Care sector workers, including social workers, are less likely than other groups to have legal representation when raising concerns about their employer, according to research by whistleblowers’ charity, Public Concern at Work.
‘David and Goliath’
The Public Interest Disclosure Act was intended to level the playing field, but chief executive of Public Concern at Work, Cathy James, said it was clear blowing the whistle remained a “David and Goliath battle”, with workers without legal representation far more likely to lose their case.
“Unable to access legal aid and faced with the financial burden of paying for advice, representation and court fees, many individuals are effectively being priced out of justice,” she said.
The charity also raised concerns about foster carers who wanted to blow the whistle on poor practice by local authorities.
Legal researcher, Sam Bereket, who drafted the study, said foster carers did not fall under the Public Interest Disclosure Act’s definition of a “worker” and so were not afforded the same protection.
Concerns for service user safety
Those working in the care sector were far more likely than the general population to blow the whistle over concerns for their service users than for themselves, according to the study which reviewed employment tribunals involving a whistleblowing claim under the Public Interest Disclosure Act between 2011 and 2013.
Care professionals most commonly blew the whistle on their employer because of abuse to those in their care and concerns for service user safety, whereas the most common reasons among other groups of workers were discrimination, harassment and workplace safety.
Access to justice for whistleblowers was further restricted by the fact the total amount of costs ordered against claimants was £753,135, while for respondents this figure was much smaller at £183,992.
Community Care research earlier this year found high numbers of social workers had witnessed abusive (40%), unethical (58%), illegal (24%) or dangerous (65%) practice.
No effective action
Almost all respondents to the Community Care survey said they had reported their concerns but 73% said no effective action had been taken.
Many said they had disciplinary action taken against them for raising concerns. Some said they had stopped raising safeguarding concerns for fear that they would be threatened with capability measures.
Public Concern at Work recommended legal aid should be available to whistleblowers pursuing claims against their employers in the public interest, and that the law should be widened to included foster carers.