‘The denial of austerity’s impact on social services is truly shocking’

Ray Jones writes about how ministers and companies ignoring the impact of austerity is placing the blame on directors

Photo: Takasu/Fotolia

by Ray Jones

Almost every social worker I talk to these days can describe to me in detail the increasing poverty they see in the families they are working with, as well as among older and disabled adults.

This has increased, and almost certainly will continue to increase, as universal credit continues to be rolled out across the country. This new benefits system, introduced under the Welfare Reform Act 2012, brings together six payments and is supposed to be less complicated and easier for both government and claimant.

However there is a built-in six week delay in receiving payments. Combined with the fact that universal credit is paid to people monthly, rather than weekly or fortnightly,  and that most claimants already find it very difficult to budget, many are ending up in a spiral of debt.

It is surely notable the government had to whip its Tory MPs into abstaining on a Labour vote to ‘pause and fix’ the new system as politicians on both sides voice increasing concerns about the impact it’s causing.

This is exacerbated by the bedroom tax, which reduces housing benefit payments to people deemed to have a spare bedroom in social housing, and the withdrawal by cash-strapped councils of emergency payments when families are deemed destitute and desperate.

Austerity denial

Despite these well documented problems, the level of austerity denial among government ministers is truly shocking. My local MP, who is a government minister, wrote a piece in the local paper about universal credit, in which she claimed it was an improved system that would provide a better safety net.

Then, the minister of state for children told Children and Young People Now that he will not seek more money from the Treasury for children’s social services, because he is not convinced the current funding is being well deployed.

In the interview, Robert Goodwill seems to take no account of the fact that local authority funding from government has been reduced by 38% in real terms since 2010, or that specific grants such as Sure Start have been abolished.

No matter, that the Local Government Association has calculated there will be a £2bn shortfall in children’s services budgets by 2020, nor that social workers continue year-on-year to have a real term cut to wages, while the workforce buckles under increasing caseloads.

But the third, and in some ways most startling, case of austerity denial I have seen this week is a tweet from Morning Lane Associates (MLA) on 14 October, which stated : ‘The only people responsible for increased children in care are the ADCS – don’t blame austerity – adopt the Reclaim Social Work Model’.

Blame

In this one tweet, the pressures on families and on children’s social services, leading to more children in care, are blamed on directors of children’s services not the government’s politically-chosen austerity policies.

For a private company that promotes a model of social work across England, and has been involved in developing the accreditation tests for children’s social workers and advising Frontline, the fast-track programme for training social workers, this seems both naïve and concerning.

These denials also fly in the face of overwhelming recent evidence. A research paper published by Rick Hood in 2016 warned deprivation levels continued to be a key driver of referrals to child protection services.

This finding was echoed in the work of Andy Bilson, which concluded that the majority of children coming into contact with these services live in families affected by poverty. Earlier this year, a study by Paul Bywaters also found that children in the UK’s poorest communities are over 10 times more likely to enter the care system than those from the wealthiest areas.

This work shows the direct correlations between poverty and deprivation and rates of children in need, child protection activity, children in care, and local authorities under most pressure. And what I find most shocking of all is that those holding the power to shape social work services are prepared to ignore this evidence so blatantly, and refuse to change approach, even if the harm it is causing can be proven.

21 Responses to ‘The denial of austerity’s impact on social services is truly shocking’

  1. Clare October 20, 2017 at 10:43 am #

    Thanks Ray for putting it so clearly. It is confusing for us all to have the different competing arguments and explanation of statistics, when underneath the reality is poverty is increasing for many people and their ability to manage the system more difficult as the rules change. All they get is a free telephone helpline in a month’s time! The strain on those working at the front line and seeing this happen must be considerable and like nurses it will be hard to retain social workers in the workforce system.

  2. Paul October 20, 2017 at 10:45 am #

    These cuts and the attack on the poor have changed social work at the grass roots level. Referrals to food banks have become the norm, replacing sec17 funding in many cases. Universal credit causes undue stress on parents and carers, impacts on the day to day experiences of children. The governments approach is totally wrong, counter productive and damaging. Just shows how out of touch the current goverment is from the lives of ordinary folk.

  3. Tony October 20, 2017 at 11:15 am #

    Perhaps Morning Lane Associates would care to respond? I think they owe the progression an explanation as to their position.

