Cast aside your preconceptions – social workers are not the people we all thought they were. The past year’s weekly polls on community care.co.uk suggest that social workers are not necessarily the right-on, left-leaning stuff of tabloid legend.
While some of the political views revealed in the surveys might cause an eyebrow or two to be raised, you will be less surprised to learn that social workers feel misunderstood and not wholly positive about the direction of government policy. But the profession is prepared to stand up and fight, quite literally according to one of our polls.
It must be stressed that these results cannot claim to be particularly scientific. Respondents are self-selecting and might not necessarily be social workers, but when taken as a whole they do provide some interesting insights.
Social workers have traditionally been thought of as broadly left-wing and liberal in political outlook. Tasked every day with managing the results of poverty and society’s inequalities, this would seem a natural default position for most in the profession. However, the findings of some of the weekly polls on communitycare.co.uk over the past year may challenge this assumption.
Back in February, the then work secretary John Hutton proposed restricting income support for parents who were not seeking work once their children reached age 12, rather than 16. In a Community Care poll the following week, 80% of respondents appeared to agree with the sentiment, saying lone parents should be encouraged to go back to work.
The key word here is perhaps “encouraged”. Surely no one would disagree that people should be “encouraged” to work, you might say. It’s hardly a shift to the right. But there is more. In April, we asked if you would be prepared to pay more council tax in return for better social care services. A surprising two-thirds of you rejected tax and spend and said no.
Later that month, 56% voted for “tougher youth justice policies” as the right answer to increasing gun crime. And in May, 59% of respondents said social care services had not improved under 10 years of Labour government.
Still not convinced? In August, almost half of respondents said they would not be bearing in mind their carbon footprint when making decisions about their holidays this year. In November, 60% of you said asylum seekers whose applications had failed should be charged for healthcare.
And just to put the icing on the cake, in September 46% of voters in one poll said they would seriously consider voting Conservative.
To offer something in the way of balance, however, in July when Gordon Brown took over as prime minister, 61% of poll respondents said he was good news for social care.
The social work role
The polls also provided a set of snapshots illustrating how demanding social work has become. “Nobody understands me” might be the rallying cry of teenagers across the land but it might also be shared by social workers. In January, a massive 87% of respondents felt the public did not understand what social workers do.
And the job itself does not seem a happy place for many. In February, more than half of social workers said they would be “fearful of repercussions” if they blew the whistle on poor practice. Many social workers clearly want the backing of the law to help them, with 78% saying in August that there should be a legal duty to blow the whistle.
And in June more than three-quarters said they had been “leant on” by their managers to make a decision about access to services that they did not agree with.
Tightening eligibility criteria is clearly having an impact, with 89% of respondents telling us in November that they had experienced “animosity” from service users when rationing services. And that animosity is obviously translating itself into a tangible threat, with 65% of you telling us in October that you wanted self-defence training.
And social workers hardly feel positive about the way social care is going, with only 20% saying in October that they had faith in the new inspection regime, and just 41% agreeing in November that children’s services had improved since Victoria Climbié’s death seven years ago.
Still, if there is something social workers believe in it is the core social work role. In October three-quarters of respondents backed the decision not to split the social work degree into separate children’s and adults’ courses. And a week later, an overwhelming 88% of you said you would like to further your career by becoming a well-paid senior frontline social worker rather than progressing into management.
If there is one issue that has received your full attention all year it is pay. The public sector unions finally agreed to accept a below inflation 2.475% pay deal in the autumn after months of negotiations and threatened strikes.
The unions have memberships far wider than social care but it could be argued that if the negotiations were limited to that sector we could be seeing braziers and placards surrounding the country’s social services departments.
In September, 59% of respondents said the 2.475% offer should be rejected and back in February 60% said they would be prepared to take industrial action over a low pay deal.
Finally, our first poll of the year asked if you were looking for a new job in the New Year. A staggering 84% were. Everyone knows there is high turnover in social work, but as social services avoided complete meltdown that particular resolution must have gone the same way as gym membership. Still, there is always next year.Contact the author
This article appeared in the 13 December issue under the headline “‘And our survey says…'”