Year: 2015

Brighton Conference and the Fringe meeting with Socialist Health Association

Brighton Conference and the Fringe meeting with Socialist Health Association

When plans were made in July for Labour Social Work Group to join a discussion on Labour’s policy for Integrated Health and Care, the Party leadership was still up in the air.  I can’t begin to describe the heady atmosphere at the Conference, enhanced by perfect sunny weather and the backdrop of bustling Brighton.  So I’ll concentrate on the workshop.

First, I had to drag myself away from a packed conference hall just as John McDonnell was about to speak. Against that competition, I was rather surprised that there were around 40 people at the Socialist Health Association Fringe Meeting on Social Care and Health.  The ordering in the title was deliberate, as the SHA committee were keen to have social care up front and not in its usual position as an ‘add-on’ to health.

As was the case with many of the billed events at Conference there were changes in planned speakers due to changes in Shadow Cabinet roles. So Emily Thornberry wasn’t there as she has been appointed Shadow Minister for Employment (where she will still have scope to put her previous experience in health and care into good use when impact of benefit cuts and work assessment tests comes up).  However, it was a good opportunity to meet Angela Rayner MP, (one of the new intake – already in the Whips office and a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee).  Drawing on her work as a carer (not a well-trodden route into parliament), as a UNISON rep and now from her constituency caseload, she provided powerful arguments as to why the health and social care services should work closely together, and against the fragmentation that is resulting from increasing privatisation and cost cutting.  We also heard a consumer perspective from a Labour Chair of a Health Watch Board and on Health and Wellbeing Boards

I used my 15 minutes to introduce people to Labour Social Work Group (and to thank Socialist Health Association for the considerable encouragement they have given us in our fledgling months). I started by emphasising that Health, Care, Social Care and Social Work have to be conceptually ’unpicked’, when trying to come up with ways to better integrate them.  I used a quote from Robin Miller of the University of Birmingham Health Services Management Centre to emphasise that in the next year or so Labour has to move beyond the warm words about ‘integration’ being ‘a good thing’ and get down to detail.   In his paper ‘Is integration or fragmentation the starting point to improve prevention?‘  Miller wrote:

‘We are still trying to understand what types of integration will make the greatest impact in different contexts and for which beneficiaries. ….We need greater precision as to exactly what type of integration is being proposed and between what services. At present there is often a dense conceptual and definitional fog accompanying integration (my emphasis). The term is being used nationally (and indeed locally) in relation to a diverse range of collaborative arrangements between a host of different organisations, services and

professions in order to (hopefully) address a variety of complex issues.’

I used this quote to emphasise that the SOCIAL WORK profession, with its emphasis on the social, is key to working in partnership with vulnerable people of all ages to help them put together the combination of health, therapeutic, social and other public services (including housing, and social security payments) that best responds to individual and family needs and wishes. Much of the emphasis around ‘integration’ has been on services for the elderly, but I emphasised that working age disabled people, those with mental ill-health or addictions and parents and children with long or short term conditions and stressors, also need the benefit of effectively co-ordinated health, care and social work services.

Which allowed me to raise the question of the most appropriate arrangements for the delivery of social work and other components of social care within better co-ordinated service systems. These are likely to be different for the different age/needs groups. (We’ve already had examples of mental health social workers moving from Social Services Departments to Health Trusts and back again).

So going back to Miller’s really important analysis of what is known (or rather the little that is known) about ‘integrated health and care’ to date, now is the time for the Labour Party policy groups and Shadow ministers to move from the generality to the detail. And a joint plea from SHA and Labour Social Work Group that, in doing so, they take time to listen to the Labour party members from across the health and social care professions who have to make the systems they come up with work.

My final plea was for Labour policy makers and shadow ministers to recognise and do something about the fragmented responsibility for social work.  Not only is it split between Education and Health Shadow Ministers, but also Home Office, MoJ, Work and Pensions and DCLG, are directly or indirectly employing social workers. The confusion about specialist versus generic initial training (including the rapid expansion of the fast-track specialist social work training courses – Frontline, Step-up and now Think Ahead) is just one example of the Tory agenda that the newly appointed Shadow ministers need to get to grips with. The Tories are not hanging about in their drive to outsource key decision making roles, and their intervening in social work education in order to produce a more compliant profession. Look no further than Cameron’s speech to the Tory conference.

