A threat to courage itself

was only a matter of time before the compensation culture arrived in social

writing was on the wall when every minor infringement of personal rights or
institutional duties began its almost inevitable journey through the US courts during
the 1980s.

years later, refined and improved by the US experience, the weapon of
litigation is available to be turned against every incautious social services
department, every manager brave enough to take a bold but, in the view of the
courts, ultimately misguided decision.

doubts that there should be some form of redress for the victims of poor social
work. Social work is no more immune to the kind of ignorance or negligence
which can have such devastating consequences for clients than any other
profession. But court cases and huge pay-outs, such as we have seen in recent
cases involving Bedfordshire and Newham Councils, are not the answer. Nor are
they the answer where former children in care sue a council following a
residential child care scandal, as has happened in North Wales, Leicestershire
and Staffordshire.

practice cannot flourish in the shadow of the compensation culture. Social care
workers deal with people and outcomes can never be predicted with complete
confidence where people are concerned. If there is the possibility of
punishment in the courts, the instinct will always be to play safe. Courageous,
imaginative decisions, justified in the light of the evidence but whose
outcomes fall short of certainty, will be a thing of the past.

doubt whether we will follow the example of the trigger-happy US, even with the
European Court of Human Rights to egg us on. But the temptation is there and,
for some social workers and their employers, that will be a threat too far.

Just pay more

Council’s proposal to introduce performance-related pay for social workers is
understandable. It is a local authority with severe problems as shown by the
government’s use of special measures to monitor it.

has an acute recruitment problem not helped by the inability to pay inner
London weighting to staff because it falls outside of the boundary. Ways have
to be found of retaining and attracting staff. The council’s new loyalty
bonuses will certainly help.

performance-related pay will not. Social work is not about weights and
measures. It cannot be easily assessed, and it would be dangerous to judge
professionals on appraisals when personal opinions and favouritism could easily
influence the outcome.

work is a complex profession with much depending on the personality of the
individual. It cannot be fitted into neat categories, or be analysed by crude
performance indicators. Performance-related pay could also prove divisive,
setting colleagues against each other.

may be old fashioned, but wouldn’t better pay and conditions be a more
effective solution?

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