Cuts harming relationships between social workers and service users, warns report

Service users have less time with practitioners and face multiple changes of social worker, finds research designed to to shape HCPC standards

Social worker and person with learning disabilities
Photo: John Birsdall/Rex

Budget cuts are harming relationships between social workers and service users to the detriment of the quality of support people receive.

That was among the warnings of a report from service user network Shaping Our Lives to inform the Health and Care Professions Council’s review of its standards of proficiency for social workers. The standards set requirements of social workers registering with the HCPC.

The HCPC commissioned Shaping Our Lives to review the standards from the perspective of service users and carers; the network carried out research with users and carers, including some who had been involved in social work education, and also social work students.

Among the key findings was that participants felt cuts were undermining relationships between social workers and service users.

Participants said that positive and equal relationships between social workers and service users, based on trust, mutual understanding and good communication, were a key factor in people receiving good support, but warned that this was being undermined by service reductions.

No time to talk

“The key impact of cuts was that practitioners haven’t got the time now to spend talking to people or even going to see them,” said Becki Meakin, general manager of Shaping Our Lives and co-author of the report. “Now a lot of assessments are done over the phone so there isn’t an opportunity to develop an honest and trustworthy relationship.”

Service users and carers also reported the detrimental impact of having multiple changes of social worker. Based on participants’ views, the Shaping Our Lives report said that poor relationships between social workers and service users were related to:

  • Practical problems, for example, social workers making mistakes in recording information, or communicating inappropriately or inconsistently;
  • Attitudinal problems, such as not valuing the service user’s experience or perceived breaches of confidentiality.

Power dynamics

The HCPC standards currently require social workers to practice legally and ethically, including by recognising that “relationships with service users should be based on respect and honesty” and by recognising the power dynamics within such relationships and managing these appropriately (standard 2).

They also require social workers to practice in a non-discriminatory manner (standard 6), maintain confidentiality (standard 7), communicate effectively (standard 8), work appropriately with others, including service users (standard 9), and maintain records appropriately (standard 10).

The report made a number of recommendations to strengthen the standards, including that:

  • The importance of honesty, transparency and consistency is reflected in the standard on working appropriately with service users and carers (standard 9).
  • Practitioners be required to understand the theory of service user and carer involvement and co-production to promote equal relationships between people and their social workers.
  • Service user feedback should be part of reflective supervision, in relation to standard 11 (being able to reflect on and review practice).

Revising the standards

The HCPC is due to consult on revising the standards shortly. However, it is not clear what impact the government’s recently announced plans to establish a new body to take over social work standards and professional regulation from the HCPC will have on the standards of proficiency.

4 Responses to Cuts harming relationships between social workers and service users, warns report

  1. Gerald January 26, 2016 at 11:29 am #

    We have been strugglling with this problem In the Care Home Sector for years with out any help from the Local Authorities, on making this underfunding clear to the clients they often agreed to topping up the Council’s contribution to ensure a viable Care Solution.

  2. Jan January 26, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

    I’m surprised that this report didn’t pick up on the pressure applied to Social workers as they are expected to implement barely lawful policies set by the political system. The social workers have their hand tied as councils desperatte try to balance the books. It’s the vulnerable who are the easiest to target. I wonder if we have got to the stage that
    Social work needs to be separate and imdependant from council control. Surely the vulnerable need to know social workers are acting in their best interest.

  3. Alison January 27, 2016 at 3:41 pm #

    This is no surprise when social workers are regularly asked to carry out reviews with the view to making cuts. There’s nothing person-centered in an approach that puts the budget first and is essentially seeking to find the minimum safe/lawful service for each service user.

  4. Pat Kinghorn January 28, 2016 at 11:45 pm #

    With all due respect social workers want to do a good job and strive to work with the most vulnerable people in society. However due to politics, bureaucracy and lack of emotional intelligence cuts are made and resources are cut which restricts intervention and approprire support . If government fully understood the ongoing dilemmas families and practitioners face to alleviate a revolving door scenario they would listen and stop preaching. It’s always about money and not about support there is now a crisis with asylum seekers which only exacerbates the concerns in respect of the lack of resources and support to enable better outcomes!! Our families deserve better! Local authorities now face more cuts more cuts with support services which only affects the most vulnerable people and has a detrimental impact on their future life chances.