There was a very lively debate- around whether social work is a single profession, or two; whether there is a place for mandatory reporting of child abuse, and more broadly about the impact of the social security cuts and housing crisis which are pushing more and more adults and children beyond the reach of community-based preventive services resulting in ever-increasing pressure of hospital and residential care.

I also made contact with Labour Campaign for Mental Health, and discovered class (the Centre for Labour and Social Studies- a very welcome addition to the left of centre think talk world  ( So now there is work to be done in contacting the Shadow team, who need to quickly get to grips with social work issues if the worst of the planned Tory assaults are to be exposed. All offers of help, joining in meetings in particular areas, writing briefings gratefully received.  See below list of shadow team whose portfolios touch on social work.

June Thoburn  Interim Chair








Social Work — One profession or two?

This week there have been some debates about one of the ‘old chestnuts’ that has haunted the social work profession for many years. Do we need different initial education programmes for adults and children and families social work? Narey spoke to ADCS (Association of Directors of Childrens’ Services) seeming quite keen on the idea.

For me, the generic nitial teaching and learning that social workers embark on is a strength of the profession. Children live with adults. Adults live with children. Sometimes, children even live with older adults. Sometimes, grandparents are the primary carers for children. It isn’t rocket science really. Yet that seems to be a difficult concept for some who propose separate and fast track training (rather than education) schemes in social work to handle. Maybe because it doesn’t follow the narrative that schemes like ‘Frontline’ want to establish that specific areas of children and families social work is somehow fundamentally different (and by implication more complex) than other areas in which social work happens.

On considering the government preferences to establish ‘fast track elite’ routes into social work via ‘Frontline’ and ‘Think Ahead’ (an odd type of programme which seems to take the problems identified in child protection social work and map them into a mental health setting — a great example of looking for a solution before identifying a problem), time to consider what being a ‘social worker’ and learning to become a social worker actually means.

Does it mean leaving university being able to drop into a statutory adult safeguarding or child protection team and be ‘ready to practice’ (or ready to do a computer-based test for ‘accreditation’ to be a child protection social worker)? For me, that’s getting the whole process of learning the wrong way round. Social work is more than working in a local authority or in a statutory role but this is where all the conversations about initial social work education are happening. What do employing local authorities want? As the health and social care landscape changes though, it’s worth considering that social work is far more than ‘local authority’ social work and training/learning to be a social worker needs to develop far more skills than what a local authority needs and wants. The profession needs to be more ambitious and forward thinking.

Innovation isn’t solely getting new people into the profession. We need to think far more about how people stay in the profession and grow into specific roles. I am all for role-specific training but think that’s far better placed through post-qualification support with the employer taking some responsibility jointly with universities, rather than solely remaining the responsibility of initial qualification programmes.

Being at university, learning to be a social worker isn’t about learning about tasks and functions or it shouldn’t be. It’s about learning theoretical bases for social work. It’s about learning how the law impacts social work practice through the life course. It’s about learning the history of social work and and sociology. It’s about understanding systems and how they impact on oppressive structures. It’s about learning about power and the importance of it in the role which we have. These theories and issues are common to all social work and it’s what places and defines the profession. Yes, it’s useful to have input about child protection work, some lectures on working with people with mental illnesses, physical and learning disabilities, maybe even the odd lecture on older people (it was only one in the two year course I did!). But really, the knowledge can be picked up on the job. The profession is about learning how to implement theories, evaluate evidence, understand research and ensuring that social models are considered when looking at life courses.

Anyone who suggests that placements or learning about adult or mental health services won’t be useful to a social worker entering children’s services demonstrates an ignorance in what social work and social work education is and vice versa. Suggesting that people going into children’s services don’t need to understand the impact of dementia on family dynamics loses one of the key fundamentals about social work as work within societies and families.

The actual skill is learning to transfer knowledge and experiences across different sectors and settings. There are skills in learning to reflect and grow as a professional.

