Unison: Adult social workers under strain putting clients at risk

Unison today called on the government to take urgent action to support overworked and under-funded adult social workers in order to prevent a tragedy involving a vulnerable adult on the scale of the baby Peter case.

A survey of Unison adult social work practitioners and managers published today revealed they were being put under severe strain from a lack of resources. Many social workers also raised concerns about the implementation of personalisation in their local authority.

Cuts in resources

Nearly two-thirds of respondents said that adult social services were currently less well resourced than they were five years ago.

Although 62% said that systems and procedures for safeguarding adults had improved over the last five years, there was a “strong view” that this trend was in danger of being reversed by poor implementation of the personalisation agenda.

Fewer social workers

Seventeen per cent said that their employer’s approach to rolling out direct payments or personal budgets would lead to fewer social work posts and 14% said that it would lead to worse access for clients to good care.

In addition, an overwhelming 96% said that they spent too much time on paperwork rather than working directly with clients. Three out of five respondents also reported working in teams that had a vacancy rate of over 10%. One in ten said they were part of a team with a 30% vacancy rate.

Unison warned the survey, released as part of its Speaking up for Social Work campaign, had uncovered a number of disturbing findings. 

Attack on Tory-run councils

Commenting on the results Unison head of social services Helga Pile launched an attack on Tory-controlled councils, claiming that they were more interested in “penny pinching” than ensuring that social workers were given adequate resources to do their jobs.

She said: “It’s time to champion the importance of social work with adults in the face of changing social and economic conditions and the need for radical reform of social care funding. The government has promised that people who need care will have a right to more independence and control over how it is provided. But the reality on the ground, where Tories control the majority of councils, is very different.

“Cost-cutting and prioritising paperwork over people means it is only a matter of time before we are confronted with a ‘Granny P’ tragedy, unless urgent action is taken.”

Charter on keeping adults safe

Unison has used the survey results to launch a 10-point “charter for change” to help keep adults safe. The charter calls for a planned programme of investment, an action plan to fill vacancies, a “cull of bureaucracy”, national standards on acceptable caseloads and better pay and career structures.

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