    • Tony October 20, 2017 at 11:16 am #

      *Profession

  4. Andrew October 20, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

    As a former director of Morning Lane I wonder whether the Chief Social Worker for Children agrees with hr ex-colleagues?

    In fact, I wonder if she is still the Chief Social Worker given her silence on almost everything relating to the pressure on social work services and their users resulting from Government policies.

    Is she not meant to be the voice of social workers?

    • Spotty Dog's mum October 22, 2017 at 9:39 am #

      Totally agree Andrew.

      Chief Social Worker – You are meant to be our voice. Where are you? Do you have any recognition of the reality your Social Workers are facing every day??

  5. Steve Goodman October 20, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

    Indeed of course austerity is impacting terribly on families. I absolutely agree with this. My point is that children’s social care response should Not be to compound this by removing children from families. Instead we should be enabling social workers to have the time to work with families and where necessary to offer long term support. This is by far the better response than taking children into care. It’s cheaper too ! So Ray I have never doubted the impact of austerity- just wanting our responses as social care to be more supportive of families .

    • Nell October 20, 2017 at 9:54 pm #

      I find this so shockingly disingenuous that I feel no need to repeat the complex web of political and sociological reasons why more children are in care. To coin a phrase ‘ He WOULD say that wouldn’t he?’ Taking children into care is NOT simply a ‘response to austerity’. Austerity is one factor impacting negatively on families. One. And in relation to practice: I have never subscribed to the one size fits all approach.

    • C. Jones October 21, 2017 at 9:32 am #

      Long term support requires services that are commissioned to the individual needs of the community. Huge cuts to bugets have seen a significant reduction in commissioned services that have been integral to helping families and avoiding state intervention that’s not required. Eroding such support services leads to increased social work case loads and therefore less time spent with those children and families who require social work intervention. Fire fighting and crisis intervention fail to tackle the root cause leaving children and families in a cycle of a revolving door approach that fails to achieve positive outcomes.

    • Simon Cardy October 21, 2017 at 9:51 am #

      As if it was that’ simple. When I think of the amount of time we spend in pratice agonising over children on the ‘Edge of Care’ or returning from ‘admissions’ panels surprised and sometimes shocked that they didn’t accept our arguement that it really was time we accommodated these children, or coming into the office on Monday morning to find the police had removed children without EDT having a chance to intervene, or reading all those serious case reviews where agencies had all these opportunities to act but didn’t -I wonder how you think that it’s that simple that we spend all our time ‘removing children’. On the other hand, I don’t disagree there are another group of children that don’t need to be in care and only if we put a bit more effort in or went that extra mile and could find the sort of resources that help alliances with the DUP we could do a lot better. I also wonder if, and Ray has been making this point now magnificently for some time that, if we didn’t have so many private companies making millions out of government contracts to line their own pockets and pension funds, or us having to waste public money on distractions like NAAF, we might have a bit more cash in the system to
      do the sort of long term work you advocate. But if only it was that simple.

  6. With hope in our hearts October 20, 2017 at 1:51 pm #

    This and the 55p per minute UC Helpline.

    The Conservatives are the biggest Scammers and threat to vulnerable adults and children.

    Where there`s a profit there’s a Tory.

    • chrissie October 23, 2017 at 9:20 am #

      what a red herring – Labour are equally to blame. I agree that austerity contributes to all social care issues – but mostly on adult care – the picture surrounding children in care and on the edge of care is far more complex

  7. Laura October 20, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

    I agree with everything Ray has to say. There is certainly a huge level of denial at the top about how they are devastating communities because of austerity measures, yet sadly they are the ones with the power to decide how services are shaped. The only thing I would say is that whereas Directors are not responsible for leadership decisions, it would help if there was a unified backlash by all Directors about what is happening in their Local Authorities. Directors seem to feel they have to be very political and “work with” the Tory agenda, but you cannot work with a group of people in denial about the consequences of their actions. They need to be argued against, otherwise blame will always inevitably be placed on those lower down.

  8. Abby October 20, 2017 at 8:38 pm #

    Thank you Ray for raising awareness on this issue!

    It should be obvious that poverty, inequality, and austerity are impacting on people. Our government should be acknowledging this and be working towards a fair deal for our most vulnerable and a fair deal for those who work to support the most vulnerable.