So we need to consider if we want a profession whose initial qualification route pumps out ‘practice ready’ social workers? ‘Practice ready’ cannot come after a three year degree course or a two year postgraduate course. ‘Practice ready’ makes assumptions that learning has a finite end. The end of the social work course is the beginning of professional learning. The employer has a role to develop a graduate with the knowledge for the role they are employed to do. The role of the university and the initial degree course, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, is to equip new social workers with an understanding of the theoretical basis of the profession, an understanding of social history and the skills of reflection and interpretation of evidence as well as the ability to conduct research projects and evaluate knowledge.

The push towards specialisation in social work and the potential for two separate education and training routes into the profession has many risks and interestingly there is an agenda which is being pushed by employers and government to go down this route. This is because focusing on tasks and specifics loses the unifying force of the profession and the focus on the drive for social justice. If we move to train ‘child protection workers’ rather than teach ‘social workers who specialise in child protection roles’ we have lost the soul of the profession.

There’s scope for challenge to the Narey masterplan. It’s interesting that all seems to have gone silent on Croisdale-Appleby who produced a far more intelligent and thoughtful response to the task given to them both to consider the future of social work education. Maybe it’s a case of ‘he who shouts loudest’ but we deserve, as social workers, to be heard in the debates around our own profession. With the College of Social Work due to be wound up soon, one more voice has been lost so the cohesive and most importantly, united voice of all areas of social work — all sectors and all areas of work- needs, more than ever to be heard as one profession.

By ‘Ermintrude’, writing for the Labour Social Work Group

After the election – next steps for the Labour Social Work Group

After the deeply depressing results of Thursday 7th May-   we have to find a way forward for another five years through the bleak reality of a far right Conservative government, bent on destroying public services that are publicly accountable and further attacking the quality of life of those who are already suffering the worst effects of austerity.

Our proposed Manifesto for government becomes a Manifesto for a Labour Party (and new leaders in England and Scotland) as the official opposition – and we would like to think for all the left of centre opposition parties as well as many of the cross-benchers in the Lords.

More than ever an articulate and well-informed opposition is needed to fight for the sort of social work service that our ‘labour manifesto for 2015’ argues is essential if social workers are to continue to be effective in confronting deprivation in all its aspects and working in partnership with the increasing numbers of adults and children who need their help.

There seem to us four very urgent issues the group should discuss.

At government department level, accountability for social work is split – mainly between DoH and DfE, but also DCLG (local government funding and cuts have had a huge impact, but also responsibility for the ‘Troubled Families’ agenda – now extended to 400,000 families and including those eligible for ‘in need’ and CP services- plenty of scope for confused accountability or ‘buck-passing between Departments there);  MoJ (with responsibility for the large numbers of social workers employed by Cafcass and the Family Courts) and Home Office (with its crimes against children and vulnerable people remit). This means that, unlike other public service professionals including teachers, nurses, doctors and police, social workers do not have a clear ‘champion’ (or even spokesperson).

Since the election, government and opposition have called for- more and better trained nurses, GPs, teachers.  Has anyone seen a similar call for more social workers (other than the now hackneyed ‘we support Frontline’ – a policy that does not have the support of the majority of social workers and educators, with very few of whom the Labour party has sought discussion. In labour’s very welcome policy for the integration of health and social care services for the elderly, there is no clear plan for the role social work will play, where social work will be best-placed to fulfil that role, and most importantly, where the larger numbers of social workers will come from since numbers have been so savagely reduced by local government cuts.

This brings us back to the parlous state of qualifying and post-qualifying education and training for social workers. A generic, ethically-based, broad social work education is under threat- by 2016, almost 1 in 5 new entrants to social work training will be on a fast-track ‘apprenticeship-model’ specialist training (in which the broader educational and analytical aspects of social work education as it is recognised in the other UK nations and across Europe are cut to the bone). Some very good people are entering these fast-track programmes (who can blame them, the financial incentives are huge compared to the other routes) but they are being sold-short, under-educated for a very demanding career. Once qualified, the opportunity to think around and read more widely, debate, analyse is rarely available- post qualifying education focuses (has to) on the direct skills and specifically focused knowledge for the tasks in hand.

