It’s insulting to say cuts to social work back office staff reduces bureaucracy and ‘protects’ frontline services, argues Scottish Social Services Council chief executive Anna Fowlie.
“Jobs lost on the high street”: “bureaucracy cut at the town hall”. Both of these statements refer to people losing their jobs.
The first relates to people who work in the retail sector and the second to people who work in administrative jobs in social work.
Here’s another well-trodden statement: “Social workers spend all their time filling in forms when they should be with service users : get rid of the backroom to protect the frontline”. But if there’s no-one in the backroom, who will do the admin? The social workers.
Social work has spent years fighting for good admin support
Social workers have spent years fighting to get administrative support to free them up to work directly with vulnerable people. Similarly, how often do we hear that police officers should be out on the beat not stuck in the office writing reports?
And yet every court case, every children’s panel or adult protection case relies on good quality reports based on careful and accurate records.Crucial decisions about people’s lives can’t be made on partial recall or scribbled Post-its.
Anyone who runs a service will tell you that it is really hard to get the balance right, and most workers will tell you they still spend too much time looking at a screen and not enough with families.
A false economy
So why would we go backwards? Why would we want people who have spent four years getting a social work degree sitting behind a desk?
It’s a false economy and not a person-centred/outcome-focused use of human resources. Some might say the answer is to cut back on the administrative work, and no doubt we all have examples of things that could be done with fewer forms, procedures that could be streamlined.
But I would suggest that the drive for efficiencies in public services and the paring down of commissioned services in the voluntary and private sectors to the bare bone, means much work has been done on that already.
And these “backroom” people aren’t all in local authorities. A sizeable proportion of social services are provided by the voluntary and private sectors, essential to economic recovery.
Why different narratives for the private/public sectors?
To return to the statement at the top of this piece, why is it that private sector workers losing their jobs is a national calamity whereas public service workers losing their jobs is a good thing? I find this insulting and bizarre.
People who work in social services in support roles are often low-paid, work as least as hard as their friend in Starbucks and they have families to support. They pay tax and spend money on the high street – and they’re voters.
This “backroom girl” contributed her bit
As someone who spent 20 years working in human resources, a significant amount of which was in social work, I can tell you that this “backroom girl” contributed considerably to improving services in children’s homes, care homes and homecare.
If I hadn’t been supporting managers, writing up reports, investigations, negotiating with trade unions, those managers would have ended up spending more time on damage limitation on staffing issues than addressing the needs of the people using services.
Good support staff, whether finance, admin or HR, are trained to do all that stuff well. We need to use their skills, not denigrate them.
Do we want residential care workers processing invoices or do we want them spending time with young people? Do we want social workers filing or do we want them working with vulnerable families? Do we want public service workers shopping on our high streets or do we want them on the dole?
Do you agree with Anna? Have your say and let us know the contribution your admin and back office staff make to your work in the comment section below?
Image: Isopix/Rex Features