Will the incoming government be strong enough to push on with reforms to social care? Community Care reports on what sector leaders see as the most urgent tasks
The hung parliament should not be used as an excuse to avoid action to tackle social care’s most urgent problems, sector leaders have demanded. Community Care asked key figures what the new government should prioritise.
Social workers are calling on the new government to sustain funding for the Social Work Task Force’s recommendations.
Almost all of the 105 Unison members who took part in a survey last week said the government’s top priority should be to invest in reforming the profession.
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social care, said: “We’ve heard very little about social work in the campaign but we need this government to see [the reform programme] through.”
When asked which recommendations were the most important, respondents also named developing a national standard for employers, followed by national supervision requirements and training for front line managers.
The national college of social work was ranked as the least important of the taskforce’s 15 recommendations.
However, Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, told newly qualified social workers at the University of Gloucestershire last Thursday, that there was “no bigger issue in social work” than the creation of the national college.
“The college is the way we raise our standards and the standards of employers,” he said in his speech. “It will ensure that the most experienced, best qualified social workers are paid and supported to remain in practice.”
BASW is demanding a bill to give the college power to set standards for entry into the profession, standards required of employers and to establish the career structure of social workers.
Unison’s Pile also called on the government to take a “warts and all” look at the personalisation agenda. “We’d like the government to stand back and take a less dogmatic view, so it’s less about getting people on personal budgets and more about how services can be improved,” she said.
“We’d also like a plan for investing in the hands-on care workforce to be centre stage. We’d like the government to prioritise raising care workers status and ensuring they have access to training.”
Allan Bowman, chair of the Social Care Institute of Excellence, said the government should prioritise high quality cost-effective and personalised services, delivered by a skilled workforce. “This needs to be backed up with the knowledge on what works, so that those who plan, deliver and use services are basing their choices on the best available knowledge,” he added.
Sue Eato, vice chair of the Association of Social Care Communicators, called for action to improve the sector’s image. “The work of social services is widely misunderstood by the public and other professionals. Adult social care is at the forefront of pioneering personalisation. Instead of the press battering our service, more effort is needed to highlight the positive aspects of our work,” she said.
Reforming adult care funding and increasing personalisation of services should be the top priorities for the incoming government, according to adult care leaders.
Richard Humphries, senior research fellow at the King’s Fund, said a plan to reform adult care funding needed to be in place within a year, saying options for change had been clearly laid out.
In a White Paper in March, the Labour government announced plans to establish a national care service free at the point of need, but delayed decisions on how to fund it.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both establish commissions to examine funding options. However, the Conservatives do not back such a path, fearing it could be used to bring in Labour’s favoured compulsory levy to pay for care.
Des Kelly, executive director of the National Care Forum, said the election had created doubts over whether care funding reform would be pursued.
He said: “We got to a critical point with the publication of the White Paper and then the election was announced. We’ve been in this hiatus over whether the social care White Paper issues will remain a priority for the new government.”
Jo Webber, deputy policy director at the NHS Confederation, warned: “What we don’t need now is for people to decide this is too hard a topic and put it on the backburner for a while. The demography is not with us.”
She said the next few years presented the best opportunity to create a lasting reform to the system.
However, the new government was also urged to make personalisation its top social care priority. Local Government Association group lead for adult social care Andrew Cozens said that, while funding reform was important, the personalisation agenda would make the biggest difference to services.
Richard Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, also stressed the importance of personalisation. He said: “The new government needs to continue to support the ongoing implementation of the personalisation agenda because when we work with people as citizens, they make good decisions and get better value for money.”
Early intervention, the maintenance of the sector’s structure and reducing social work bureaucracy are the top priorities for the new government, children’s services professionals have said.
Fears that the Conservatives would abolish the role of the secretary of state for children, schools and families have been strong throughout the sector, with professionals saying the absence of this post could see children’s issues sidelined.
“The current administration put in a secretary of state and obviously we would be concerned if that role was denigrated to a ministerial post,” said Diana Sutton, head of the public affairs and campaigns unit at the NSPCC. “It’s been extremely helpful and influential in driving the children’s agenda.”
Elaine Hindal, campaign for childhood director at The Children’s Society, agreed.
“While child-friendly policies must be a priority across government, we feel strongly that policies directly affecting children and young people should be led by a single minister of cabinet rank,” she said. “This will provide essential accountability and an additional guarantee that all children are subject to the same standards.”
In terms of bureaucracy, some experts said a new government should be less involved with the way in which services are run.
“I would ask the government to go back on focusing on outcomes rather than processes,” said Paul Fallon, consultant and independent safeguarding board chair. “From 1997 to about 2003, things were going quite well for children’s services. After Victoria Climbié and the 2004 [children’s] act, the government started meddling with how to deliver rather than what to deliver.”
Kate Mulley, policy and research manager at Action for Children, said: “We want the government to take a longer term view to make sure that when procedures are set up, we can see what the impact will be so we’re not having this cycle of raising people’s hopes and then dashing them again and again.”
Professionals also urged politicians to embrace early intervention and prevention measures.
“I would want early intervention to be given some statutory teeth,” said Perdeep Gill, independent child protection trainer and consultant. “There are families that are really vulnerable who end up in child protection. Wouldn’t it be better if we could identify these families and have statutory early intervention in place to make sure they don’t become child protection cases?”
David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, agreed, saying the new government should prioritise investment in services for looked after and adopted children and for care leavers.
This article is published in the 13 May issue of Community Care under the heading No time to hang around