Council sheds qualified social worker posts to save money

Barnet council is replacing 23 adult social worker posts with 17 unqualified assessment and enablement officers

Barnet Town Hall
Photo: Glenn Copus / Evening Standard /REX/Shutterstock
Barnet Town Hall Photo: Glenn Copus / Evening Standard /REX/Shutterstock

A local authority plans to save £400,000 in 2017/18 by reducing the number of qualified social workers it employs by more than a third.

Barnet council is deleting 23 (36.8%) of its full-time equivalent adult social worker posts and replacing them with 17 assessment and enablement officers (AEOs), as part of a restructure that started in April this year. The changes apply to older people and disability teams.

There have been no redundancies and the changes have been managed through adjusting vacant posts. So far, six social work vacancies have been deleted, and 7.8 have become AEO posts. The remaining 9.2 posts will become AEO posts as and when social workers leave.

Council papers said changes to the “skills mix” of frontline staff was not unusual, and would align Barnet with many other local authorities.

‘Under strain’

However, union leaders strongly opposed the proposals and have claimed that staff are already struggling to manage an increase in workload.

Helen Davies, chair of the Barnet Unison branch, said: “We are now eight months into this arrangement and we know that colleagues are struggling.

“Social workers and AEOs are under strain due to an increase in the volume and complexity of work. This was not taken into account during the restructure. We now have a problem with people going off sick with stress.”

In a consultation document for staff, the council admitted that a reduction in posts was a risk to service delivery, but said the implementation of a new IT system should mitigate the impact.

An additional saving of £213,000 is earmarked for 2019/20, which is expected to come through the introduction of the Mosaic IT system.

‘Supervision responsibilities’

Social workers are also expected to take on the supervision of up to one AEO as part of the restructure. Davies said this proposal “had much opposition across the board” because it would be in addition to social workers’ existing workloads.

Council papers published in February said this move would help “to share and develop skills across the service and provide development opportunities that will help with career progression”.

“Work is underway to scope the training and development requirements to support social workers in taking on this role and implementation will be sensibly phased throughout 2016/17,” the papers said.

Formal line management will remain with team leaders of lead practitioners under the plans.

‘No foreseeable impact’

Davies also expressed concern at the council’s plans to extend the reduction of qualified social work posts to mental health services.

“There is a lot of media attention on the poor access that people in mental health distress have to appropriate help. We do not think that reducing the numbers of qualified social workers will help one iota in dealing with this,” she said.

“Colleagues are going to struggle and it is debatable how helpful they will then be for their client group.”

Council papers stated that the mental health staffing efficiencies had been assessed as “having no foreseeable impact on service users”.

A spokesperson for the council said: “AEOs are able to carry out assessments, reviews and work in a preventative way with people who require services but they will not have the necessary qualifications to carry out complex casework.

“Our 115 qualified social care practitioners will still carry out work that requires specialist skills and intervention, or safeguarding work.

“All AEOs receive comprehensive training and professional supervision from a social work manager or lead practitioner so they have oversight of the level of suitability of casework.”

 

 

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10 Responses to Council sheds qualified social worker posts to save money

  1. Jill November 22, 2016 at 10:28 am #

    As an Adults Social Worker in an authority that employed the same methods a few years ago, I can absolutely say with certainty that this approach does not work. It is short sighted and not cost effective in the long term. It is widely acknowledged that increased legislation e.g. The Care Act, The MCA and increase in Safeguarding referrals and COP work and complex cases etc mean that this job is more demanding and stressful than ever. Whilst I am not suggesting that unqualified staff do not have a role to play, this approach not only devalues and undermines the role of Social Workers but will in the long term lead to increase levels of stress on frontline staff. A reduction in qualified Social Workers alongside an increase in more complex case and this will inevitably lead to more pressure being put on the remaining Social Workers. My prediction is that in 2 to 3 years they will be actively recruiting Social Workers when the realisation hits that this has all been a false economy.

    • Steve November 22, 2016 at 8:47 pm #

      Quite agree the legislation has raised expectations and duties whilst resources and thus recruitment and retention has been reduced. The increase in referrals and complexity of cases will not change. Local authorities are attempting to devolve their responsibilities to external providers in an attempt to undermine the social work profession. The acadamisation of social care is not the answer.

