Social worker: ‘I want service users’ complaint about my council to succeed’

My council's decisions are compromising our professional values and damaging service user outcomes, writes a social worker

Photo: nu1983/fotolia

By an adults social worker

Personal budgets are not delivering on the promise they were introduced with – flexibility, choice and control. Instead, we are being told by senior managers to restrict what this money is spent on. Our service users do not have the freedom to choose the care they want or need.

The general feeling among frontline social workers at Norfolk County Council is this is just another move towards the dismantling of statutory services. Service users are being given personal budgets and cut adrift. This is causing conflict between us and the people we support.

This conflict was highlighted in a recent complaint by user-led group, Equal Lives, on behalf of Norfolk’s service users. Equal Lives has reported the council to the Care Quality Commission for ‘disregarding’ its duties under the Care Act 2014. I think ‘disregarding’ is the wrong word, but we’re certainly not living up to the principles of this legislation.

People aren’t getting their needs met for no other reason than budgetary constraints.

Senior managers and councillors are not standing up for us and challenging government decisions. They are not making a stand against the attacks on our services. They are not being supportive of us as frontline workers. I can’t remember the last time we saw a senior manager in our office, asking if we are okay and listening to us.

Instead, we are told to find more cost-effective solutions, which are usually dressed up in fancy names. We have the ‘Reimagining Norfolk’ strategy, which is about bringing the private and voluntary sectors in and looking for more ‘creative’ ways of meeting need. They dress these projects up in policy decisions, but we know they are just providing a smokescreen for the cuts.

This is causing demoralisation. Social workers are frustrated. We are professionals who every morning go to work determined to do the best we can for our service users and arrive to find our hands are tied. We are overworked and our caseloads are too high.

‘Our values are compromised’

Middle managers are as stressed out as the rest of us. I know many are working in their own time, you’ll often get an email from a manager on a Sunday. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place – they have to push the managerial and political decisions further down the line to us. They are there for us as much as they can be, but they’re victims of the same situation.

When you do your social work training it is – quite rightly – bashed into you day after day that you must put the service user first, you must use skills like empathy and so on. But when it comes down to it, the managerial decisions that are imposed on us mean we can’t really employ those values. As the cuts bite, our values are compromised.

I would like to see Equal Lives’ complaint to the Care Quality Commission upheld and publicised. I’d like to see other councils face up to this as well. And I’d also like to see Norfolk’s senior managers and councillors showing some guts. Stand up for us, take our side, take the side of our service users, and challenge government decisions.

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14 Responses to Social worker: ‘I want service users’ complaint about my council to succeed’

  1. mrm March 8, 2016 at 11:58 pm #

    Well said. The social care and health is in crisis. This is a government that does not care, is short sited and has little interest in our service users, other than how to take from the poor and give to the rich. I’m leaving the profession….

    • Geoff Fox. March 14, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

      Personal Budgets exist to meet care needs not to subsidise income and be spent on teats such as jaunts to the seaside and gym membership under a banner of “flexibility, choice and control”. Local Authorities are not offshoots of the DWP.

  2. CS March 9, 2016 at 1:13 pm #

    Couldn’t have summed it up better myself. Well done for having the courage to write this. When will there be an end in sight?

  3. Richard Lohman March 9, 2016 at 1:15 pm #

    It’s difficult, I’d advise this social worker and other registrants with the HCPC to use their updated standards as one tool for change.

    In particular number 7 REPORT CONCERNS ABOUT SAFETY: I have notified my employer using 7.4: you must make sure the safety and well-being of service users always comes before any professional or other loyalties…7.5: You must follow up concerns you have reported and, if necessary, escalate them….

    And as registrants we need to remember, if we fail to raise our concerns formally we do risk being struck off…a handy thing to mention as an add on when we highlight our concerns about the well being of clients

  4. David Steare March 9, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

    I admire your standing up for people. However, I feel so pessimistic about what you hope for. In my opinion, senior, middle and front-line managers appear to have not just betrayed the social justice values and ethics of social work but they also seem to leave their humanity at home when they come to work (cf. Christopher Bollas’ concept of the ‘normotic personality’).

