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‘Social workers who don’t resist are complicit with cuts that harm clients’

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The uncomfortable truth is that social workers are being told to implement cuts that target disabled people. If you don’t voice your resistance to them, you become complicit with them, argues Simon Duffy.

When our boss makes a bad decision we will often go along with things rather than risk sticking our neck out. But what if it is not just one poor decision but a repeated wicked action?

What if our boss is central government itself? What can we do?

Today social care is facing its greatest ever crisis, but you would hardly think so if all you did was listen to TV or read the newspapers. Perhaps we have become so used to the word ‘cuts’ that we don’t think it’s real.

We estimate that government spending cuts announced in 2010  will translate into a cut of 33% in social care (children and adults) – about £8 billionby 2015.

Over the first two years we have already seen cuts of £4 billion. There has never been such a deep cut to a public service in the history of the welfare state.

This isn’t temporary belt-tightening

You may think this is just ‘austerity’ – a bit of temporary belt-tightening faced by all public services. But this is wrong.

Many things have not been cut and some things are just cut a little. The two biggest cuts are to benefits and to social care. This means the main target groups for the cuts are people in poverty and disabled people, and for people receiving social care this is a double whammy.

In fact, our latest report A Fair Society? How the cuts target disabled people demonstrates that the average person receiving social care faces a cut 19 times greater than that faced by an average member of the population.

Harming those that should be protected most

These are not just cuts, they are targeted cuts – hitting first those who should be protected most.

And the uncomfortable truth is that the people implementing these cuts are social workers. Of course, most of you will not ‘agree’ with the cuts but you will feel that you cannot resist. So we are seeing:

  • Increased eligibility thresholds, and reassessments aimed at reducing eligibility
  • The inappropriate use of the RAS to slash budgets
  • Increased social care charges, driving more people into poverty or out of entitlement
  • Cuts to many other local voluntary groups providing advocacy or support to women suffering domestic violence 

What you can do

Some of this is possibly illegal, almost all of it is wrong, and it harms the very people you came into to social work to help. But what else can you do?

Well here are some ideas:

  1. Join the Campaign for a Fair Society, or some other resistance group. You still have the right to express your concern and your desire for a fairer society.
  2. Pass on information, if necessary anonymously. People need to know what is happening and how these cuts are being implemented. The Campaign and other groups will publish information that you share.
  3. Work to rule. Ensure you are working within the law and team up with colleagues to ensure that you are not forced into denying people their statutory rights.
  4. Organise. Social workers and local authorities do not need to be passive in the face of this attack. ADCS, ADASS, SCIE and other organisations can choose to act with honesty and integrity and to ensure that the public know what is being done in their name.
  5. Resign. A hard choice, but one made by my friend Kelly Hicks who was Adult Social Worker of the Year in 2011. If you are asked to do something wrong, don’t. Work outside the system to defend people’s legal rights and help people organise resistance from within local communities.

These are not all easy options. We all have obligations to our families and we are all fearful of stepping out of line. But if you do not take action to resist these damaging cuts then you become complicit with them.

Dr Simon Duffy is Director of The Centre for Welfare Reform. He is on Twitter at @simonjduffy 

About Andy McNicoll

Andy is community editor at Community Care, with a focus on reporting on mental health. He has previously worked for titles focusing on the NHS and substance misuse sectors. You can contact him at andy.mcnicoll@rbi.co.uk