Community Care looks at emerging Conservative social care policy
WHAT WE KNOW
Social care funding
Pensioners would have future residential care fees waived in return for a one-off payment of £8,000, paid on retirement, through schemes provided by the private sector and regulated by the state. The Tories have ruled out taking money from attendance or disability living allowance to fund social care. They also oppose any system of compulsory insurance to fund care, and would otherwise retain the current means-tested funding system. Like the government, they support a national system of assessment and eligibility for care and investment in telecare and other preventive services.
People with long-term conditions would be given a single budget covering health and social care. The recipient would control how it is spent.
Welfare to work
Payment by results in employment support would be extended by ensuring that providers are only rewarded when clients have been in work for a year or more, up from the current six months, with bigger payments for those who help people needing the greatest support. Their plans would require a £600m upfront investment which would be paid for by the proceeds of moving people from incapacity benefit to the lower paying jobseeker’s allowance.
A panel made up of social workers and social work experts would examine how the bureaucracy surrounding child protection could be stripped back. This will include asking councils to streamline their integrated children’s systems.
The Conservatives have raised security concerns over the government’s national database and instead plan to introduce a national “signposting” system for vulnerable children. The system will contain minimal details and only be accessed by a small number of key professionals.
Publish serious case reviews in full
Full publication is needed to restore public confidence in child protection services and help the sector learn from cases such as Baby P and the torture of two boys in Edlington, the Tories say. They propose creating a list of approved authors of serious case reviews maintained by a central body who would act as the arbiters of SCR quality.
Review of Ofsted
Ofsted’s role in inspecting children’s social care would be reviewed by a Conservative government. Ofsted could take on some of the old “improvement” roles of the Commission for Social Care Inspection. The party also wants to look at how inspection processes can be changed to look at results rather than data collection. Directors of children’s services and key social workers could be seconded to play a part in inspections of other councils.
Shadow chancellor George Osborne last month unveiled plans to roll out employee-owned co-operatives to deliver services in the public sector, including in social work.
Independent social work practices
Social workers would be given “the right to manage and run their own practices in much the same way as GPs do or barristers [have] their own chambers”. The Conservatives support the government’s social work practice pilots, in which six authorities in England have outsourced services for looked-after children to external bodies run by social workers and charities. However, the child protection policy paper said the pilot was too limited in scope and more groups of social workers and care professionals could be encouraged to participate.
Chief social worker and national college
The party plans to create a social work post on a par with the chief nursing officer and chief medical officer positions. The Tories’ policy paper on child protection states that the role would “lift the profile of the profession backed up by a truly independent and heavyweight professional college to lift its calibre”.
Volunteers in children’s social care
The Conservatives have highlighted the findings of a “volunteer social worker” pilot project in Bromley, Kent, and want to roll the scheme out more widely. The charity Community Service Volunteers worked with Bromley Council to match trained volunteers with families whose children are on the child protection register or deemed to be at risk of abuse or neglect.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
Personal Care at Home Bill
It is unclear whether the Conservatives would take forward the government’s Personal Care at Home Bill, which would introduce free support for people with high needs, if it has not passed into law by the time of the election. They have not opposed the bill but have criticised it heavily.
The Conservatives have not decided whether to take forward Labour’s proposal to put adult safeguarding boards on a statutory footing.
Shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton has been careful to avoid spending commitments in any part of children’s services. He is quite clear there will be no ring-fenced funds and warns every budget from every department will be examined for “value for money”. However, he claims there will be considerable savings made from scrapping ContactPoint and reducing staff turnover in child protection teams.
Councils shown to be persistently failing could be forced to see their services taken on by social work practices or voluntary sector groups. However, social work practices are currently in the initial pilot stage and the voluntary sector has consistently shied away from child protection services, raising questions about how the policy could initially operate.
Cafcass and the rise of child protection referrals
The Conservatives have promised to review the role of Cafcass “down the track”. Loughton remains unconvinced that the high numbers of referrals will be sustained and is confident that the end of the recession and the lessening of the Baby P effect will mean these numbers will drop.
While Loughton is committed to the concept that funding prevention and early intervention strategies will save money in the long run, the Tories will not commit to trying to protect them. Spending priorities will be determined by councils.
Social work reform programme
The policy paper on child protection criticised the recommendations of Lord Laming’s two landmark reports – the Victoria Climbié Inquiry in 2003 and review of child protection in England in 2009 – for adding to the bureaucracy of children’s social work. However, it made little reference to the Social Work Reform Programme, under which the Labour government has pledged to transform the sector in England over the next 10 years, other than to say many of the Conservatives’ policies had already influenced the government’s social work taskforce.
The party has yet to respond to several key government policies, particularly on social work training, such as a pledge to make social work a master’s level profession, which children’s secretary Ed Balls announced last year. The Tories have yet to take a decision on whether they support an overhaul of the content of the social work degree and a national continuing professional development structure.
This article is published in the 11 March 2010 edition of Community Care under the headline “Out of the shadows”
- Read our interview with shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton