LSWG open meeting with parliamentarians November 2017

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

  1. The New Labour introduction of independent social work practices in 2006.
  2. The coalition government’s two changes in statutory regulation in 2014.
  3. The Autumn 2014 meetings at the DfE
  4. Mr Cameron’s ‘new market insurgents’ and ‘academisation’ speeches.
  5. The government’s –defeated- intentions in the Children and Social Work Bill to set aside statutory responsibilities and rights.
  6. Theresa May’s government’s refusal to reverse or revise the 2014 statutory regulation changes.
  7. The long-delayed publication of the LaingBuisson report on creating a children’s social work market place.
  8. The increasing interests of venture capitalists and hedge funds in the ‘children’s social services industry’.

WHAT HAS ALREADY HAPPENED

  1. 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.
  2. The implosion of the children’s social work workforce and the growth of private profit-making social worker recruitment agencies.
  3. The dominance of profit-making children’s residential care and foster care companies.
  4. The undermining of the voluntary sector.

 

THE CONSEQUENCES

  1. The large sums of money now going out of services as profit taken by private companies.
  2. 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.
  3. The statutory requirement that companies first and primary responsibility and accountability is to their owners/ shareholders and not to the public or community.
  4. The control by management accountants rather than by professionals experienced in and committed to the services.
  5. The additional costs incurred by central and local government in setting up, letting and managing contracts.
  6. The increasingly complexity and confusion of accountability for services between contractors and contractees.
  7. The selling on of contracts when companies are taken over or merge and where ownership becomes even more opaque.
  8. 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.
  9. The prevalence of management consultants from the big international accountancy firms.
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LSWG members’ meeting November 2017

Notes of Labour Social Work Group Members’ Meeting held 7 November 3-4pm in Room 2 Westminster Hall, followed by a discussion meeting in House of Commons Committee Room 5

  • June Thoburn welcomed the 25 members present, and noted that in addition 8 other members who could not make this meeting (because of change to earlier time) will be at the discussion meeting to follow. Apologies for absence had been received from 15 members, including LSWG Patron Baroness Hilary Armstrong, Vice Chair Bill Esterson and Hon Secretary Sam Earl. She noted that attenders/ those sending apologies for absence were from across England and N Ireland.
  • She thanked Emma Lewell-Buck MP and her recently appointed researcher Abbie Sparrow for sponsoring and arranging rooms for the two meetings and explained that Emma was unable to attend as sponsor as she has sustained a serious wrist injury and had an operation the next day. Those present sent their best wishes to her for a full and speedy recovery.

 

  • Chair’s report

    – June reported that there are now just over 200 names on the mailing
    list, 170 of whom are members and the others ‘supporters’ (mainly people whose job descriptions mean that they do not wish to be associated with a political party).  40 of those on the list are Parliamentarians, and there has been contact with 20 of these over the past 18 months (including providing briefings for debates and parliamentary committees).
    –  Website-  563 Views  268 visits
    –  Twitter  814 Followers  Following 573 (especial thanks to regular tweeters and Jane Tunstill, Rob Murphy, Helen Wood, Steph Gee and tweeter  ‘Ermintrude’ who have contributed to website).  More contributions to website would be very welcome.
    – Since the last national meeting 20 months ago  members of the LSWG have:

  • Submitted evidence to the Labour Policy Forum (on website)
  • Prepared and sent to relevant Shadow ministers comments on the Draft Labour Manifesto for 2017 General Election.  This had a part to play in Labour’s specific support for Frontline in 2015 Manifesto being dropped and replaced by a statement that a Labour Government will support adequate funding for all routes into social work.  However, contrary to views expressed by most social workers (and passed on by Chair to a Labour consultation meeting on this) Labour’s support for Mandatory Reporting of child abuse remained in the Manifesto.
  • Members have met with UNISON Labour Link, especially re UNISON’s policy to oppose the introduction of NAAS (National Assessment and Accreditation System).
  • LSWG and members as individuals worked (successfully) with Article 39 and others to provide briefings to parliamentarians to ensure that the parts of the Education and Social Work Bill that would have diminished children’s rights were dropped.
  • Provided briefings on regulation of social work and social work education for Labour Parliamentarians (especially Emma Lewell-Buck MP, Lord Watson, Lord Hunt, Baroness Pitkeathley who led for Labour in Lords and Commons) on Children and Social Work Bill- especially urging successfully for the  Social Work England not to be directly under Government control.
  • Suggested PQs for parliamentarians on a range of social work and social services issues and responded to specific questions.
  • Contacts made with several of the newer intakes of Labour MPs. At least 2 have backgrounds in social work.  Information about the group has been sent recently to 6 MPs known to have spoken on social work related issues.
  • On the disappointing side, these activities (apart from Social Work Regulation) have centred on child and family social work and services. One problem has been that with all the changes in the Shadow Cabinet, it has been difficult to establish links. Meetings with Luciana Berger re mental health and correspondence with Sarah Champion were helpful but these no longer have a Shadow Cabinet role.  Efforts continue to make contact with Health Shadows but (apart from with Lord Hunt over social work regulation) these have not been successful to date. However the Social Care Shadow, Barbara Keeley sent her apologies for not being able to make the discussion meeting and links have been established with her Office.  A meeting is planned with Yvonne Fovargue MP (in the Labour shadow DCLG team) who sent her apologies for the discussion meeting to discuss issues around local government duties with respect to social care services across needs groups.

Hon Treasurer’s Report

  • Jackie Mitchell reported that a Bank Account has now been set up with Coop Bank and, after payment of the web-site name registration there is just under £100 in the account. There was a discussion as to whether the LSWG should have a more formal approach to membership, signalled by a membership fee rather than a request for donations. Jackie Mitchell, Pan Trevithick, Jo Warner and June Thoburn agreed to be in touch to see how this could be achieved in as inclusive way as possible and report back to members. There was some discussion about how any income could be used, in addition to the website.  Suggestions included assistance to those with limited income to attend meetings and having a presence at next Labour Conference and/or Labour Local Government Conference (For the moment, donations (cheques) of £5-£10 welcome (to Jackie Mitchell 3 Victoria St, Norwich NR13QX.

Appointment of Honorary Officers

  • All four Hon Officers are willing to serve for another year and this was unanimously agreed by members
  • Pam Trvithick agreed to be Membership Secretary and this offer was warmly accepted
  • In order to maximise wider awareness of LSWG, it was agreed to expand the number of patrons. The contribution of Baroness Armstrong in providing  a valuable link with the House of Lords is much appreciated, and it would be good to build on this. It was agreed members would communicate suggested names to the Chair – including but not necessarily parliamentarians.

Discussion

There was a lively discussion with positive suggestions and offers of help on
–     Labour’s policy for social work and social care services, whilst in opposition and to be included in a Manifesto for government

  • How best to improve the viability, membership and impact of the group.

Key areas for the group to work on were

– opposition nationally and locally to outsourcing of social work services –  including supporting members whose areas are having these ‘new models’ of service provision forced on them.  As noted above, links have already been made with a Shadow cabinet member of the DCLG team.  JT will get a date and then see which members can make that date.

  • Importance of covering the whole area of social work practice- including mental health, the elderly and working age adults/ disability as well as continuing to work on child and family issues.
  • With others, keep a close eye on how the new registrar Social Work England is set up and proposals for registration of social workers and accreditation of social work education. Try to ensure that social workers are members of the Social Work England Board and involved in appointment of key staff.
  • Re ways of improving the impact of the LSWG, following this meeting it may be possible to identify members working in particular areas (South West, West Midlands, North West, North East, East Anglia are possibilities)  to engage local labour MPs and Councillors and perhaps join with other groups (eg BASW, SWAN, UNISON) and provide briefings on local issues.

The lively discussion was curtailed by need to move on to Discussion Meeting.