Put the poorest first

it comes to child poverty, the government has usually put its money where its
mouth is. The Prime Minister’s absurd suggestion of taking child benefit away
from the parents of errant children apart, the general tendency of government
policy is laudable. Chancellor Gordon Brown has shown a genuine commitment to
lifting the poorest families out of poverty, most recently with the promise of
additional support delivered through the child tax credit.

But there remain some strange blind spots in
government policy, particularly where the very poorest families are concerned.
It is against this background that the leading children’s charities, backed by
the Association of Directors of Social Services, are urging the government to
ensure that adult services do not take the lion’s share of the new money
announced for social care in the last Budget. They fear that the political
priority of an end to bed-blocking will leave little of the promised 6 per cent
a year increase in funding for children and families social services.

Department of Health ministers have been
worryingly tight-lipped about how the new money will be divided up.

The case for children and families services
cannot be overstated. If they emerge from the Budget settlement with a
pittance, it will contribute to the growing contradiction at the heart of
government policy. The consequence will be that the least disadvantaged
families receive the most help relative to their need, while the most disadvantaged
families, the ones who most often come to the attention of children and
families social services, receive the least. Child protection services suffer
from chronic under-funding, as do support services to families in which there
is a disabled child or a parent with a long-term illness. Any failure to invest
now can only widen the gulf between traditional social services and more
fashionable services of the kind provided through Sure Start and the children’s

Unless the government acts, all hopes of a
coherent set of policies, each one complementing and enhancing the next, will
vanish. Its cavalier attitude to services is disturbingly mirrored in its
attitude to families themselves, where the fortunes of those who can work have
improved while those who cannot are dependent on an erratic benefits system
that still harbours iniquities like the social fund. Now is the time to begin
setting the record straight.

Council pay:
time to act

prospect of a national strike of local government workers looms large. It is
unsurprising as an NOP poll this week reveals that almost 70 per cent
considered leaving their jobs in the last year because their workload and
pressures increased over the same period.

The news will come as no surprise to social
care staff in local authorities who are struggling to cope with depleted teams
alongside greater expectations from the public and government alike. The job
has become more demanding yet the financial payback has not met the increased
pressure. And the other rewards – helping people to fulfil their potential –
are being whittled away by a government focused only on measurable outcomes.

A stalemate appears to have been reached.
While the unions call for a boosted pay offer over and above the 3 per cent on
the table, the employers argue they simply cannot afford it. The government
must intervene. Social workers and their local government colleagues must be
paid a proper rate for the demanding work they undertake. Nothing less will do.

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