The new government must prioritise reform of care services despite the constraints on public finances, sector leaders have demanded.
Social workers are calling on the government to sustain the funding for the Social Work Task Force’s recommendations.
Almost all of the 105 Unison members who took part in a survey, published this week, said the government’s top priority should be to invest in reforming the profession.
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care, said: “We’ve heard very little about social work in the campaigns but we need this government to see [the reform programme] through.”
When asked which recommendations were the most important, respondents to the poll also named developing a national standard for employers, followed by national supervision requirements and training for frontline managers.
The national college of social work was ranked as the least important of the taskforce’s 15 recommendations.
However, Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, told newly qualified social workers at the University of Gloucestershire today [Thursday], that there was “no bigger issue in social work” than the creation of a national college.
Meanwhile, adult care leaders said that their priorities were the reform of adult care funding and intensification of efforts to personalise services.
In a White Paper in March, the Labour government announced plans to establish a national care service free at the point of need, but delayed decisions on how to fund it until after the election.
While Labour and the Liberal Democrats would establish a commission to examine funding options, the Conservatives would not, because of their opposition to a compulsory levy to pay for care, something Labour favours.
Des Kelly, executive director of the National Care Forum, said the election had created doubts over whether care funding reform would be pursued.
He said: “We got to a critical point with the publication of the White Paper and then the election was announced. We’ve been on this hiatus over whether the social care White Paper issues will remain a priority for the new government.”
Jo Webber, deputy policy director at the NHS Confederation, warned: “What we don’t need now is for people to decide this is too hard a topic and put it on the backburner for a while. The demography is not with us.”
She said the next few years presented the best opportunity to create a lasting reform to the system.
Meanwhile, children’s services professionals said early intervention, government structures around children and reducing social work bureaucracy are the top priorities for a new government.
Fears that a new party in power would abolish the role of the secretary of state for children, schools and families is strong throughout the sector, with professionals fearing its disappearance would reduce the emphasis on children’s issues.
“The current administration put in a secretary of state and obviously we would be concerned if that role was denigrated to a ministerial post,” said Diana Sutton, head of the public affairs and campaigns unit at the NSPCC. “It’s been extremely helpful and influential in driving the children’s agenda.”
Elaine Hindal, campaign for childhood director at The Children’s Society, agreed.
“While child-friendly policies must be a priority across government, we feel strongly that policies directly affecting children and young people should be led by a single minister of cabinet rank,” she said. “This will provide essential accountability and an additional guarantee that all children are subject to the same standards of care and protection.”
In terms of bureaucracy, some experts said a new government should be less involved with the way in which services are run.
“I would ask the government to go back on focusing on outcomes rather than processes,” said Paul Fallon, consultant and independent safeguarding board chair. “From 1997 to about 2003, things were going quite well for children’s services. After Victoria Climbié and the 2004 [Children’s] Act, the government started meddling with how to deliver rather than what to deliver.”