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.
Brighton Conference and the Fringe meeting with Socialist Health Association
When plans were made in July for Labour Social Work Group to join a discussion on Labour’s policy for Integrated Health and Care, the Party leadership was still up in the air. I can’t begin to describe the heady atmosphere at the Conference, enhanced by perfect sunny weather and the backdrop of bustling Brighton. So I’ll concentrate on the workshop.
First, I had to drag myself away from a packed conference hall just as John McDonnell was about to speak. Against that competition, I was rather surprised that there were around 40 people at the Socialist Health Association Fringe Meeting on Social Care and Health. The ordering in the title was deliberate, as the SHA committee were keen to have social care up front and not in its usual position as an ‘add-on’ to health.
As was the case with many of the billed events at Conference there were changes in planned speakers due to changes in Shadow Cabinet roles. So Emily Thornberry wasn’t there as she has been appointed Shadow Minister for Employment (where she will still have scope to put her previous experience in health and care into good use when impact of benefit cuts and work assessment tests comes up). However, it was a good opportunity to meet Angela Rayner MP, (one of the new intake – already in the Whips office and a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee). Drawing on her work as a carer (not a well-trodden route into parliament), as a UNISON rep and now from her constituency caseload, she provided powerful arguments as to why the health and social care services should work closely together, and against the fragmentation that is resulting from increasing privatisation and cost cutting. We also heard a consumer perspective from a Labour Chair of a Health Watch Board and on Health and Wellbeing Boards
I used my 15 minutes to introduce people to Labour Social Work Group (and to thank Socialist Health Association for the considerable encouragement they have given us in our fledgling months). I started by emphasising that Health, Care, Social Care and Social Work have to be conceptually ’unpicked’, when trying to come up with ways to better integrate them. I used a quote from Robin Miller of the University of Birmingham Health Services Management Centre to emphasise that in the next year or so Labour has to move beyond the warm words about ‘integration’ being ‘a good thing’ and get down to detail. In his paper ‘Is integration or fragmentation the starting point to improve prevention?‘ Miller wrote:
‘We are still trying to understand what types of integration will make the greatest impact in different contexts and for which beneficiaries. ….We need greater precision as to exactly what type of integration is being proposed and between what services. At present there is often a dense conceptual and definitional fog accompanying integration (my emphasis). The term is being used nationally (and indeed locally) in relation to a diverse range of collaborative arrangements between a host of different organisations, services and
professions in order to (hopefully) address a variety of complex issues.’
I used this quote to emphasise that the SOCIAL WORK profession, with its emphasis on the social, is key to working in partnership with vulnerable people of all ages to help them put together the combination of health, therapeutic, social and other public services (including housing, and social security payments) that best responds to individual and family needs and wishes. Much of the emphasis around ‘integration’ has been on services for the elderly, but I emphasised that working age disabled people, those with mental ill-health or addictions and parents and children with long or short term conditions and stressors, also need the benefit of effectively co-ordinated health, care and social work services.
Which allowed me to raise the question of the most appropriate arrangements for the delivery of social work and other components of social care within better co-ordinated service systems. These are likely to be different for the different age/needs groups. (We’ve already had examples of mental health social workers moving from Social Services Departments to Health Trusts and back again).
So going back to Miller’s really important analysis of what is known (or rather the little that is known) about ‘integrated health and care’ to date, now is the time for the Labour Party policy groups and Shadow ministers to move from the generality to the detail. And a joint plea from SHA and Labour Social Work Group that, in doing so, they take time to listen to the Labour party members from across the health and social care professions who have to make the systems they come up with work.
My final plea was for Labour policy makers and shadow ministers to recognise and do something about the fragmented responsibility for social work. Not only is it split between Education and Health Shadow Ministers, but also Home Office, MoJ, Work and Pensions and DCLG, are directly or indirectly employing social workers. The confusion about specialist versus generic initial training (including the rapid expansion of the fast-track specialist social work training courses – Frontline, Step-up and now Think Ahead) is just one example of the Tory agenda that the newly appointed Shadow ministers need to get to grips with. The Tories are not hanging about in their drive to outsource key decision making roles, and their intervening in social work education in order to produce a more compliant profession. Look no further than Cameron’s speech to the Tory conference.
There was a very lively debate- around whether social work is a single profession, or two; whether there is a place for mandatory reporting of child abuse, and more broadly about the impact of the social security cuts and housing crisis which are pushing more and more adults and children beyond the reach of community-based preventive services resulting in ever-increasing pressure of hospital and residential care.