  2. Jill November 22, 2016 at 10:30 am #

    As an Adults Social Worker in an authority that employed the same methods a few years ago, I can absolutely say with certainty that this approach does not work. It is short sighted and not cost effective in the long term. It is widely acknowledged that increased legislation such as The Care Act, The MCA and increase in Safeguarding referrals and COP work and complex cases and ever increasing caseloads mean that this job is more demanding and stressful than ever. Whilst I am not suggesting that unqualified staff do not have a role to play, this approach not only devalues and undermines the role of Social Workers but will in the long term lead to increase levels of stress on frontline staff. A reduction in qualified Social Workers alongside an increase in more complex case and this will inevitably lead to more pressure being put on the remaining Social Workers. My prediction is that in 2 to 3 years they will be actively recruiting Social Workers when the realisation hits that this has all been a false economy.

  3. Naruie November 22, 2016 at 11:40 am #

    Employing ‘unqualified’ staff may only be a way of employing newly qualified social workers who have not secured their first contract after several months of applying. Councils may have qualified workforce for the price of undergraduate. . . Anything to devalue the profession further. . .

  4. Flowerpot November 22, 2016 at 3:50 pm #

    If the government of the day ideology is based on dismantling the welfare state then a reduction in SW is a consequence.
    Since the introduction of ‘care management’ there has been a general erosion of the SW profession, all around is we are seeing the dismantling of the social care system and as SW we are so bogged down with case loads and apathy we are allowing the profession to be downgraded: Is it not time we stood up for ourselves ?

    • Scott November 24, 2016 at 12:19 am #

      I really like this response. It’s a great point! Supervision Officer in the U.S. Speaking here.

  5. A Man Called Horse November 22, 2016 at 5:33 pm #

    Let us be entirely clear about this issue. The action taken by Barnet is entirely the fault of this extreme right Tory Government who have actively made the choice to impoverish Local Authorities across the UK with direct cuts of 40% up to 2020. These cuts are so severe that business as usual is not an option. Austerity means in reality cuts to Social care, the run down of mental health services, cuts to welfare and a direct assault on the most vulnerable people in society. The cuts are necessary because of a failure to collect tax to pay for services and a lack of resolve to do anything meaningful about tax evasion. The consequences are a destruction of public services and Austerity for the 99%. It is also likely that even with the removal of the Architects of this project Cameron and Osborne another Tory Government will extend Austerity beyond 2920. Barnet faced with this direct attack on its revenue has actively chosen to replace Social Workers with less qualified staff who are clearly cheaper to employ. It also implies indirectly that it is not a profession and anyone can do this complex work. Social Workers should again collectively refuse to supervise unqualified staff and again restate that this is a management responsibility. As well as expecting Social Workers to do more, it is expected they will supervise for not one penny extra pay. Social Workers have seen cuts to their terms and conditions through a freeze on public sector pay which has reduced pay by at least 17%. They have also had cuts to the pension scheme which is now inferior to what was previously had. This in effect is death by a thousand cuts.

  6. Jackie November 22, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

    I am not surprised that this is happening given the current stresses on funding and the continued attitude that anyone can carry out social work tasks ansuch role. Continue to be vague about our profession and not define our profession what do we expect.

  7. Blair McPherson November 23, 2016 at 12:46 pm #

    This is a return to the bad old days when social work with older people was left to the unqualified workers and students on placement.

  8. Emmanuel November 24, 2016 at 6:25 pm #

    Unqualified does Not mean unskilled. There are Many workers across Social Care and Youth Services, who are highly skilled, experienced or qualified in other related or complementary areas. In my area of social care and Criminal Justice working with youth, many Good workers have been shut out by what seems a lazy approach to Safeguarding, being that HCPC registration (only open to qualified Social Workers) ensures a level of quality and competamce…. which it clearly doesn’t!! university study and a couple of years fire-fighting in an overburdened job does not make up for years of experience and honed engagement and assessment skills.
    A bala nice of skills and mix of experience is the best route to multi-faceted teams. Having said that under resourcing is a recipe for disaster, but a continuation of endemic short sightedness and failing the people they are meant to serve of successive governments over at least 3 decades!