Notes from Labour Social Work Group Discussion Meeting held in House of Commons, Committee Room 5 7 November 2017 4-5 pm
Shaping Labour Policy for Social Work after years of Austerity
The meeting was attended by about 35 members and supporters, and hosted by Lord Mike Watson and Tracy Brabin MP- both members of the Labour Shadow Education team. Those present sent their good wishes and hopes for a speedy recovery to Emma Lewell-Buck MP who was planning to sponsor the meeting but was having surgery following a broken wrist.
There were 3 key themes
– the impact on services for vulnerable people across the age and needs groups of increasing outsourcing and other ways of delivering public services
Prof Ray Jones led on ‘outsourcing/ privatisation’ and provided the notes included below. Those at this and the earlier LSWG members’ meeting gave examples of how this is leading to poor morale and increased turnover and early retirement amongst social worker. Lack of continuity of social workers is resulting in a deterioration in services. Ray Jones’ notes will inform LSWG discussions about what we would like to see in the next Labour Party Manifesto. Please let June Thoburn have any comments so that we can get on with this work
– the impact on social work services and social work education of the introduction of a new regulator Social Work England
Mike Watson and June Thoburn spoke of the way in which LSWG members helped with briefings on this part of the Bill and were successful in ensuring some independence for Social Work England from direct government control. There was a discussion of how members need to remain vigilant as the civil servants work on details. It was noted that the Government Minister in the Lords specifically committed government to consultation with the profession but that discussions on the appointment of Board members are being conducted in secret.
There was also in this part of the meeting discussion of the waste of scarce resources on the introduction of the National Assessment and Accreditation Scheme (NASS). Surveys of UNISON and BASW members showing that this will not only waste much needed social worker time and resources for services and CPD programmes, but is likely to result in experienced social workers leaving the profession. Responses to the government consultation to this effect were sent by UNISON and BASW after consultation with their members. The responses to the consultation have still not been published DfE is proceeding with the same scheme, albeit at a slower pace. UNISON members at the meeting reported on their continuing campaign to stop this being rolled out.
Suggestions for PQs from members, and information about areas of conflict/ disagreement as these discussions go forward, will be welcomed by the Education and Health Shadow teams in Lords and Commons.
– the increasing evidence of the impact of austerity on the life-chances of vulnerable children and families.
Tracy Brabin introduced this discussion, referring particularly to the problems she is seeing in her constituency work and also in her discussions with Kirklees council struggling with the massive cuts over the last 15 years. She has the Shadow Cabinet role for early years services and is especially interested to learn how decisions are being made by local councils on Sure Start Children’s Centres. Emma Corlett, a Norfolk County Councillor told of her concerns that the idea is being floated of using ‘Social Impact Bonds’ as a way of funding Sure Start Centres that are under threat. She will contact Tracy directly, as will LSWG member Prof Jane Tunstill, on the importance of social worker attachments to children’s centres.
Suggested PQs and briefing notes welcome
Kate Morris gave factual (and deeply worrying) information from recent research about the link between living in a deprived area and increased likelihood of children needing to come into care. (notes and references to follow). KM will contact Tracy Brabin directly.
There was a discussion amongst those present of the impact of cuts in social security payments, and increased homelessness and mental health problems on the increased referrals for a social work service at a time when social work recruitment and retention is struggling. In particular, the need for Labour to work to prevent the total withdrawal of the Revenue Support Grant (RSG) which will inevitably result in poorer areas having services which are even more under-funded.
Those at the meeting said they would send any further information, especially on Sure Start and potential impact of withdrawal of RSG directly to Tracy Brabin.
Notes from Ray Jones THE ROAD TO PRIVATISATION FOR CHILDREN’S SOCIAL WORK, SOCIAL SERVICES and CHILD PROTECTION
- The New Labour introduction of independent social work practices in 2006.
- The coalition government’s two changes in statutory regulation in 2014.
- The Autumn 2014 meetings at the DfE
- Mr Cameron’s ‘new market insurgents’ and ‘academisation’ speeches.
- The government’s –defeated- intentions in the Children and Social Work Bill to set aside statutory responsibilities and rights.
- Theresa May’s government’s refusal to reverse or revise the 2014 statutory regulation changes.
- The long-delayed publication of the LaingBuisson report on creating a children’s social work market place.
- The increasing interests of venture capitalists and hedge funds in the ‘children’s social services industry’.
WHAT HAS ALREADY HAPPENED
- The Trojan horse of the forced and coerced movement of statutory children’s social work outside of direct local authority provision – with added complexity and costs, and time-delays in addressing concerns and generating improvement.
- The implosion of the children’s social work workforce and the growth of private profit-making social worker recruitment agencies.
- The dominance of profit-making children’s residential care and foster care companies.
- The undermining of the voluntary sector.
- The large sums of money now going out of services as profit taken by private companies.
- The downward movement in quality – and qualifications, skills and terms and conditions of workers – as companies seek to cut bottom-line costs to generate more profit.
- The statutory requirement that companies first and primary responsibility and accountability is to their owners/ shareholders and not to the public or community.
- The control by management accountants rather than by professionals experienced in and committed to the services.
- The additional costs incurred by central and local government in setting up, letting and managing contracts.
- The increasingly complexity and confusion of accountability for services between contractors and contractees.
- The selling on of contracts when companies are taken over or merge and where ownership becomes even more opaque.
- The lack of transparency and openess when services are provided by commercial companies with no responsibilities for freedom of information and public reporting but can hide behind commercial confidentiality.
- The prevalence of management consultants from the big international accountancy firms.