This year has seen new investment in social care, intense
government focus on raising standards and enabling inter-agency
work, and a continuing search for a preventive approach to social
Yet during 2002 a sense of crisis has loomed throughout the public
services. Although social care may be invisible in the media, the
crisis is at least as acute there as elsewhere. Resource
constraints feel worse than ever on the front line. Cash-limited
care is no longer about efficiency; it is denying people what they
need. It is the ultimate enemy of professional creativity – and
alongside uncertainty and ceaseless change, that of recruitment and
retention of staff.
The public fear demoralisation in the fire service, where
recruitment is booming and professional identities rock solid.
Surely 2003 must be the year the public, the press and therefore
the government start worrying about demoralisation in social
Alan Milburn finally stated in October that social services
departments, and many social workers too, are to be replaced. If it
means better services, the rhetoric goes, it would be wrong to be
precious about structures and professional identities. But although
structural change may improve planning, it won’t solve the problems
that dismay practitioners.
Social workers have shown they can work in new ways. Often, the
arguments for replacing them boil down to the notion that new
professions could make a fresh bid for credibility and public
support. Perhaps they could, but it must not be at the price of
social care values.
No change is not an option. But you can’t rebuild a service while
reconstituting the very bricks you’re building it with. Investment
must actually buy more people the care they need. And the
government must signal – at the highest level – that it values
social care professionals.
Perhaps voters just won’t allow those demands to be met. But let’s
at least hear the government making them in the coming year.