Several members responded to the request to contribute to the Labour Party Policy Forum. The Priority Areas this time 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 this time but are stored in hope that these will become priority areas. A submission was made to each of the priority areas- Thanks to Jane Tunstill and James Blewett who broadened out our family support submission to include older age groups. Also in accompanying submission we made the point that, although they overlap, Labour should be aware that early years and early help are not synonymous. Rob Murphy led on the mental health submission but has also put in a separate more detailed submission (attached). A general submission on social work was put in to both of the priority groups. If you would like to see these on the Labour website, go to yourbritain.org.uk You will need a Labour Party membership number to sign in, but I am attaching all the submissions to this post.
House of Commons 4-5.30 Committee Room 21.
The meeting was arranged by Sharon Hodgson MP (Shadow Children’s Minister) and her researcher- Daniel Tye, to whom many thanks for this opportunity to meet up. Also there (and helping to put the word around about the group amongst Labour parliamentarians were Emma Lewell-Buck (Shadow Minister at DCLG with Troubled Families as part of her brief), Cat Smith and Clive Lewis (Shadow Ministers for Women and Equalities and in Energy Department. It had been necessary to change the time, so Baroness Armstrong (Patron of the group who had been intending to Chair the first hour was unable to do so. Also, Luciana Burger (Shadow Cabinet member with the mental health brief) and Lord Watson (children spokesman in the Lords) and 3 other group members MPs who had intended to at least ’drop in’ were unable to do so.
Prof Ray Jones (member of Association of Professors of Social Work) and Sam Baron (Chair of JUC-SWEC) introduced some key issues of concern following the recent government announcement of plans to change the social work regulation and training systems. Issues raised included:
- The expanded funding (channelled via the Frontline partnership) of fast-track specialist routes, and the negative impact on the (still majority) university courses;
- The move from a broad-based University education in preparation for the challenges of a social work career to an ‘on the job’ skills-based specialist training with a narrow focus on child protection.
- The likely impact on the availability of social workers for the elderly and adults with disabilities as funded places are reserved for work with children (at a time when recent legislation and generational pressures require more social workers to be part of integrated health and social care teams
- The fragmentation of service delivery and the lack of continuity of relationships between social workers and those they serve, and with their professional colleagues resulting from the ‘outsourcing’ models being favoured by government policies and funding models
There was a lively discussion about the implications of these changes (coming on top of changes in housing, benefits and local government cuts) on the service to vulnerable families. Strategies were discussed for labour parliamentarians and professionals to help each other to challenge (nationally and locally) mis-information about the costs and proposed benefits of proposed changes and publicise negative consequences on vulnerable adults and children of increased case-loads, high vacancy rates, and the service instability caused by the over-use of agency/interim managers and social workers. Possible future plans and directions included:
- Finding ways of co-ordinating the work of the labour shadow team and select committee members so that party policy towards social work (and responses to government ‘initiatives’) is ‘joined up’ across the education, health, DCLG, home office, and justice teams.
- Use our different roles and media contacts to engage the voice of the public (the petition to halt the proposed privatisation of child protection decision making was an example).
- Members of the group in direct practice roles can provide anonymised examples of the impact eg of changes of social worker, cases un-allocated when agency workers move on. Students and lecturers can give examples of potentially goodl social workers who have had to give up their courses because of financial hardship
- Group members to provide background briefings to MPs and Lords on issues where our members have expertise which are about to come up in debates, consultations, select committees or legislation.
- To assist with this, LSWG will gather information on the specialist areas of LSWK members so that specialist reference groups can provide a speedy response to requests of information and case examples
- Members of the group to draft possible PQs.
- In the immediate future there are serious concerns about the cost of the ministerial ‘reform’ proposals, the way in which the tendering process for the various ‘initiatives’ is being conducted, particularly with contracts going to the private sector. There was discussion of how information might be collected (eg via FOI requests) to support a referral to the Public Accounts Committee to investigate the use of public money.
- A first step is to provide information to the Education Select Committee’s current inquiry and to consider whether the Health select committee might also consider the threat to the future of social work within the health services
- Find ways for the group to contribute to Labour National Strategy Policy Forum
- Link up with UNISON, and other socialist societies to propose motions, become involved in fringe meetings at Labour Conference 2016. This needs to start now.
Portcullis House Westminster 1-2pm 23 Feb 2016
The meeting was held to coincide with a meeting with Labour MPs later in the day. The timing was difficult for some who would have wanted to come, but was arranged to fit with a meeting with Labour parliamentarians that afternoon.
- One or other of the meetings was attended by 21 members, supporters (mostly not ‘signed up’ as members because employment or other reasons precluded being linked with a particular political party) or observers (from BASW, Unison, SWAN (Social Work Action Network); APSW and JUC-SWEC (representative bodies for social work professor and University lecturers). Members came from N East, N West, N Ireland, Midlands, East Anglia, London and South Coast, and included student social workers, recently qualified and more experienced social workers and team leaders, retired social workers and managers and academics and researchers.
- June Thoburn summarised the reasons for starting the group in February 2015 (listed on website). There are now just over 108 ‘signed up’ members and 35 supporters
There are nearly 500 twitter followers of @laboursocialworkgroup
Briefings on particular issues (eg proposed changes to social work education; outsourcing of social work decision making consequent upon the Statutory Instrument of 2015; the possible introduction of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse) have been sent to individual shadow ministers, MPs and members of H of Lords There have been 2 briefing meetings with Labour Shadow ministers (Steve McCabe and Bill Esterson in Spring
Links have been made with Labour affiliated groups (Socialist Health – who hosted a meeting at the Brighton Conference- Labour Housing, Mental Health, Disability and Labour Lawyers
There has been lobbying re local issues (only in Norfolk as yet but the group will support others who would like to campaign locally).
- Since the officers of the group are self-appointed, Alan Cubbage proposed and Bob murphy seconded that for a 2 year term June Thoburn will service as Chair, Bill Esterson MP as Vice Chair, Sam Earl as Secretary and Jackie Mitchell as Treasurer.
- There was a discussion of financing of the group. Our needs are modest but it was agree that donations would be sought to fund the website, meeting placards, and fares for students/ service users to attend meetings.
- How to get the group better known and recruit more members was raised. Twitter is already active. Donna Peach offered to give us more of a presence on Facebook. Andrew Hollingworth (who convenes a group of student social workers) will publicise the Labour Group amongst students. (He will contact seeking offers of assistance to talk to local groups of student social workers).
- There followed a lively discussion of strategy for the coming year, especially in terms of having a route into Labour policy-making. Key issues, to be taken up later at the MPs meeting- including: the importance of social work education at qualifying level focusing on social work as a ‘generic’ profession; labour’s policy on integration of health and social care across the needs and age groups; outsourcing of social work decision making. Joanna Hughes spoke of the powerlessness of probation officers in the face of the governments plans to privatise the probation service and the present increased vulnerability of potention victioms and the redused and confusing service to offenders and their families.