and the vulnerable who need our services across the age and needs groups. Unlike teachers who can lobby the Education team, or doctors, nurses, psychologists who make their views known to the Health ministers,  shadow team responsibility for  social work is fragmented across  education. Health, home office, justice and DCLG ministers and Shadow ministers.


There is a lot of work to be done here, The word ‘social worker’ doesn’t occur once in the policy overview. Might be worth taking a look at the LSWG website where you can find the summary of what I said at Labour Conference Fringe Event in 2015 – and my plea for social work and social care to be recognised as not synonymous.

Look up the summary and consultation questions at


This policy document is much improved from last year as the following quotes shows (clearly Emma Lewell-Buck’s imprint on it. The last Manifesto’s only references to social work were to support Frontline’ and Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse- policies opposed then by the majority of social workers.  It will be important to have Members’ views on whether this is still the case.

Improving children’s social care and safeguarding

‘Children’s social care has been savagely cut by this Conservative Government, the social work sector is being propped up by agency workers, and there are elements of the Children and Social Work Bill which will put a hundred years of child protection legislation at risk by dismantling local authority safeguarding responsibilities. Tory neglect of this area has left children at risk for far too long. Almost three quarters of local authorities’ children’s social services are currently rated less than good and young people that grow up in care are more likely to die an early death than their peers. Tory cuts have meant non-statutory services that many young people rely on have been lost and early help services which have been proven to lead to better outcomes for children have also gone. Children’s social care is in crisis and government attempts to reform the sector have amounted to a Bill which in part would allow local authorities to exempt themselves from child protection duties. Such a move has led former government advisor, ProfessorEileen Munro to conclude that this would pose a “serious danger” to vulnerable children.

Also relevant to social workers and you may want to comment as individuals or want LSWG to comment are:

Housing local government and transport

Justice and Home Affairs

Work, Pensions and Equality


To date we have concentrated on national issues, but do publicise the group in your local area and let us know if we can help in any way with local issues

Sorry this turned out to be rather more lengthy than intended.  Do get in touch with any points, about the local or national situations, pass on details to social work or policy colleagues who would like to join us. AND DO COME ON 17 MAY IF YOU CAN


June Thoburn

Chair Labour Social Work Group

5 April 2017