Community Care caught up with Paul Burstow, care services minister and Liberal Democrat MP, at the Liberal Democrats’ conference in Liverpool. We asked for his views on the spending cuts affecting local government, his handling of the decision to abolish the General Social Care Council and the morale of social workers.
Q: Research by Community Care has shown eight in 10 councils in England will not meet adult service users’ moderate care needs. Do you think councils will continue to raise eligibility thresholds as the massive spending cuts in local government take hold?
A: Let’s start with a different proposition: local government does not know what the spending review decisions are going to be. Some directors are already being prudent in advance of the review but they don’t know the answer until 20 October [when the spending review will be published]. Every local authority has a responsibility to do its best to make efficiencies and protect the frontline – there are better ways they can do this than salami-slicing and slash and burn. There are huge variations in how much they are spending on residential care – some councils spend 70% of their budget, others spend 30%. Preventive services such as telecare can drive up efficiency.
Q: One in six social workers holds a caseload of more than 40, according to Community Care‘s recent survey of practitioners, and there are major concerns about general working conditions. How would you describe the mood and morale among social workers in England at the moment?
A: I have the utmost admiration for social workers. Too often they get a tough deal with the media when things go wrong. The Social Work College is a great idea; we think that’s a really good way to strengthen the status and standing of social work. The Big Society is giving social workers the opportunity to go back to the jobs they used to do. They can play a part in developing community and support groups.
Q: The Social Work Task Force reported last year that social workers feel vulnerable to being “done to” by government due to the lack of leadership in the profession, but you apparently took the decision to close the General Social Care Council and transfer the regulation of their profession to the Health Professions Council without consulting anyone in the sector. What do you say to social workers who might feel you’re no better than the Labour government in implementing top-down reform without any concern to their views?
A: I think social workers would not have thanked the government if we had allowed the GSCC to continue in its role and the same financial model, which would have meant them having to pay £400 for their annual membership instead of the £70-something it will cost them with the Health Professions Council. The choices we have to make are between spending money on bodies like these and spending them on the frontline, and I don’t think social workers would have thanked me if we had diverted money away from the frontline.
Q: How will you ensure that social work is not marginalised in the process of transferring regulation to the Health Professions Council?
A: By changing the name and by making sure that the transition has real input from the likes of Moira Gibb [chair of the Social Work Reform Board] to ensure that the council understands the nature of the social work role.
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