The latest reshuffle of government cabinet ministers has come and gone, and with it has brought changes at the top of who oversees the social work profession.
Jeremy Hunt has added social care to his job title in a now rebranded Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). While he always had ministerial say over social care, the change means he will now oversee the social care green paper, announced last year and currently out for consultation.
It has been all change at the Department for Education, where education secretary Justine Greening quit her post and children’s minister Robert Goodwill was sacked.
Greening was replaced by Damian Hinds, who has already attracted criticism from shadow children’s minister, and former social worker, Emma Lewell-Buck, for his welcome statement not mentioning his responsibilities for children’s social care.
Goodwill’s replacement has still not been formally announced. Nadhim Zahawi has been added to the department, but it is unclear what his brief is. Greening was in post just under 18 months, and Goodwill less than a year.
Here’s what the changes could mean for social workers:
The green paper will be published in the summer this year and is the last remnant of a social care-dominated 2017 election campaign that saw the Conservative party battered and bruised over the so-called ‘dementia tax’.
This now sits on Jeremy Hunt’s desk, and it will be interesting to see what proposals for reform he and the advisory group brought together will present to the public in 2018.
It is not clear what the implications will be of the shift in responsibility from the Cabinet Office to the DHSC. Hunt reportedly asked Theresa May for responsibility for the green paper and is now personally invested in its success or failure, which may mean that it receives added priority.
The shift of responsibilities comes at a time as the NHS faces a winter crisis and social care is once again warning of a financial crisis that needs addressing.
On the department name change
The name change to DHSC is designed to give social care added status within a department that has always prioritised health but it remains to be seen whether this will be more than window dressing.
One early test will be whether responsibility for social care is given to one of the two new ministers of state – Stephen Barclay and Caroline Dinenage – or remains with the more junior post held by Jackie Doyle-Price. This would reverse one of Theresa May’s first acts in government, in July 2016, when she downgraded the social care minister role from minister of state to junior minister level.
On integration of health and social care
There are no immediate implications for the integration of health and social care in the change in Hunt and the department’s titles, and his assumption of responsibility for the green paper. However, in a tweet following the announcement, Hunt said: “How we treat the elderly is the litmus test of a civilised society. The health & social care systems are umbilically linked, so putting leadership in one govt department makes sense as a first step ahead of a vital green paper.”
This suggests he sees the change as an opportunity to further integration, but the tweet received a response from former DH civil servant Rob Greig, the chief executive of the National Development Team for Inclusion, who said: “The leadership of social care has always been in your Department. Why is this being portrayed as a change? BTW – social care is also very much about disabled people – you need to focus on those people’s lives as well.”
Both Greening and Goodwill had been in place a short period of time and inherited a significant reform agenda from their immediate predecessors, Nicky Morgan and Edward Timpson.
During their time in charge they did take significant action on these reforms, particularly around the accreditation of children’s social workers.
One of Goodwill’s first acts was to slow-down the rollout of accreditation to a phased pilot system that will see six authorities partaking this year. This is a long way away from the original ambition of having 30,000 social workers accredited by 2020.
The What Works Centre has got its research partner, but the new regulator has only just began seeking its top staff, and with the new secretary of state clearly signalling their focus is on education, the question remains how much momentum these reforms will have.