By an adults social worker
Personal budgets are not delivering on the promise they were introduced with – flexibility, choice and control. Instead, we are being told by senior managers to restrict what this money is spent on. Our service users do not have the freedom to choose the care they want or need.
The general feeling among frontline social workers at Norfolk County Council is this is just another move towards the dismantling of statutory services. Service users are being given personal budgets and cut adrift. This is causing conflict between us and the people we support.
This conflict was highlighted in a recent complaint by user-led group, Equal Lives, on behalf of Norfolk’s service users. Equal Lives has reported the council to the Care Quality Commission for ‘disregarding’ its duties under the Care Act 2014. I think ‘disregarding’ is the wrong word, but we’re certainly not living up to the principles of this legislation.
People aren’t getting their needs met for no other reason than budgetary constraints.
Senior managers and councillors are not standing up for us and challenging government decisions. They are not making a stand against the attacks on our services. They are not being supportive of us as frontline workers. I can’t remember the last time we saw a senior manager in our office, asking if we are okay and listening to us.
Instead, we are told to find more cost-effective solutions, which are usually dressed up in fancy names. We have the ‘Reimagining Norfolk’ strategy, which is about bringing the private and voluntary sectors in and looking for more ‘creative’ ways of meeting need. They dress these projects up in policy decisions, but we know they are just providing a smokescreen for the cuts.
This is causing demoralisation. Social workers are frustrated. We are professionals who every morning go to work determined to do the best we can for our service users and arrive to find our hands are tied. We are overworked and our caseloads are too high.
‘Our values are compromised’
Middle managers are as stressed out as the rest of us. I know many are working in their own time, you’ll often get an email from a manager on a Sunday. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place – they have to push the managerial and political decisions further down the line to us. They are there for us as much as they can be, but they’re victims of the same situation.
When you do your social work training it is – quite rightly – bashed into you day after day that you must put the service user first, you must use skills like empathy and so on. But when it comes down to it, the managerial decisions that are imposed on us mean we can’t really employ those values. As the cuts bite, our values are compromised.
I would like to see Equal Lives’ complaint to the Care Quality Commission upheld and publicised. I’d like to see other councils face up to this as well. And I’d also like to see Norfolk’s senior managers and councillors showing some guts. Stand up for us, take our side, take the side of our service users, and challenge government decisions.
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