    It has shocked me that in practice – in assessments – how often do we take account of austerity and note things like change of social worker or a lack of resources? – because these are important factors, I think, which contribute to families staying open to Children’s Services. I can’t help but feel such practice is oppressive and could be avoided if perhaps we as a service were invested in.

    I do note that in government debates we rarely have such a voice in compassion to say conversations about the NHS – What could we do to maybe make our voices heard?

  9. Brid Featherstone October 20, 2017 at 10:29 pm #

    I don’t want more money so that children’s services can do more of the same failed child protection policies of the past!

    BUT there is a massive disconnect at the heart of government policies – the chief driver of demand is deprivation and the evidence is completely clear that variations in rates of children being looked after are statistically related to deprivation. Thus it is extraordinary that the Chief Social Worker and the government are in total denial about the contribution rising poverty levels are making to the rise in care demand. The level of denial on her part is bewildering – why she ignores the evidence is beyond me!

    I am intrigued by the MLA tweet! – if we are to ensure children stay safely at home in their families of origin we need poverty reduction strategies, decent housing, community services and so ion – the idea that systemic family therapy and social learning methodologies can be effective when all of the above are missing is extraordinary!

  10. Katie Politico October 21, 2017 at 7:29 am #

    Goodwill says this as a prelude to contracting out children’s services to the private sector which as we know time and again, from the scandals perpetrated by G4S to our privatised public utilities and transport, results in poorer services.

  11. Violet Maleed October 21, 2017 at 9:19 am #

    As a 77 year old, in a one bedroom flat I am very happy, I have money to spend, free travel, and faiirly good health so I think Al is well stop conpaining and look on the bright side , we are still here ,

  12. paul Smart October 21, 2017 at 11:37 am #

    To say the ‘only people to blame’ are DCS is misleading then. The MLA tweet came across as a crass pitch for work, whether intended or otherwise.

    Austerity has caused many families to struggle, to become homeles. It has put huge pressure on already difficult situations.

    But it has also meant cuts in non statutory services so that some services that may prevent children needing to be looked after are no longer available.

    Thirdly it has made DCS focus on finance and not what is best for young people.

    This is about all agencies and services to families not just social care. Health, education, social care, youth services, youth offending etc still work in silos. People reorganise and restructure but silos remain and YP will have maybe 6 or 7 different professionals, all with different thresholds and line management structures. This is patently unworkable and unhelpful. The DCS is only one silo head. Children’s services should be all services for YP and children.

    The recent knee jerk reaction to CSE has, in some cases, meant another ‘expert’ worker is parachuted in. This has been accompanied by a score system which, many now argue, is counter productive.

    I digress. Government policy has had a direct impact on children and young people. Ray Jones speaks of the politicisation of social work and, sadly, the CSW role is a case in point. The role surely has to be a conduit between social workers and government but I think i recall a quote that said the CSW wasn’t the voice of social work. Trouble is government doesn’t welcome challenge at all. The CSW is now widely perceived to be the voice of government and was too strongly, in my view, allied to government policy.

    The politicisation of social work has been accompanied by the de politicisation of social workers who are often increasingly micro managed. This micro management is heavily influenced by the need to keep within decreasing budgets so the SW is forced into a conflict situation with senior management.

    More debate and dialogue is needed..this should be collaborative and practitioner led.

    Tweets such as the one mentioned detract from the dialogue.

  13. Mary Jones October 21, 2017 at 5:46 pm #

    I agree with Ray’s strenous efforts to become the populist voice of social work. I also remember how he tried to push through a “hard version” of evidence based practice during his failed tenure at SCIE. Shame he is not very good at writing rigorous academic pieces.

  14. Phil Sanderson October 24, 2017 at 9:06 pm #

    Working for an authority that paid out a fortune to MLA we have piled on 100 more children in care so it does not seem that the remedy works I am afraid they are little more than apologists for the Tories

  15. Nicky Crosbie October 25, 2017 at 8:36 pm #

    Absolutely agree with comments about total lack of engagement from Isabelle Trowler. She should be speaking out against austerity. She came to talk at a conference in Derbyshire a couple of years ago and had some very interesting things to say about working systemically, however when I asked a question about cuts to LG funding and how they will impact on the families we work with and the ability of social workers to do their work, she simply did not want to know. Very easy to talk about social work theory, not so easy to talk about the horrendous reality of austerity. Perhaps becoming chief social worker means you can’t criticize government??

Leave a Reply