letters: unions and PAs; SW degrees; arrogance

issue of the week

Disability support workers and the role of trade unions

Trade unions do a lot of good work (www.communitycare.co.uk/union blog) and are at least partly responsible for most of the rights people take for granted – including free speech, rights to assemble, decent pay and conditions, equal rights at work and a health service.

They do act to empower people who are traditionally disempowered, and care workers are right at the bottom of the pile in terms of power – the disempowerment, low pay and low status of care workers impacts directly on the people they support too.

People who rely on personal assistants and care workers have an interest in ensuring these workers gain in status, become better paid, better trained, more likely to stay in post and more satisfied with their job – which are all objectives a trade union would rightly pursue.

People with disabilities are increasingly using direct payments and individual budgets to become “micro-employers”. It would seem reasonable that part of the support they are offered would include support around choosing the right staff in the first place, negotiating contracts, and in how to manage their relationships with their staff, and that part of the package should include some kind of insurance or contingency payment to cover against things like employment tribunal claims.

Disabled people who employ their staff do however need the right to hire and fire as an essential protection against abuse. And because of the nature of the relationship – having to be supported, often in intimate areas of life for 12 or 24 hours, by someone you do not like is intolerable in the 21st century.

Working with someone in a role that enables a person to achieve better quality of life is likely to be far more rewarding than working in a service where life is one boring unproductive day after another. Workers will usually have higher job satisfaction working with people they are well matched with.

Therefore there is certainly a role for a union for direct support workers, but that does not mean preventing people working in flexible person-centred ways that actually enhance the quality of life of both the person being supported and the person providing the support.

Max Neill


As a shop steward with Unison, as well as a disabilities social worker, I feel the need to dispel a few myths.

No one has to join a union, and unions have no intrinsic power to dictate what staff do or do not do. I am really not sure how we could “empower staff to bully and abuse” Simon, even if we wished to do something so horrendous. Nor do I see the “risk” of employment tribunals as being excessive and remember, anyone can avail themselves of a tribunal, irrespective of union membership. However, unions will not back employees at a tribunal unless they stand a reasonable chance of success, determined according to employment law.

I wish Simon well with personalisation. As a social worker I certainly see it as the way forward, and in my role as shop steward, I see no obvious conflict with this.

John Ramsey

Shop steward

Hackney Unison

The real learning starts with practice

Any degree level course with vocational aspirations can only ever equip the student with ­theoretical knowledge and some limited practical experience (https://www.communitycare.co.uk/108349). The average social work course offers only 200 days on placement spread over two or three years barely one-third of the teaching time of an academic course.

As a practice teacher and assessor I am aware that the practical placement is little more than an experience of “doing” social work. After all, 200 days is very little and, in that time, dependent on the nature of the placement, the ability of the student and the guidance of the practice teacher, a trainee social worker has to absorb so much.

Social work is learned through the doing of it. For the newly graduated this means getting that first job in social work and using what was learned at university as the foundation for development.

My own foundation was enhanced when I got my first social work job with the probation service. At the time it had an enlightened policy that saw recently recruited probation officers guaranteed frequent supervision, a protected caseload and generous training. This is what the graduate social worker of today should be fighting for.

I would be wary of the motive behind the statement of Helen Jones that “employers and newly-qualified practitioners had ‘serious doubts’ over whether the social work degree prepared them for practice”. There are some within the Department for Children, Schools and Families who support a complete “deprofessionalisation” of social work in favour of the total NVQ approach (aka dumbing down).

Clive Baulch

Clivecare Consultancy

Hint of arrogance in Rosie Warlock’s team

I was perturbed to hear the reaction in Rosie Warlock’s team (Social Skirmishes, 29 May) to the decision of a judge not to follow their recommendation that a care order should be made in a case of alleged neglect and abuse. The judge felt that further assessment was needed and Rosie’s team apparently took exception to that decision with an outpouring of pejorative character assassinations of the barristers and the judge.

Does Rosie encourage her team to reflect upon their own practice and performance in such circumstances? In a powerful recent Appeal Court judgement (F(A Child) [2008] EWCA Civ 439), Lord Justices Wall and Thorpe were excoriating in their criticisms of the arrogance of social work practice.

Is Rosie confident that the extreme emotional reactions of her colleagues to a judicial decision that did not follow their recommendation does not hint at a similar culture of arrogance?

Dr Peter Dale



In the children’s Good Practice article on 29 May we mistakenly referred to the Colling­ham Child & Family Centre in Chelsea and Westminster as the Colling­ham Healthcare Education Cen­tre, a not-for-profit social enterprise in the East Midlands. To find out more about Collingham Child & Family Centre.

➔ See www.cchs.org.uk/collingham/collingham-child-and-family-centre

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