Chair’s Annual Report and Notes of Westminster meeting 25/07/2019

Notes from the Labour social work group, 25 June, 2019

1 Attenders  Emma Lewell-Buck MP and Lord Mike Watson; 18 supporters/members came to the meeting, including 6 new members and a good mix of students, practitioners, social work educators and retired social workers and academics.

2 Apologies for absence were received from 7 parliamentarians and 29 members/supporters, several of whom provided comments and offered assistance with the group.

3  A brief Chair’s report was presented by June Thobuen and members were   referred to the website 2019 report for more information on activities.

Statistics:

Members/ supporters:  140

Labour MPs/ Lords who are members/ with whom we have been in contact     29 MPs  6 Lords

Website  June 2018-June 2019    454 Views  223 visits

Twitter   996  Followers,    Following 576

Points that have come in from members of the group about issues they would like the group to concentrate on for the coming year, especially with a view having an input on Labour Manifesto and policy process. (Not all agreed LSWG policy but indication of views of Group members )

  • Ideologically, develop a public owned equivalent of ‘disrupted innovation’ currently owned by the Tories. Something around Innovation and quality for public trust type thing. I’ve mentioned it to a couple of MPs who seem to like the idea!
  • Investment in public first – this term appears politically neutral and therefore may appeal to a wider range of voters but is based on putting the public and public institutions first for social and economic investment. It may be the counter argument to ‘disrupted innovation’.
  • Social and economic investment in prevention for communities and people and public. Linked to this, development of Labour run localized services and networks. (eg in Brazil  ALL political parties whether in government or opposition fund social/community networks and services. If Labour had stuck to this instead of moving to centralized systems, they would be in a better place! They need to start a local grassroots system of community participation even when in government.
  • RE Health and social care integration:  Investment in care and care services. They really need to come out and say care should be publicly funded, and not as the government is floating via the media, subject to insurance schemes which again favour the wealthy. I’ve heard that this is the sticking point in the Green paper but I noticed that they are quietly embarking on a media communication strategy. I call this ‘political kite flying’ so once its announced, people are prepared. I’d suggest a way round this for Labour is via taxation, taxation to enter and depart the UK via airports for foreign nationals. May sound quite simple, but given most countries now have inward and outward bound tax it seems a very quick win for us and ALL this money would then be channeled to social care!
  • Abolish internal markets and internal single organisation commissioning procurement rules. Its against integration! This would require legislative changes. Develop an alternative pubic focused commissioning process which measures against outcomes and involvement and avoids making contracts subject to annual tender.
  • Continue to call for the ending of the preferential funding of Frontline and fast track social work education more generally. Engage with Labour MPs and councillors, public and vol sector employers and HEIs towards equitable distribution of whatever funding is available for qualifying social work education and training. (Background Note:  funding for FL is continuing whilst funding for the generally successful Teaching Partnerships (covering adults as well as children’s services is being phased out and sum allocated to HEI student bursaries and other government funding has not increased for several years (UPDATE- no increase for 2019-20)
  • Urge Labour policy makers to move towards making Social Work a unified profession/ service   within government i.e remove DHSC & DfE separation  (at local authority level too)
  • Must continue to oppose roll-out of NAAS  and attempts by government to dictate what is social work, and emphasise that LSWG should work with UNISON on this.
  • Continue to show how austerity policies (and hostile environment towards the most in need) (education, health, social security, justice (lack of legal aid) Housing, refugee and immigration services are impacting on the ability of social workers to provide a service to those most in need of their assistance.
  • Encourage moves towards neighbourhood-based community social work
  • Positive responses were received in responses to the recently circulated Labour Party strategy  document on strengthening Civil Society ‘From  Paternalism to Participation  But it was noted that there needs to be stronger commitment to the role of a properly funded local government bring this about. file:///C:/Users/June%20Thoburn/Documents/Documents/labour%20soc%20wk/Labour-Civil-Society-Strategy-June-2019.pdf   (UPDATE The lead MP for this Steve Reed MP has just moved from his role as Civil Society Shadow Minister to the Shadow Children’s Minister.

June Thoburn announced that she will be retiring as Chair following this meeting.  She proposed that Prof Sam Baron  a social work academic and researcher at Manchester Met University, with a specialism in Adult social Services take up the role as Chair following time for a careful handover and that Helen Wood (a former Labour Councillor and currently children with disabilities specialist social worker be appointed as a Vice Chair.  (Bios of these will be on the website shortly- the hand-over will take place over the Summer)

8 attenders or those sending apologies offered to be committee members; additionally 12 members/supporters offered assistance with different aspects of the group’s work

Hon Treasurer’s Report Jackie Mitchell, Hon Treasurer has sent her apologies. Her report is:

Current Bank balance  £201   Main expense  Website fee  £15

It was noted that UNISON has funded 2 Pop-ups for the group to use an conferences etc.

Jackie has been Hon Treasurer since the start of the group in 2015 but gives notice that she is retiring from this position.  JT thanked Jackie for taking on this role and undertaking the complex business of getting bank account set up.  The incoming Chair and Vic-Chair will seek a new Chair within their own areas and a handover will be arranged.

5  Professor Ray Jones distributed and talked through his briefing on what LSWG would be looking for in a Labour Manifesto/ Policy document.

NOTES DISTRIBUTED AT MEETING 

a) Rescind the 2014 statutory regulatory changes which allow statutory children’s social work services to be contracted out to commercial companies and other non-public organisations.

 The current position is that in England [unlike anywhere else in the world] any profit or not-for-profit company can be contracted by local authorities – forced or coerced by the government – to undertake all statutory children’s social work responsibilities including:

  • Children in need assessments and child protection investigations
  • Setting and managing children in need and child protection plans
  • Initiating court proceedings to have children removed from their families.
  • Deciding where and with whom children subject to a care order should then live.

Outsourcing generates:

  • Additional (continuing) cash and time costs
  • Takes attention away from current services.
  • Adds complexity and confused and distant accountability
  • Creates unnecessary change and churn and instability
  • Delays service improvement
  • Drains children’s social services of public funding

Companies including G4S, Serco, Virgin Care, Amey and Mouchel have engaged with the DfE in discussions about how to open up the market for statutory children’s social work services [in England] with the DfE advised by KPMG and LaingBuisson and with Mott Macdonald now contracted to shape social worker accreditation.

This all generates a poorer riskier service at a higher cost.

Out-sourcing has increasingly been a public concern and found to generate high risks, and the 2014 changes were significantly opposed. Rescinding the power to outsource statutory children’s social work duties and powers is likely to be popular.

There are other actions which can and should be taken if local authorities are continuously not providing safe and adequate services:

  • Mandatory partnerships with well-performing councils.
  • Government-appointed service directors with power to direct a council on its arrangements for children’s social services.
  • A time-limited governance board – with a membership decided following consultation with the LGA -to replace councillors and allocated the powers and duties of the council.

b) Introduce local authority performance measures which promote public sector provision to secure continuity of care for children and families.

c) Amend the Children in Need annual statistical returns to include:

  • Percentage of looked after children within a foster care or residential care placement directly provided by the local authority.
  • Percentage of social workers – and separately of managers – directly employed by the local authority.

The current position is that:

  • 72% of children’s homes [in England] are now provided by private companies.
  • Almost half of local authorities [in England] provide no children’s homes.
  • More than a third of foster children [in England] are placed through private commercial foster care agencies.
  • Almost 20% of children’s social workers working in local authorities are short-term temporary social workers employed through for-profit employment agencies.

This all generates a poorer riskier service at a higher cost.

c)   Similarly for adult social services require assessments to protect vulnerable adults and mental capacity assessments to be undertaken by public authorities and not non-public companies. 

d) Re-fund and re-build community services for families with children under five (Sure Start) and youth provision.

e) Support university-based initial qualifying education for social workers and cease skewed funding for programmes generating too early specialisation and fore-shortened training and education. 

 f) Require Social Work England and the other UK social work regulators to develop – in partnership with social work employers and social work education providers – programmes of post/qualifying training and education and PQ qualifications, noting that retention and career development is at least as important as social worker recruitment if stable and experienced workforces are to be created.

