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.