The vast majority of social workers have rejected the government’s reforms to the profession, a widespread survey from Unison has found.
More than 2,850 social workers answered the union’s survey about the government’s proposed reforms to social work, with only 1 in every 100 believing the government’s reforms will address the main concerns of social workers.
Two-thirds of respondents believe controversial exemption clauses proposed in the Children and Social Work Bill will lead to more children being placed at risk. The proposals, in Clause 29 of the bill, have received widespread criticism and would allow local authorities to request exemptions from legislation. Unison branded the reform as “extremely dangerous” in the report of the findings published today.
Suspicion of the agenda behind the bill was high among respondents with almost all (99%) saying they did not trust the government on the privatisation of social work functions and 96% did not think private companies should be allowed to run social work functions.
When asked what the government’s priorities for social work should be, investing in services and “dealing with caseload levels” were the two most important to social workers. Exemptions from statutory duties were “least important priority for the profession”, the survey found.
Almost half (49%) of social workers do not feel the chief social workers are voicing their concerns and the problems they are facing. Only 7% felt they were.
“The survey results make clear social workers’ dissatisfaction with the government’s plans to attempt to introduce radical and untested reforms to children’s social work services,” the Unison report said.
“The government has proposed these ideas without any proper consultation or dialogue with the social work sector on how to deal meaningfully with the deep-rooted problems with afflicting social work services. These include the chronic lack of resources for social work services and increasingly high caseload levels for social workers.”
Most social workers (9 out of 10) wanted to continue being regulated by an independent body, while 81% said they would not be prepared to accept an increase in registration fees to fund a new regulator. The government has previously said costs for a new regulator will be met by fees at the current level, and investment from the Department for Education.
Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, said the government was “hell-bent on undermining social services in England”.
He said exemption duties could mean “there would be no national system for looking after children at risk. Whether children get the care they deserve could depend on their postcode, rather than the legal protections hammered out over decades”.
“The government is squandering an opportunity to make genuine improvements to vulnerable children and social work services by failing to engage and listen to the profession,” Prentis added.
Unison called on the government to “abandon” elements of the Children and Social Work Bill which would allow local authorities to become exempt from legislation. It also said the government should meet a range of frontline social workers, and invest more resources into supporting social work services across England.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Excellent social workers transform lives and the Power to Innovate is about giving staff on the ground the freedom to develop new and effective ways of supporting children.
“Any changes must undergo a strict approval process and it is wrong to suggest councils will simply be able to exempt themselves from statutory duties. We are also clear that our plans do not include any measures to enable privatisation and we have promised to establish the regulator as a separate legal entity to ensure it is independent.”