by Mithran Samuel & Luke Stevenson (story updated 6pm)
The children’s minister Edward Timpson has lost his seat in the general election, which resulted in a hung parliament but with the Conservatives remaining in power.
The now former Conservative MP – who had been children’s minister since 2012 – lost by 48 votes in his Crewe and Nantwich constituency last night in an election full of surprises.
Timpson had led on the coalition and Conservative governments’ attempted sweeping reforms to children’s social work, but had encountered difficulty getting the Children and Social Work Act 2017 through parliament.
During his time as children’s minister he oversaw the establishment of the innovation fund, which has provided government cash to test new ways of working in children’s social work. He also tried – and failed – to introduce an ‘exemption clause’ to enable local authorities to opt out of certain duties. In addition, Timpson led the introduction of new models of delivery of children’s services, including independent trusts, which the government has forced on some ‘inadequate’ authorities.
Besides the Children and Social Work Act 2017, which, controversially, will introduce a new regulator for social work, Timpson also oversaw legislation – the Children and Families Act 2014 – to reshape adoption and introduce a new system of support for disabled children. He also introduced the popular Staying Put policy, to enable young people in care to stay with their foster families past the age of 18.
Timpson was not the only social care minister to lose his seat; his counterpart in the Department of Health, David Mowat, has also departed after losing his Warrington South seat.
Timpson’s former boss, education secretary Justine Greening, faced a tight race for has her seat of Putney, but held on with a much decreased majority.
There was better news for ex-child protection social worker and shadow children’s minister Emma Lewell-Buck, who was re-elected to serve as an MP in South Shields, while shadow care minister Barbara Keeley retained her Worsley and Eccles South seat.
The election result has generated a lot of uncertainty for social care policy, as there is no one party with an overall majority.
Theresa May remains as prime minister and will work with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to govern, though not through a formal coalition. The two party’s combined number of seats creates a slender majority in the House of Commons.
What could the result mean for social workers?
Social care might drop down the priority list
With negotiations on Britain’s exit from the European Union due to start shortly, and with a minority government in place, there is likely to be limited focus on other policy areas, including social care.
While there remains strong cross-party support for reform of and increased funding for adult social care, there is disagreement on the way forward.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats had broadly similar ideas for increasing social care funding, though by different methods.
The Conservatives’ policy for social care reform was incredibly unpopular and may have been one of the factors that cost them the election. Such a policy would have little chance getting through the House of Commons. It is possible that attempts may be made to forge a cross-party consensus on social care reform but this is likely to be a low priority next to Brexit.
Who’s in charge of deciding the direction for social work will change
It is also unclear how much priority any new government would give to social work reform. Edward Timpson was a big driver of social work reform and he will no longer be in government.
The government has already climbed down on certain battles during the passage of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, and it could be that their appetite for reform had already gone.
While the creation of the new social work regulator, Social Work England, is now on the statute books, the government will need to make regulations to implement this aspect of the Children and Social Work Act.
They may decide not to do so or defer its establishment, particularly without the architects of the policy, Timpson and former education secretary Nicky Morgan, no longer in place.