Unions demand Tory pledge on social worker jobs

The Conservatives must pledge to protect social workers' jobs from spending cuts if they win the general election, union leaders, including Aspect's Roger Kline (pictured), have said.

The Conservatives must pledge to protect social workers’ jobs from spending cuts if they win the general election, union leaders, including Aspect’s Roger Kline (pictured), have said.

It follows a Tory adviser’s admission that £1bn-2bn could be saved in 2010-11 by “driving down the use of agency and contract staff” in the public sector and not filling vacant posts.

This could mean reductions of between 20,000 and 40,000 public sector posts, Colin Talbot of Manchester Business School told the Financial Times, which broke the story.

The Tories claim their overall package of £12bn efficiency savings could be made without affecting the quality of frontline services. They added that the proposals referred to back-office posts and claimed that the proposal not to fill vacancies did not constitute job losses.

But a spokesperson for Unison, which represents 40,000 social workers in the UK, said it would be “campaigning hard for any future government to protect jobs in the public sector”.

Roger Kline, social care spokesperson for Aspect, said, although the union had no problem with efficiency savings in principle, any future government must protect frontline social care jobs.

“Service users could either get a poorer service or no service at all if these proposals come into effect,” Kline said. “You can’t get a quart out of a pint pot.”

The potentially negative impact on the capacity of social work teams was also highlighted by BASW development manager Bridget Robb. “Blocking councils from using agency staff in social care would cause major problems, particularly in areas with widespread staff shortages such as London,” she said.

A Community Care survey last year found that one in nine social work posts were vacant in England. A report by the Social Work Task Force later in 2009 found widespread staffing shortages were “seriously compromising” councils’ ability to deliver quality services.

Kline said: “Agency and back-office staff can all relieve pressure on the frontline. If you cut IT staff everyone wastes more time fixing their computers.”

He said cutting agency staff in councils with social worker shortages would amount to a cut in services.

Paul Marriott, managing director at Hays Social Care recruitment agency, said temporary staff provided a vital role in filling gaps in teams across the country caused by sickness absence.

He said agency staff should be protected from any job cuts.

“The majority of agency social workers are employed on the frontline, managing caseloads and supporting sickness and absence cover,” Marriott said.

“There are not enough social workers to fill the gap in the absence of these trained temporary professionals. There is a danger that by reducing the number of agency workers available, permanent staff will have to take on more responsibility and more work, therefore compromising the important job they do.”

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