6  Emma Lewell-Buck MP  and Lord Mike Watson opened the discussion from the perspective of Labour MPs and Peers work is occurring on these areas.  Labour is committed to campaigning for resources to be put back into adult and children social care services and strengthening local government. M W reported that Labour plans to address Early Help policy in the coming year. Also  focussing on Adult Social Care policy in the coming year as Govt Green Paper expected  (Update note to members  House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee)  has just produced a consultation document on this:   https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201719/ldselect/ldeconaf/392/392.pdf

There followed a discussion on this and other key issues that the LSWG wishes to bring to the attention of Labour MPs and Labour councillors. Key points:

  • Discussion on arguments advanced by government to detach statutory children services from local authorities. A key point made by attenders was that neither expense nor quality arguments stand up to close scrutiny. The ideological nature of the changes was discussed.
  • Discussion on the need to bring back theoretical understandings of environmental deprivation including the importance of bringing the voices of children and vulnerable adults into strategic thinking.

The following  national and local concerns were raised in the discussion:

  • The lack of enough good quality children’s homes to meet need and the unresolved issue of education and training for residential child care workers
  • The rise in unregulated provision for teenagers in care or edge of care
  • Access to Education being denied to children in care but also those on the edge of care, and especially those with special Educational needs
  • It was noted that an average of three to five plus moves of carer per year was experienced by older children in care
  • Insecurity of the provision both for community services and for residential providers (adult and children’s services)- many providers are unsure if they will be there in 2 years. Need for Labour to go back to a grant system to Vol Orgs and away from tendering which gets in the way of continuity of relationships
  • An absence in the workforce of the skills for social workers and professional colleagues working with the most vulnerable children and their families: Importance for Labour to have a 5 year plan to address this.
  • Attention was drawn to the ‘Reclaim Social Care’ Google Group which is working to encourage a Labour strategy for adult social care. Links have been established between LSWG and Gordon Peters re their campaign to influence  Labour Manifesto on social care
  • There was a feeling that the terms ‘Social Work’ has become associated only with Local Authority statutory social work and the more prevalent term in adult services ‘Social care’ could lead to a false distinction about the skills required when dealing with vulnerability and complex dynamics.
  • There was discussion on the tendency for direct work with children and adults to be seen as a role for unqualified support workers.
  • the implication of separating out Adults and Children’s social work was discussed (creating a focus on the individual rather than seeing people needing help within families and communities. Information systems which focuss on individual records has a role in this.
  • An over-arching concern expressed was that apart from a small number of knowledgeable and vocal Labour MPs (E L-B and MW being exceptions) there is a lack of vision within Labour of what Social Work stands for and its central position in the provision of services for vulnrable adults and children..
  • There was discussion of qualifying and post-qualifying social work education. Those present expressed support for the position taken by LSWG to date re concerns about expansion of Frontline fast-track resulting in;  inequality of support for students following HEI courses and undue emphasis on child and family social work (risking ‘squeezing out’ training for adult social work). Group should continue to support Labour Party line in last Manifesto to support all University routes into social work and not single out Frontline (as it had done in earlier manifestos).  And ask Labour Shadow education team to support better funding for social work students and social work courses and a fairer distribution of funds between the different training routes.
  • Jill Archer of UNISON led the discussion of concerns about how the new national accreditation system (NAAS) links to retention and performance. E L-B gave a response to a PQ – the initial stage of NAAS was £30m. Concerns raised by attenders were: NAAS is overly focussed on identifying ‘bad’ social workers and not focusing on development and learning in the role; overly focussed on narrowly defined Child Protection rather than child and family social work more broadly (eg community social work, foster care and adoption; potentially undermines local authority social work service as could lead to more experienced social workers leaving rather than ’taking the test);  in summary, generally flawed thinking that has resulted from this set of DfE policies.
  • The view was expressed that incentives provided by the DFE are felt to be affecting the overall evaluation where evaluators (including HEI-based researchers) are tied in by their funding needs to presenting success. BASW is also bidding for some grants to provide learning for those taking the NAAS tests. Some Universities are also believed to be involved. Risk of narrowing qualifying, ASYE and PQ learning- ‘teaching to the test’.
  • The effect of the emphasis of policy attention and also government resources on child protection social work on palliative care social work was discussed- the narrowly-focused accreditation process is marginalising the role of the social worker taking a more wholistic role. This re-defines the profession in a way that is not helpful.
  • General discussion about the trend to divide social workers into ‘supervisors’ and ‘support’ (unqualified) roles- An attender who has worked in both countries commented that this trend has also been seen in the Netherlands. This was felt to link to the wider construction of social problems as individual and social work as policing, taking the analysis out of the role.

7       Thanks were given to June for her work in the role of founding chair of LSWG.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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