Our wish-list for 6 may

Jacqueline Harmitt: substance misuse worker

When Jacqueline Harmitt joined Cambridgeshire Council’s youth
offending service as a substance misuse worker three years ago she
had very different expectations of what her work would involve.

“I thought I’d come across the glamorised drugs like cocaine, but
it is mainly alcohol,” she says. Along with three other substance
misuse workers she is part of a 57-strong team and has a caseload
of between eight and 20 clients aged 11 to 18.

With this in mind, Harmitt is clear what the next government should
do to assist her young clients. “Government should be a lot harder
on advertisers. My teenage daughter thinks the Bacardi ads on TV
are cool but young people don’t see the consequences of drinking.
Everyone in the advert looks gorgeous and it is seen as something
to aspire to.”

She thinks the government should not close its eyes to the dangers
of alcohol just because drinking is socially acceptable. “Some of
my clients are drinking 120 units of alcohol a week and have no
idea what they are doing to their bodies.”

The next government should fund local authorities to provide peer
mentoring schemes to reach those young people who are misusing
alcohol and drugs or who are involved in offending behaviour, she
adds. “If we had more peer mentoring schemes young people could see
that other people like themselves have been able to move on. There
is a different way of thinking and living.”

She also wants policies and targets to be less focused on city
life. “Young offenders in rural communities can have problems
accessing the available support. If their parents don’t have
transport or the money to get to the scheme the young person misses

But, more than anything, Harmitt wants the next government to
“acknowledge the difficulties we face day in, day out when the
resources aren’t adequate enough”. Politicians should be aware of
the burn-out rate in social care and reward the workers
appropriately. “We are seen as do-gooders but that has negative
connotations with the public. We are not seen by society as valid
and this view is reflected in our pay.”

Nicola Read: community care social worker

If there is one thing that Edinburgh Council social worker Nicola
Read dislikes about the election campaign, it is the negative
approach adopted by the major parties. “A lot of it involves
picking on groups such as gypsies and asylum seekers. This
sabotages the creation of a culture of respect for all

Read has been a social worker for seven years. She works in a
multi-disciplinary team of 12, dealing with adult clients ranging
from older people to those with learning difficulties.

Perhaps as a result of her broad client group, there is one
particular aim Read would like the next government to meet: “There
needs to be a greater recognition of the role the sector plays, in
particular the rights of service users and their carers. At the
moment there is some recognition but it is not universal, it’s
patchy.” She also highlights the “shockingly small” allowance that
people receive for caring for someone for more than 35 hours a
week. “If we want to value care we have to value carers and that is
about rewarding them.”

Simplifying the benefits system should also be a priority for the
next administration, she says, as some clients find it complicated
– and it always takes time for benefits to be processed.

To encourage more people to join the profession, Read thinks that
the next government should consider writing off student debts. She
would also like to see a UK-wide review of remuneration, career
structure and terms and conditions in an attempt to attract more
candidates. “If it is a stressful job it needs to be recognised in
working conditions and pay.”

There is one thing that she would like the next government to stop:
the scapegoating of social workers. “The government must have a
responsibility to lead public opinion and not just respond to it or
pander to the lowest common denominator,” Read says. “I’d like to
see more championing of social workers and not arguments against

Chris Coates: mental health team leader

Chris Coates is the team leader of the Rural Emotional Support Team
(Rest) in Staffordshire, which he launched four years ago to
provide emotional and mental health support to the farming

He feels the next government must ensure that mental health
services are accessible to all service users, regardless of the
communities in which they live. He says: “We are available between
6am and 10pm because our clients can’t get to their GP or an
outpatients appointment during working hours.”

He also wants greater exchange of ideas between statutory agencies.
Coates says Rest works hard to improve the mental health of its
clients but its efforts can be undone by a poorly-worded letter or
phone call. “We get a lot of our clients feeling well, then they
get a letter from another organisation that doesn’t take into
consideration their mental stability and it tips them over the
edge,” he says. “A jigsaw can look fantastic until you take one
piece out of it.”

In terms of how the future government can improve matters for
social care professionals themselves, Coates wants less emphasis on
the so-called differences between statutory and non-statutory
service providers. “The government should champion all social care
workers as we are all equally equipped with the same levels of
professionalism but sometimes we in the voluntary sector don’t feel
this happens.”

In addition, he thinks there should be a simpler bidding process
for mental health services funding so that more voluntary agencies
can apply. More consideration should also be given to the work of
non-statutory organisations, which can deliver services as well as
their statutory counterparts. Adopting these changes, he says,
would encourage more people to apply for work in the voluntary
Like his local authority colleagues, Coates wants the next
government to champion social care, and address pay discrepancies.
“Mental health social care professionals should all start on the
same level of pay and it should increase according to their skills
and experience.”

Celia Winter: children and families assistant team

Providing enough suitable accommodation for young people leaving
care should be a priority, says Celia Winter, a children and
families assistant team manager at Herefordshire Council. “There is
a serious housing shortage for kids of this age and they end up
sofa-surfing,” she says. “The government needs to look at the needs
of these young people because they are the most vulnerable and
disadvantaged children, who are cast out into society.”

She believes that, although the after-care of some client groups,
including former prisoners and psychiatric patients, is being
addressed by government, young care leavers are disappearing off
the radar. “We have a case where a young care leaver has put her
own child into care as she has nowhere to live.”

She would also like more resources to be allocated to meeting the
needs of care leavers. Winter describes the statutory funding
provided as “absolutely ridiculous” and wants the next government
to commit to investing more money into the care system. “Projects
such as Sure Start have made a huge difference but we will still
have children coming in to care,” she says.

One problem her team regularly faces is the number of children who
have to be placed in private residential care homes because of the
shortage of foster carers. Winter describes the fees as
“scandalous” and urges the next government to establish a task
force to investigate whether residential care should be provided by
private companies or local authorities.

At 56 years old, Winter is approaching retirement. Despite having
more than 20 years’ experience she earns less than her son who has
taught in a primary school for 10 years. This is an area she also
wants addressing. “Our salaries are so low in comparison with other
caring professions,” she says. “The young people who are coming
into social care will start on a starting salary way below other

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