I also made contact with Labour Campaign for Mental Health, and discovered class (the Centre for Labour and Social Studies- a very welcome addition to the left of centre think talk world (www.classonline.org.uk) So now there is work to be done in contacting the Shadow team, who need to quickly get to grips with social work issues if the worst of the planned Tory assaults are to be exposed. All offers of help, joining in meetings in particular areas, writing briefings gratefully received. See below list of shadow team whose portfolios touch on social work.
June Thoburn Interim Chair
This week there have been some debates about one of the ‘old chestnuts’ that has haunted the social work profession for many years. Do we need different initial education programmes for adults and children and families social work? Narey spoke to ADCS (Association of Directors of Childrens’ Services) seeming quite keen on the idea.
For me, the generic nitial teaching and learning that social workers embark on is a strength of the profession. Children live with adults. Adults live with children. Sometimes, children even live with older adults. Sometimes, grandparents are the primary carers for children. It isn’t rocket science really. Yet that seems to be a difficult concept for some who propose separate and fast track training (rather than education) schemes in social work to handle. Maybe because it doesn’t follow the narrative that schemes like ‘Frontline’ want to establish that specific areas of children and families social work is somehow fundamentally different (and by implication more complex) than other areas in which social work happens.
On considering the government preferences to establish ‘fast track elite’ routes into social work via ‘Frontline’ and ‘Think Ahead’ (an odd type of programme which seems to take the problems identified in child protection social work and map them into a mental health setting — a great example of looking for a solution before identifying a problem), time to consider what being a ‘social worker’ and learning to become a social worker actually means.
Does it mean leaving university being able to drop into a statutory adult safeguarding or child protection team and be ‘ready to practice’ (or ready to do a computer-based test for ‘accreditation’ to be a child protection social worker)? For me, that’s getting the whole process of learning the wrong way round. Social work is more than working in a local authority or in a statutory role but this is where all the conversations about initial social work education are happening. What do employing local authorities want? As the health and social care landscape changes though, it’s worth considering that social work is far more than ‘local authority’ social work and training/learning to be a social worker needs to develop far more skills than what a local authority needs and wants. The profession needs to be more ambitious and forward thinking.
Innovation isn’t solely getting new people into the profession. We need to think far more about how people stay in the profession and grow into specific roles. I am all for role-specific training but think that’s far better placed through post-qualification support with the employer taking some responsibility jointly with universities, rather than solely remaining the responsibility of initial qualification programmes.
Being at university, learning to be a social worker isn’t about learning about tasks and functions or it shouldn’t be. It’s about learning theoretical bases for social work. It’s about learning how the law impacts social work practice through the life course. It’s about learning the history of social work and and sociology. It’s about understanding systems and how they impact on oppressive structures. It’s about learning about power and the importance of it in the role which we have. These theories and issues are common to all social work and it’s what places and defines the profession. Yes, it’s useful to have input about child protection work, some lectures on working with people with mental illnesses, physical and learning disabilities, maybe even the odd lecture on older people (it was only one in the two year course I did!). But really, the knowledge can be picked up on the job. The profession is about learning how to implement theories, evaluate evidence, understand research and ensuring that social models are considered when looking at life courses.
Anyone who suggests that placements or learning about adult or mental health services won’t be useful to a social worker entering children’s services demonstrates an ignorance in what social work and social work education is and vice versa. Suggesting that people going into children’s services don’t need to understand the impact of dementia on family dynamics loses one of the key fundamentals about social work as work within societies and families.
The actual skill is learning to transfer knowledge and experiences across different sectors and settings. There are skills in learning to reflect and grow as a professional.
So we need to consider if we want a profession whose initial qualification route pumps out ‘practice ready’ social workers? ‘Practice ready’ cannot come after a three year degree course or a two year postgraduate course. ‘Practice ready’ makes assumptions that learning has a finite end. The end of the social work course is the beginning of professional learning. The employer has a role to develop a graduate with the knowledge for the role they are employed to do. The role of the university and the initial degree course, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, is to equip new social workers with an understanding of the theoretical basis of the profession, an understanding of social history and the skills of reflection and interpretation of evidence as well as the ability to conduct research projects and evaluate knowledge.
The push towards specialisation in social work and the potential for two separate education and training routes into the profession has many risks and interestingly there is an agenda which is being pushed by employers and government to go down this route. This is because focusing on tasks and specifics loses the unifying force of the profession and the focus on the drive for social justice. If we move to train ‘child protection workers’ rather than teach ‘social workers who specialise in child protection roles’ we have lost the soul of the profession.
There’s scope for challenge to the Narey masterplan. It’s interesting that all seems to have gone silent on Croisdale-Appleby who produced a far more intelligent and thoughtful response to the task given to them both to consider the future of social work education. Maybe it’s a case of ‘he who shouts loudest’ but we deserve, as social workers, to be heard in the debates around our own profession. With the College of Social Work due to be wound up soon, one more voice has been lost so the cohesive and most importantly, united voice of all areas of social work — all sectors and all areas of work- needs, more than ever to be heard as one profession.
