You were the Labour MP for Lancaster & Wyre for eight years before standing down at the last election. Do you miss being a politician?
I still am in many ways. I just try to influence change at national and local levels across a narrower range of issues. I miss being responsible to people who might vote for you but those who I try to work for don’t have votes anyway. I don’t miss parliament at all, partly because I still go there regularly, but mainly because I needed to leave to try to do things as well as talk about them.
Does social care do enough to get its voice heard in the corridors of power?
Some parts of social care do very well. There are good people and organisations who are having real influence. However, despite the increased standing of the profession, social care in general doesn’t yet have anything like the impact it should. We need a coalition to agree an agenda, provide some resources and address this effectively. We should stand up for social work as a brilliant profession which can really demonstrate excellent work with people.
How important is social care to this government?
Any government which genuinely seeks to address poverty and social exclusion – and I believe that this one does – requires social care to do this work. Protection of title shows it recognises some of this. The important bit they don’t get is that issues on which they are really messing up – prisons, asylum, community cohesion – would be more effectively addressed if they trusted the principles and skills of our profession.
Has Care Matters paved the way for improving outcomes for children in care?
This is our chance to get this right and the thought of us blowing it through widespread ignorance of what new policies and law mean or by major responsibilities being ignored scares me silly. The still lamentable outcomes for children in care are something that we have the historic opportunity to fix.
You recently called for councils to support A National Voice, which is designed to promote young people’s involvement in care services. Why is it so important?
A National Voice is the most important children’s organisation in the country because it is independent and led by children and young people in care. The participation agenda offers huge opportunities for us to improve the care system by listening to the real experts who live within it. However, there is unbounded potential for lip-service if young people are not empowered through membership of their own organisation. No one should claim they provide an excellent children’s service if they are failing to support their young people’s involvement.
How is the commissioning relationship between local authorities and the voluntary sector evolving?
Even from the limited number of local authorities with whom Shaftesbury Young People works I could write a book. I am really enjoying working with local authorities on this basis. I feel that we are beginning to develop real partnerships, shared approaches, values and trust. However, I am still frustrated with not enough dialogue, imagination, time, preconceived notions and outdated attitudes – on all sides. There is so much more we can do and we all need to engage with the private sector better too.
What does being a social worker teach you?
The most undervalued people will tell you lots of stuff you don’t know if you listen to them properly. It means that you have to spend some real time and use some real skill to explore, check, challenge and reflect. Also, just to keep on keeping on.
This article appeared in the 29 November issue under the headline “‘Trust social care to sort out this mess'”