Social work is a special case

By Blair McPherson | 14 September 2018

The chief executive tells the senior management team each directorate is to submit proposals for 5% budget cuts, without exceptions, looking directly at the directors of children’s and adults social services. We are supposed to think 5% isn’t so bad as we were asked to draw up proposals for 3%, 5% and 8%. But of course this comes on top of year on year cuts. To use one of the chief executive's favourite sayings: ‘You’ve given me all the low hanging fruit now it’s time for the difficult stuff.’ 

The chief executive expects everyone to demonstrate their corporate credentials. The pain is to be shared equally, with ‘no special pleading’, again looking directly at social services. But social services and social work is a special case.

If the rubbish bins aren’t collected, the pot holes aren’t filled, libraries are closed and street lights are switched off then the public protests will be long and loud. But non of those protesting would say this should be at the expense of safeguarding children and frail elderly people, ignoring those with debilitating mental health problems or allowing people with learning disabilities to suffer abuse and neglect. 

We shouldn’t have to make this choice but increasingly we do. Or rather local authority councillors do on our behalf. Naturally they want to respond to public opinion, after all the public voted them in and the public can vote them out, but they also know they can’t take risks when it comes to child protection or the care of vulnerable adults. 

The thing is they do take risks. Cutting social work posts or replacing them with unqualified staff means higher case loads, delays in assessments and inexperienced workers dealing with complex cases. Add to these cuts in management posts resulting in managers with broader spans of responsibility, senior managers with no experience or background in social work over reliant on overstretched middle managers.

While no one can guarantee that increasing social workers will prevent the death of a child in care, the early detection of a pedofile ring or ensure that no elderly person dies of neglect, inspection reports are starting to say the cuts have been too deep leaving child protection services and services to vulnerable adults, ‘unsafe’. 

It may not be a straight choice between a library and a social worker or fortnightly bin collections and a specialist dementia team but there is clearly an argument for social work as a special case. 

Blair Mcpherson is a former social worker, former director, author and blogger

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