On 6 May, as Tony Blair and co were loosening their ties and
sighing with relief at the general election result, some social
care professionals would have felt the odd pang of concern. Not
about Labour winning a historic third term but about those MPs who
will not be taking their seats in the chamber again. Labour MPs
David Hinchliffe and Hilton Dawson both stood down after a combined
24 years in parliament in which their hard work and commitment
helped promote social care.
There is no denying the positive impact Dawson and Hinchliffe had
as champions of social care’s vulnerable clients and their presence
in the corridors of power will be missed by the sector. But does
this mean social care’s presence in parliament has disappeared? Not
according to Tony Hunter, president of the Association of Directors
of Social Services. He is optimistic that social care will remain
high on the political agenda, not least because of the recent adult
care green paper and the Children Act 2004.
He says: “The issue for the ADSS is to look at the role MPs have in
the new government and seek to demonstrate to them how we can
contribute to the delivery of the policy agenda.”
Lynne Berry, chief executive of the General Social Care Council,
says every MP will have the chance to support the needs of those
who use social care services and their carers as well as stand up
for the professionals undertaking this work.
One of the new intake is Mary Creagh, the Labour MP for
Hinchliffe’s Wakefield constituency. Although she is committed to
improving the lives of disadvantaged people she emphasises she is
not going to take on Hinchliffe’s exact remit just because it is
the same seat. Instead, she is interested in highlighting the needs
of people with hearing loss as she has used a digital hearing aid
because of her own difficulties.
One of the remaining social care supporters in parliament is Paul
Burstow, Liberal Democrat MP for Sutton and Cheam since 1997, who
recently stepped down from his party’s commuity care spokesperson
in order to apply to be on the health select committee. He hopes
this parliament will build on the constructive work done during the
last administration. He says: “The green paper on adults needs to
be picked up and run with in order to get a debate about the role
and purpose of social care in the future.”
Is there a clear runner able to step into the shoes vacated by
people like Dawson and Hinchliffe? While not wanting to nail their
colours to the mast just yet, many commentators feel there are a
few contenders, not least Burstow. The soon-to-be created all-party
parliamentary group on social care on which he intends to sit – it
replaces the all-party personal social services panel – is expected
to have a higher profile. But Burstow says it must put service
users first and is recognised as a service in its own right, not
just one that props up “other parts of the system.”
Another name dropped into the ring is David Kidney, Labour MP for
Stafford, of whom Hilton Dawson has “high hopes” for championing
Meanwhile, Berry believes a new voice will emerge from Westminster
in support of users. She says they will need to “take forward the
agenda to drive up standards in social care, build a high quality
workforce and help professionals work together effectively”.
But if they are to run with the social care baton, exactly what
qualities would the MPs need? Hunter says they need to be able to
see through all the other issues competing for their time and
identify what really matters to people. “It is easy to get
sidetracked by issues that suddenly appear, but much of social
care’s contribution is selflessly done day in, day out, and MPs
need to sift out the urgent from the also important. It is vital to
keep an eye on the things that matter most and that are not always
on top of the in-tray.”
The need to stand up fearlessly for children heads the wish-list of
Patricia Durr, parliamentary officer at the Children’s Society.
Such a stance is not popular in the current climate where children
and young people are often tarred with the antisocial brush. Durr
argues MPs need to see beyond this. “Children are often only seen
in relation to education and the emphasis is on parental choice.
They are not constituents in their own right and this rides
roughshod over their basic human rights.”
One way to improve MPs’ knowledge of social care comes from
Hinchliffe, who suggests that MPs spend time shadowing social
workers in social services departments. He says: “We have
placements in the armed forces and top companies and it is crucial
that we get this arrangement in social care.” He adds some of his
former colleagues would be keen to do this, especially if it had
the backing of the ADSS.
Hunter says the ADSS is happy for this sort of arrangement in some
social services departments, but insists that it is no substitute
for “listening and the right, open attitude”. He adds: “While the
thinking behind this is good it is not a panacea because at worst
it is something that MPs can tick off as having done without taking
the issues on board.”
Although the Children’s Society supports MPs going on to the social
work front line, Durr says it should not become a mandatory
requirement. “We have seen through the work of select committees
that if MPs are willing to listen and learn then direct social care
experience isn’t necessary.”
A key topic for the new parliament to recognise is the contribution
of social work and social care in terms of delivering the
government’s agenda, not only in relation to the Children Act and
the adult care green paper but to areas such as public health.
Hunter says: “Achieving public health is about people’s access to
what improves their quality of life.”
Whatever the future holds in Westminster, Burstow is sure that he
and his fellow parliamentarians view social care as an area of
growing importance. “People see it as an area that needs to be
pushed much more and for it to be championed.”
With Burstow an established voice for social care in parliament,
the sector will have to wait and see who will join him.
Look back in anger? Views from departed stalwarts of
By the time you read this David Hinchliffe may be on a canal boat,
watching the sunset with his wife. For the first time since the
56-year-old former Labour MP for Wakefield became a councillor at
22, Hinchliffe is not directly involved in politics. He spent 18
years in parliament and, when he decided to step down as an MP, he
was the highly respected chairperson of the health select
committee. So why leave?
One reason was his desire to pursue other interests while he is
still young and fit. Another was his disillusionment with life in
the House of Commons.
He says: “It has changed. There is an increasing amount of ‘yaa boo
sucks!’ about it and far less serious analysis of policy by the
government or opposition. I found that whole process rather bland.”
Now that he no longer walks the corridors of power Hinchliffe wants
social care professionals themselves to press other MPs to make
sure “the social care flag is flown”. Otherwise he fears the voice
of social care may get lost as there is insufficient lobbying by
those involved in social work and social care.
He says: “I would argue strongly that, unless they get off their
backsides and lobby parliament and MPs, their work will not be
recognised. This area of policy is unknown to the majority of
He cannot think of an MP with a social work background who will be
the sector’s next champion, although his replacement on the health
select committee is bound to have some influence. He says: “There
isn’t going to be anybody who’ll be interested unless they are
pushed to go forward.”
Perhaps it is time for the sector to start pushing.
After eight years in parliament Hilton Dawson, the former Labour MP
for Lancaster and Wyre, is going back to the front line.
A social worker before becoming an MP, he is now on the books of a
social work recruitment agency and registered with the General
Social Care Council.
When his three-month contract with children’s charity ChildLine –
where he is working on a secret project – finishes he wants to do
some front-line work. “I would like to do some face-to-face social
work. I’ve missed it and honestly believe it is a good job worth
He sums up his motivation for turning his back on parliament: “The
huge change agenda for children won’t be promoted on the green
benches of Westminster as it will be in children’s organisations
out in the field. This is a huge opportunity to improve children’s
He wants MPs in the new parliament to become much more vocal. He
argues that the social care voice is largely unheard in parliament
and an institutional change needs to be brought about to improve
He says: “Not only MPs but council professionals and social care
interest groups need to raise this subject more effectively. They
have to insist that these are crucial issues that need to be raised
on all sides of the house.”
He urges MPs to watch closely what is happening in their own
communities and see what change is happening or needs to occur.
Dawson adds that if people stood up for social care workers and
their clients to the same extent as teachers are supported, these
services and their users would reap the benefit.
He has certainly shown MPs how to blow the social care horn.