The name of the government’s game is “modernisation” and – as
the annual report by Denise Platt, chief inspector of social
services, makes clear -Êmany people haven’t yet learned the
rules. Perhaps they have more urgent concerns.
Social workers fear that the rules they want to play by will
change beyond recognition, and so far little has happened to
We cannot know how social work values will survive until the new
world of social care is here – and as Platt’s report shows, that’s
some way off.
Unfortunately, the crisis in social work morale, workloads,
recruitment and retention is now. Many social workers may be
committed to modernisation, but they are more committed to their
service users, first, and their professional values, second.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health has reorganised. On the one
hand, there will be relief that Platt will lead on children’s
services. Her commitment to empowering young people and her
definite social work perspective will be welcomed. But although
children’s services are suffering perhaps the most acute resource
crisis, it is not in these services that social work is under
threat, or the government’s commitment to social work most in
In services for older people – Platt’s other service user group
– pressure has been exerted on social care values for years by the
all-consuming targets of the NHS. At least there is still someone
at the top with a history of resisting it.
But social workers in mental health, disability and learning
difficulty services will be wise to keep a sharp eye on future
This is not a criticism of Sarah Mullally, chief nursing
officer, who has lead responsibility for those service user groups.
But, particularly as the rationalisation of local plans may mean
the demise of community care plans, the social care perspective so
valued by service users needs to be championed.
The fact that five councils are refusing to allow social workers
to be represented by their professional body in disputes is bad
news for the profession.
The five are interpreting guidelines from conciliation service
Acas as meaning a “workplace colleague” to represent social workers
in grievances or disciplinary hearings cannot include a
representative from the British Association of Social Workers.
They insist that any representation must be by the recognised
trade union Unison.
But they are not forced to do so. By hiding behind Acas
guidelines, these councils are choosing to undermine the identity
of social work as a profession.
It is vital for social work that its professional association is
recognised as such, and that its members are respected as a
separate profession with its own codes and underlying values.
Almost all councils across the UK allow BASW to represent social
workers in these circumstances. The last five must follow suit.