Labour’s approach to ‘child protection’.  During the election period Labour’s focus was (appropriately enough) on sexual abuse and exploitation by people in positions of trust, or by criminal ‘groomers’ and ‘exploiters’. Hence what might seem like an obvious response ‘mandatory reporting’, and with an emphasis on law enforcement.  As far as we know, social workers were not involved in the development of Labour’s policy towards child protection, yet social workers are the ones in the firing line when things go wrong. There has been a narrow focus on ‘child protection’ (as in protection from the worst excesses of child abuse) rather than on a broader approach to helping struggling parents and children. Certainly any proposal to criminalise, teachers, health visitors, GPs social workers who miss the not always obvious signs, will result in more children removed unnecessarily from home, and social workers even more stressed by impossible workloads.

Metal health services have been the subject of much rhetoric, but very little detailed discussion about the role of mental health social workers when compared with the ‘column inches’ on ‘therapy’ and ‘counselling’. Questions that need serious policy debate include whether mental health social work is best housed within Local Authority Adult social services (where at least social workers are respected as a specialist professional group, but where they may be too separated from the other mental health professionals) or within Health Trusts, where integration is achieved, but often at the cost of being able to fulfil their role as professional social workers.

So let’s get involved in a serious debate about all these and any others our members want to prioritise.  After launching the group 6 weeks ago, we have been putting the word about in a quiet sort of way. We already have over 100 members or supporters, and over 250 Twitter followers.  We now want to consolidate support, encourage local groups, and have plans to be involved, with other labour affiliated groups, in meetings at the Party  Conference. We are also planning a meeting with MPs in Westminster, (probably in October) so let us know if you can come. And if you will be at the Party Conference anyway, get in touch so we can let you know about anything we are able to arrange there.

So we really want to hear your thoughts and ideas, and especially are looking for volunteers to take on different aspects of the group’s work.

June Thoburn, Sam Earl, Clive Sellick

A Labour agenda for social work – Professor June Thoburn

Here are our ‘opening asks’ for a broad agenda for social work for an incoming Labour government.

Each week we will put meat on the bones of one of our core agenda items. Let us know what you think. The more of you who respond with your own views, the more confident we will be in seeking to get our ideas discussed with senior policy makers in the party. And examples from research, day to day practice, and comments from the people you provide a service to, are especially welcome.

In consulting about and drafting the 2015 Labour Party  Manifesto, major items that concern the majority of voters have to have pride of place.

Social work is a ‘below the surface’ profession for most people until disability or frailty hits them or a shocking event (the death of Peter Connelly or the  distressing reports of child sexual exploitation leap out above the surface for a week or so). From the statements made by  Labour Shadow cabinet members at such times, and in response to Ministerial statements and Coalition initiatives, it is not clear whether or not, behind the scenes, the relevant Shadow teams have been working together to develop a coherent Labour party policy for social work.

Under the Coalition, so much harm has been done to the daily lives of those who need services, at the same time as cuts of around 17% of the social work workforce, alongside decreasing real incomes for the increasingly long hours they work, have made inroads into their ability to join with other public servants to provide adequate responses to increasing levels of deprivation and distress.  Given the extent of risk and need, and the pressures workers are under, it is unsurprising that mistakes have been brought to public attention and required a response from politicians. But little attention is given to the fact that social workers  have succeeded each year  in taking action to place nearly 30,000 children in care each year, who were at risk of being harmed, provided packages of support to many thousands more struggling families, and set up home care packages for many thousands  of elderly or disabled people and their carers.

So we would like to make ourselves useful to the Labour policy makers in the Departments that make decisions that impact on social work services (currently too many of them in my view – Education, Health, Home Office, MoJ, DCLG, DWP, the Cabinet Office all employ social workers or fund social work services).  We will also be available at a local level to Labour councillors and  Labour appointees to Boards and Trusts, when appropriate collaborating with public service colleagues in affiliated groups.

As a starter, let us have your views on a draft 2015 LABOUR MANIFESTO FOR SOCIAL WORK and help us fill in the details around your particular area of  concern or expertise.


