Unison plans to lobby for a legally binding caseload limit for social workers in Wales, the union’s National Social Care and Home Care Conference was told.
Peter Crews, chair of the union’s social care forum in Wales, said the Social Work Task Force in England had failed to “grasp the nettle” by allowing employers too much influence over a proposed national framework for working conditions.
A steering group involving unions and employer bodies has been set up to develop the guidelines as part of the ongoing Social Work Reform Programme for England.
But Crews told the Unison conference in Manchester that he wanted the Social Services Commission for Wales, launched by the Welsh assembly government in December, to go further.
“We want legislation that sets the framework for caseloads and professional standards covering the whole of Wales,” he said.
“If we allow employers to pursue their own agenda we won’t get there.”
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social workers, said that convincing 22 local authorities in Wales to agree on something would be easier than in England, where there are 152 councils.
Speakers failed to agree on whether the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force were strong enough to deliver lasting reforms.
Chris Tansley, chair of Unison’s social care forum, was “pleased that the government at last seems to have recognised that the conditions going on in social work at the moment are horrendous”.
However, Pile, who was a member of the taskforce, said she felt the final report “didn’t go far enough” to tackle high caseloads.
“There was a broad spectrum of opinion and there wasn’t any consensus about caseload limits,” she said. “We and the British Association of Social Workers were pushing for more prescriptive limits but others were pushing for less.”
Taskforce chair Moira Gibb said at the launch of the report in December that the group rejected a single limit on caseloads in favour of a more flexible system operated on a team-by-team basis.