By ‘Ermintrude’, writing for the Labour Social Work Group
After the deeply depressing results of Thursday 7th May- we have to find a way forward for another five years through the bleak reality of a far right Conservative government, bent on destroying public services that are publicly accountable and further attacking the quality of life of those who are already suffering the worst effects of austerity.
Our proposed Manifesto for government becomes a Manifesto for a Labour Party (and new leaders in England and Scotland) as the official opposition – and we would like to think for all the left of centre opposition parties as well as many of the cross-benchers in the Lords.
More than ever an articulate and well-informed opposition is needed to fight for the sort of social work service that our ‘labour manifesto for 2015’ argues is essential if social workers are to continue to be effective in confronting deprivation in all its aspects and working in partnership with the increasing numbers of adults and children who need their help.
There seem to us four very urgent issues the group should discuss.
At government department level, accountability for social work is split – mainly between DoH and DfE, but also DCLG (local government funding and cuts have had a huge impact, but also responsibility for the ‘Troubled Families’ agenda – now extended to 400,000 families and including those eligible for ‘in need’ and CP services- plenty of scope for confused accountability or ‘buck-passing between Departments there); MoJ (with responsibility for the large numbers of social workers employed by Cafcass and the Family Courts) and Home Office (with its crimes against children and vulnerable people remit). This means that, unlike other public service professionals including teachers, nurses, doctors and police, social workers do not have a clear ‘champion’ (or even spokesperson).
Since the election, government and opposition have called for- more and better trained nurses, GPs, teachers. Has anyone seen a similar call for more social workers (other than the now hackneyed ‘we support Frontline’ – a policy that does not have the support of the majority of social workers and educators, with very few of whom the Labour party has sought discussion. In labour’s very welcome policy for the integration of health and social care services for the elderly, there is no clear plan for the role social work will play, where social work will be best-placed to fulfil that role, and most importantly, where the larger numbers of social workers will come from since numbers have been so savagely reduced by local government cuts.
This brings us back to the parlous state of qualifying and post-qualifying education and training for social workers. A generic, ethically-based, broad social work education is under threat- by 2016, almost 1 in 5 new entrants to social work training will be on a fast-track ‘apprenticeship-model’ specialist training (in which the broader educational and analytical aspects of social work education as it is recognised in the other UK nations and across Europe are cut to the bone). Some very good people are entering these fast-track programmes (who can blame them, the financial incentives are huge compared to the other routes) but they are being sold-short, under-educated for a very demanding career. Once qualified, the opportunity to think around and read more widely, debate, analyse is rarely available- post qualifying education focuses (has to) on the direct skills and specifically focused knowledge for the tasks in hand.
Labour’s approach to ‘child protection’. During the election period Labour’s focus was (appropriately enough) on sexual abuse and exploitation by people in positions of trust, or by criminal ‘groomers’ and ‘exploiters’. Hence what might seem like an obvious response ‘mandatory reporting’, and with an emphasis on law enforcement. As far as we know, social workers were not involved in the development of Labour’s policy towards child protection, yet social workers are the ones in the firing line when things go wrong. There has been a narrow focus on ‘child protection’ (as in protection from the worst excesses of child abuse) rather than on a broader approach to helping struggling parents and children. Certainly any proposal to criminalise, teachers, health visitors, GPs social workers who miss the not always obvious signs, will result in more children removed unnecessarily from home, and social workers even more stressed by impossible workloads.
Metal health services have been the subject of much rhetoric, but very little detailed discussion about the role of mental health social workers when compared with the ‘column inches’ on ‘therapy’ and ‘counselling’. Questions that need serious policy debate include whether mental health social work is best housed within Local Authority Adult social services (where at least social workers are respected as a specialist professional group, but where they may be too separated from the other mental health professionals) or within Health Trusts, where integration is achieved, but often at the cost of being able to fulfil their role as professional social workers.
So let’s get involved in a serious debate about all these and any others our members want to prioritise. After launching the group 6 weeks ago, we have been putting the word about in a quiet sort of way. We already have over 100 members or supporters, and over 250 Twitter followers. We now want to consolidate support, encourage local groups, and have plans to be involved, with other labour affiliated groups, in meetings at the Party Conference. We are also planning a meeting with MPs in Westminster, (probably in October) so let us know if you can come. And if you will be at the Party Conference anyway, get in touch so we can let you know about anything we are able to arrange there.
So we really want to hear your thoughts and ideas, and especially are looking for volunteers to take on different aspects of the group’s work.
June Thoburn, Sam Earl, Clive Sellick