  5. LongtimeSW March 9, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

    Agree – maybe argue through the ballot box? (Hit politicians where it hurts, though they probably don’t care anyway, with fatcat salary’s waiting in the private sector for when they finish stuffing up the public sector))

  6. get me out of here March 9, 2016 at 1:57 pm #

    I was told today that a Service user with double amputation on both legs could mot be given money for Gym membership because he should pay for this from his benefits. All fine up to a point, however, since benefit levels are calculated at around basic subsistence level, he clearly could not afford to attend.

    In the context of 40% cuts to Council budgets what does personalisation look like under Austerity? Clearly it looks like we are back to providing for only physical care needs. Now there is no ILF again thanks to Government cuts I cannot even get money from that fund.

    Personalisation as a policy is over in the age of endless austerity.

  7. Diane Taylor March 9, 2016 at 1:58 pm #

    I feel the same. I’m a Senior Social Worker and feel so demoralised by what is happening to social care services, our values and beliefs and how budget cuts are having a negative effect not only on us as professionals but to our service users/families who are so vulnerable. Not only do I spend all day working to fight for the rights of those using our services, I spend the rest of my time fighting for the rights of my own elderly mother who is 80 years of age, increasing health and social needs and having her personal budget cut by 2 hours a week, by another local authority, who is arguing that those hours should be met by health!

    My experience is that choice and control is very limited, as there are still poor social care practices by some local authorities to provide prescriptive services as under pressure to save money.

  8. Helen Daly March 9, 2016 at 2:04 pm #

    Do what the Junior Doctors have done – get your Union to take the Council to Judicial Review or some other challenge – families, people and professionals need to help each other and make sure minority vulnerable groups are protected. It will also give back relavance to an organisation that used to help balance the needs of everyday people against those of big business and ruling elites.

  9. Adrian Zakrzewski March 9, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

    It was Margaret Thatcher who said that no service is sustainable where there is infinite demand for it and we as a society are making greater and greater demands upon our health, welfare and social services. The first thing we all have to do if we really want more for such services is to convince those voters who vote for the Conservatives to stop doing so. That way instead of wasting money on ‘nuclear deterrence’, tax breaks for the rich and corporations, giving away public assets to private racketeers, net payment to the EU, and international aid, we may have more resources to apply to the population already within Britain’s borders.

  10. Mike Llywelyn Cox March 9, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

    Frontline social workers should recognise their Codes of Practice. Managers are usually (but not always) social workers too and it seems to me that some are in breach of their registration terms. Complain to

  11. Yvonne Bon if as March 9, 2016 at 5:10 pm #

    Im afraid personal budgets were always a con, some of us could see it ftom the off but were effectively silenced. Anyone who thought they were going to mean clients getting both their basic, essential needs met AND the nice fluffy things on top was very naive. There was never going to be the money for both. The only reason for most older people to have a pb now is to use a provider other than the overworked council block provider.

  12. Colin Quiller March 9, 2016 at 5:35 pm #

    The response from the CQC is awaited with great interest. I believe Norfolk is typical of many local authorities, and if the CQC do investigate I suspect an avalanche of similar cases will follow.

    CQC is focussed on care providers – nobody currently monitors councils effectively for the quality of their assessment & support planning processes. The LGO can be effective – but it looks at individual cases, and you have to be very persistent to plough through council complaints procedures first then start again with the ombudsman. I am sure many people just give up – and who can blame them! Just getting by from day to day is hard enough.

    There are many issues related to the underfunding of Adult Social Care – poor decision making at council as well as government level, a failure of senior managers and council leaders to acknowledge the swiftly deteriorating situation over the last five years, and an ostrich-like attitude by middle management to problems when they arise. Attempting to meet budgets has a much higher priority than meeting needs!!

  13. Michael March 11, 2016 at 9:09 am #

    I am sorry, but I do feel like there is a need to challenge one of the key elements of this article – that about :”councillors and senior managers not having the guts to stand up to Government”. How, exactly? ADASS and the LGA have already made a lot of fuss and a lot of good arguments over the cuts to funding. The only other avenue that I can see (outside of the ballot box and denuding other services in the council) is to refuse to deliver on the (expensive) commitments in the Care Act and to opt for cheaper, less good services. But isn’t that precisely what the article is raging against?

    In the end, councils, like social workers do the best they can with the resources available to them. Yes, they could do better, but to accuse them of moral cowardice for not doing things that are out of their control seems to me to be unreasonable.