Social work assistants are being asked to take on more complex cases because of the cuts hitting councils, interim findings of a survey have suggested.
Unison launched the survey in March to find out whether unqualified staff were increasingly being used as a “cheap alternative” to social workers, after its members reported ever more blurred lines of accountability.
Releasing the interim findings today, Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social work, said: “The message coming through loud and clear is that [social work assistants] are increasingly being asked to take on complex cases.
“With the biggest cuts in living memory hitting councils, the worry is that we will see more and more reliance on ‘para-professionals’ as a cheaper alternative.”
Pile added that social work assistants felt like the “hidden workforce”. A selection of quotes from respondents to the survey showed a sense of resentment at being asked to take on roles they had not trained for and, in many cases, did not want.
One unqualified worker said: “Instead of it being a support role, it is changing into being much more accountable, but without any enhanced status, recognition, pay or conditions.
“If I wanted to be a social worker I would train to do so.”
There was also a lack of clarity about which tasks should be reserved for qualified social workers. “It’s very unclear,” said one respondent. “I am given really complex cases, and I often worry that I’m expected to deal with things that are a bit frightening because of their possible outcomes.”
Unison has written to key stakeholders in social work to warn of the risk of asking unqualified staff to take on work they are not trained for.
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