Social services in Northern Ireland face major job losses

Adult social care and children’s services in Northern Ireland face significant job losses amid concern that a small growth in expenditure will be insufficient to meet rising demand.

The draft budget for 2011-12 to 2014-15, agreed by the Northern Ireland executive last week, has led to a prediction by health and social care minister Michael McGimpsey that 4,000 jobs would be lost across the sector overseen by his department.

Although the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s budget will rise by between 1% and 2.6% a year over the four years to 2014-15, McGimpsey told the Belfast Telegraph that protection offered to the health budget had not been extended to social services.

Care for older people, mental health and child protection was likely to be hit, the minister said.

“There will be situations where care workers are saying to elderly people that they need 20 hours of care but they can only afford 10,” he said.

“Last year there were 22,000 children referred under child protection, which is up from 16,000 from when I first came to the post.

“I have invested in child protection services, which is hugely underfunded compared with England, and tried to address this, but my budget is diminishing. We are going to be in a position where it can’t function, but we can’t walk away from children, we can’t leave them.”

Helen Ferguson, director of Carers Northern Ireland, welcomed the ring-fencing of the health budget but expressed concern that social care had not been afforded the same protection.

“Carers provide unpaid care and support to ill, frail or disabled friends or family members and already save the Northern Ireland economy over £3.12 billion. Any reduction in social care provision is likely to have an enormous impact on carers who already face isolation, poverty, discrimination and ill-health,” she said. 

The budget will also freeze the pay of public servants earning over £21,000 a year and ban the recruitment of new civil servants in all but exceptional circumstances.

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