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It’s time for social work to take control of its own future

peter-beresford_.gifby Peter Beresford, professor of social policy at Brunel University and chair of service user network Shaping Our Lives

With what confidence can social care service users and social workers look forward to 2012? With very little it seems. It’s not just the generally negative welfare and public policies that seem to be hitting disabled and older people the worst. As 2011 comes to its gloomy end, the Coalition seems to be committing itself to a do-nothing approach to social work and social care. Such an approach has always been disastrous in the past and there’s little reason to have any more confidence for the future.

Modest proposals

First, the government has made clear that it doesn’t intend to support a key recommendation of the Munro Review into child protection – the early intervention duty. The final report of the Munro Inquiry was hardly a demanding document, with no mention of resources, despite all that we know about their critical importance for positive child care and child protection policy.

Yet even its modest proposals seem too much for the Coalition. Then there are the rumours that the government is putting back social care reform until 2025, despite the common agreement, to which even it has signed up, that the present system is broke and unsustainable.

An alliance of more than 20 key social care organisations have already expressed their serious concern about this in a letter published in the Daily Telegraph, one of the papers that first broke the story.

Again the Dilnot Commission offered a modest set of recommendations, but apparently the Treasury has baulked even at them and the figure of an additional £1.7 billion which Andrew Dilnot said will be needed from the public purse. That amounts to less than one third of the £6 billion that Vodafone was reportedly let off paying in tax by the Coalition. Yet only last week, Jo Cleary of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: “the funding system for adult social care is broken. It could bring down local authorities it is so serious”.

Commitment and enthusiasm

It increasingly looks as though this government has decided to park social work and social care. If so, what does it mean and what should we be doing? ‘We’ is the important word here. And all is not doom and gloom. Jo Cleary made her disturbing statement at the annual Social Worker of the Year Awards where she was one of the judges. Held in the gilded surroundings of the House of Lords, the awards were a showcase for all that is good about social work and social care. We saw centre stage the commitment, the enthusiasm, the sheer hard graft of a dedicated and diverse workforce. It really did make you feel proud to be there. Hilton Dawson, chief executive of BASW, summed it up in his closing remarks when asked where he saw the social work profession in five years time. He said, ‘Where social work is in five years, is down to us. We can make it or break it’.

That truly is the point. Waiting for the politicians and policymakers to get it right, will have us waiting for a very long time indeed. Social workers, in alliance with service users and their organisations, must see themselves as holding social work’s future in their hands. It is a massive responsibility, in very difficult times. But it is undeniably the way to go. Seeing those award winners, meeting my new social work students earlier this year at college, certainly gives me hope and confidence. Having confidence must be at the heart of our resolutions for the future.

About Simeon Brody

Community Care managing web editor

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