  • A Labour government will take urgent steps to repair the damage inflicted by the coalition on the life chances and quality of life of adults and children struggling to get by.
  • A Labour government will value social work as a public service profession, whose members seek creatively to meet the needs of adults and children living through difficult times
  • A Labour government will reestablish coherence to the democratic and participatory structures for providing social work services, combining the best of public, and third sector provision.
  • A Labour government will maximize the funding available to locality-based decision-makers and social work teams, and make standards for employers of social workers mandatory.
  • A Labour government will require all third sector-provided social work and social care services to be registered and inspected and will conduct a thorough review to ensure that OFSTED and CQC systems and inspectors have the confidence and respect of those whose work they are inspecting
  • A Labour government will build on the progress made by the Social Work Task Force to strengthen social work qualifying and post-qualifying education and training, and ensure a fair and adequate funding regime for all social work students

Labour Social Work Group – Mission Statement, Activities and Founding Members.

The Labour Social Work group is a campaigning membership organisation. We seek 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 services.

We work towards achieving these aims through collective action in local groups and through participation in national policy debates both within and outside the Labour Party.

We stand for:

  • Social work as a regulated public service profession, whose members work to meet the needs of adults and children living through stressful circumstances and in need of a range of social care services
  • Social workers employed by democratically accountable public and third sector agencies, funded from taxation (complemented when appropriate by charitable donations) and observing the principles of freedom of information, and local decision making
  • Social workers and social work policy makers and managers who engage the adults and children who need social work services in the decisions to be made, both about the nature of the services provided in their communities, and about the services provided to them as individuals and families
  • A social work profession that works collaboratively with other professions, both to achieve a more just society and in day to day practice with communities, families and individuals
  • Publicly funded qualifying and post-qualifying education and training for social workers, informed by high quality ethical research.

Proposed activities

  • Actively recruit group members from: social work, social work education, parliamentarians, local councillors, trades unions, trustees of voluntary organisations,
  • Establish a website, Facebook and Twitter pages and Web-based newsletter
  • Publish a steady stream of articles and blogs in Labour party, ‘left-leaning’ and trade union publications, newsletters, blog pages etc
  • Seek meetings with, and provide background papers for, Labour front bench team (Health, Education, MoJ, DCLG, DWP, Cabinet Office depending on the issues of to be discussed), Labour members of select committees, and Labour local councillors, with the aim of having an input into the development of Labour policies on social work and social care at national and local level
  • Provide information/ support to Labour MPs, local councillors, appointees to health service trusts and school governing bodies, when particular issues come up in their constituencies/ localities for which social work expertise could be helpful
  • Establish links and collaborate with Labour affiliated and member-led groups with similar aims
  • Establish policy groups on particular issues (egs at the moment, inter-professional services to combat child sexual exploitation; plans to outsource statutory social service functions, including child protection; planned changes to funding and content of social work education; the impact of the cuts in legal aid)
  • Support the formation of local groups to seek to influence local social work/social care policies in their areas and contribute to national debates and policy papers

Founding Members of the Labour Social Work Group

  • Prof. Richard Barker
  • Emma Lewell-Buck MP
  • Prof Ian Butler
  • David Button, Norwich Labour Party
  • Jenny Carter, Norwich Labour Party
  • Edmund Coleshill, Norwich Labour Party. Sewell Ward Labour City Council Candidate 2015
  • Alan Cubbage
  • Owen Davies
  • Prof Diane Debell, Norwich Labour Party
  • Prof Jonathan Dickens
  • Sam Earl, Norwich Labour Party
  • Anna Gupta
  • Helen Jackson, Norwich Labour Party
  • Rt. Hon Alan Johnson MP
  • Prof Peter Marsh
  • Maran McKay
  • Prof. Kate Morris
  • Vanessa Morton, Norwich Labour Party
  • Prof Lord Kamlesh Patel of Bradford OBE
  • Jackie Mitchell,  Norwich Labour Party
  • Prof Jonathan Scourfield
  • Prof Mike Stein
  • Dr Beverly Turner-Daly
  • Sally Trench
  • Prof Hilary Tompsett
  • Prof  Jane Tunstill
  • Kay Warbrick, Norwich Labour Party