Rhetoric but no resources

How serious is the government’s commitment to
social services? According to the rhetoric since 1997, funding has
increased, social policy in general is higher-profile than ever,
and ministers have become more accessible and noticeably more

But figures released this week by the
Association of Directors of Social Services show that the reality
is rather different from the rhetoric – which will be no surprise
to front-line professionals. It’s incredible but true that the
“better than the Tories” factor still cushions New Labour. But as
Tony Blair found out at the TUC conference, the cushion is wearing
thin. And vulnerable children, older people and the social care
professionals who work with them are feeling sat upon.

Short-term and targeted funding shows New
Labour is committed to its own initiatives, but it does not show
commitment to the everyday realities of social care. Not only does
it bypass those vital services; it exacerbates their problems. When
short-term funding runs out, the project it supported siphons
resources from elsewhere – from core services already damaged by
the loss of key staff attracted by the better resourced,
high-profile initiative.

Meanwhile, demand is increasing, which, in the
absence of increased resources can lead only to more vulnerable
people missing out. And preventive work, which could help social
services cope with increased demand, is the last thing they can

Pressure to meet targets and raise standards
is ever-present and practitioners around the country are striving
hard to “modernise”, despite misgivings about whether targets are
meaningful, and despite the twin pressures of inadequate resources
and inadequate staffing levels.

If the government would resource social
services properly it would at least show that what is being
measured and standardised so avidly is valued, not just seen as an
example of the dangerous autonomy of local government.

Wasted chance

It emerged this week that only a handful of
social workers will receive interest-free home loans under the
government’s starter home initiative. They will have to battle with
firefighters and transport staff for just 311 places on the scheme,
after police officers, nurses and teachers have been accepted.

This farcical situation is yet another
demonstration of the failure of New Labour’s pledge to provide
“joined-up government”. Ministers realise there is a major shortage
of social workers, especially in London – within weeks, the
Department of Health is to launch a recruitment campaign. And one
of the main difficulties in recruiting social workers in the
capital is the lack of affordable housing. The initiative was a
great chance to attract social work recruits by offering
interest-free loans – not only to a handful but to the hundreds who
are needed in housing hotspots. But it seems ministers have failed
to talk to one another and have lost the opportunity.

The £2 million to be spent on the
recruitment campaign will be wasted, certainly in London, if the
government does not address the practical difficulties facing
social workers.



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