When the chancellor began his autumn statement with the claim that the British economy was “healing”, the House of Commons erupted with laughter and jeers of derision.
While a few MPs are former social workers, it is a shame that there were no frontline social workers sitting amongst the benches to add their voices to the roars of frustration and despair.
Further cuts and squeezing to social care
Apart from a pledge that carers benefits and disability benefits will go up in line with inflation, few social workers will welcome the key messages from George Osborne today, namely cuts and more ‘squeezing’ of already dehydrated social care budgets.
Despite what Conservative critics of social work may claim, the issues facing social workers are professional rather than political. Regardless of their political leanings, social workers have to implement national and local government decisions on a daily basis, all while experiencing the tremendous pressure on the users of their services.
Families struggling to survive
In defending its decision to raise most working age benefits by just 1% for the next three years, the government claims that average earnings have increased by 10% since 2007, while benefits have gone up by 20%. Why then are social workers seeing so many families struggling to survive?
The further 2% cuts that the chancellor is looking to make from local authorities may not look like much on paper, but social workers are already living with the aftershock of 28% cuts to council funding ordered by Whitehall in 2010.
There are many councils where the salaries of social workers have been cut in real terms, and where mileage allowances and other funds to enable them to do their job have been stopped.
In May, BASW’s State of Social Work survey suggested that 85% of social workers had seen cuts to services within the last year, 77% were concerned about caseloads, and 65% were worried about the use of under-qualified staff.
How has the government met these concerns? With Eric Pickles’ “troubled” families initiative, with Michael Gove saying more children should be taken into care more quickly, and with pledges to “speed up” the adoption process.
A muddled approach to adult social care funding
The coalition still has a muddled approach to the desperately needed reform of the funding for adult social care.
First we had the care and support white paper in July saying the government had rejected Dilnot’s recommendations for a lifetime cap on care costs, then leaks a month later revealed that Dilnot would be implemented; now the rumour is that plans are afoot to double the suggested £35,000 care home fees cap to £70,000.
The government focus on the reforms of the NHS will be undermined if there is not a clear parallel reform of the funding of adult social care. This needs urgent attention.
Rhetoric about ‘protecting the frontline’ rings hollow
As demands for better and more significant intervention in safeguarding of both children and adults are made of agencies and practitioners, the political rhetoric of protecting the frontline services sounds hollow to social workers, who see the dismantling of the statutory and non-statutory organisations which have, up to now, provided the services. This is a serious risk factor in itself.
If ministers want to see genuine reform of social work services for the benefit of society, then such new initiatives have to be properly resourced. Failure to provide adequate funding will just maintain the status quo, or worse, lead to further deterioration in the life chances of children and adults.
Bridget Robb is acting chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers