Social services departments set to go, survey shows

Almost three quarters of people working in the social care
sector believe social services departments will not exist in their
present form in five years time, new research carried out by
Community Care shows, writes Lauren

The survey of 200 local authority and voluntary sector staff
working across all sections of social care predict that social
services departments will not survive beyond 2006, irrespective of
which party wins the general election.

Despite the fact that only 16 per cent of those surveyed believe
the overall effect on social care was worse under the current
Labour government than under the Conservatives, only 45 per cent
are willing to commit to voting Labour compared with 63 per cent in
the 1997 general election.

Almost a third of respondents are still undecided about where to
place their cross on the ballot paper, and 7 per cent will not vote
at all.

However, if the Conservatives claim an unexpected victory, a
quarter of local authority social services staff would be less
likely to remain in social care, findings show. The impact would be
less dramatic in the voluntary sector, with 13 per cent more likely
to leave social care if a Conservative government is elected. Half
of all respondents believe that the circumstances of social users
would get worse under a Conservative government.

While two-thirds of those surveyed believe the current Labour
government is committed to social care, a third believe it has made
it harder to perform daily tasks, predominantly due to lack of
funding and increased paperwork.

Labour’s refusal to promise free personal care for older people,
as recommended by the Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the
Elderly, is considered to have been its most harmful policy
decision in relation to social care, alongside the introduction of
the performance assessment framework for local authorities.

However, more than half of the respondents feel that none of
Labour’s policies have been harmful. Quality Protects was voted its
most popular policy by more than a third of respondents –
reinforcing findings of a second Community Care survey
published which found that 80 per cent of social workers working
with children and families considered Quality Protects the most
effective of the government’s child welfare initiatives.

Two-fifths of respondents to the latest survey believe the
social circumstances of service users have improved under the
current Labour Government and almost half believe things would
continue to improve if Labour are re-elected for a second term,
particularly for young people. A quarter believe circumstances for
service users would improve under a Labour-Liberal Democrat

Ian Johnston, director of the British Association of Social
Workers, said that he was not overly concerned about the predicted
demise of social work departments as the services they provided
would remain essential even if the structures changed.

He dismissed fears that social workers’ roles could become lost
within larger departments or new organisations, predicting that
social work as a profession would in fact become stronger and more
independent once the General Social Care Council and associated
regulatory framework were up and running from October.



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