BASW warns of ‘dilution of social worker role’ as DHSC plans more assessments by non-qualified staff

Government finds £27m to fund councils to explore increased self-assessment, outsourcing of assessments and hiring of social work assistants and trainees to cover social worker shortages

Image of computer key marked 'assessment' (Credit: momius / Adobe Stock)
(Credit: momius / Adobe Stock)

The British Association of Social Workers England has warned of the risks of diluting the social worker role after the government unveiled plans for more assessments to be carried out by non-social work qualified staff.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has given authorities £27m to explore different ways of streamlining the assessment process for adults who may need care and support and carers with possible support needs.

The funding would allow authorities to hire a productivity lead to review existing procedures and implement some or all of the following approaches:

  • Purchasing digital tools to enable people with needs or carers to input their information to feed into the assessment process.
  • Making greater use of virtual assessments.
  • Outsourcing assessments to providers, intermediate care teams or other professionals through so-called trusted assessment arrangements, to reduce the number of times people have to share their information.
  • Dealing with shortages of social workers by hiring social work assistants or trainees – for example, those undertaking apprenticeships – who may be easier to recruit.

BASW England warned the proposals risked “[undermining] a system that puts the needs of people first”, while the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services also raised concerns about the training of trusted assessors and how complex cases will be handled.

Government social care plan awaited

The grant to streamline local authority adult social care assessments is worth between £130,000 and £600,000 for councils – depending on their size and level of need – and the DHSC said it would also help fund the purchase of digital tools.

The department will set out further details in its adult social care plan, expected next week.

The proposals echo those the DHSC set out last year to help manage the impact of its proposed adult social care charging reforms – including an £86,000 cap on care costs and an extension of means-tested support to many more people – that were then due for implementation in October this year.

This would have resulted in councils having to undertake hundreds of thousands more assessments and reviews per year, of people who wanted to take advantage of the extended means-test or be considered for the cap.

Waiting lists and social worker shortages

The reforms have now been delayed until October 2025, beyond the next election, casting doubt on whether they will be implemented at all. However, councils still face major pressures on their ability to deliver their statutory Care Act functions, due to levels of demand and shortages of social workers.

ADASS estimated that 492,000 people were waiting for an assessment, review, direct payment or care package as of August 2022.

At the same time, the vacancy rate for council adult social workers rose from 9.5% to 11.6% in the year to September 2022, while turnover increased from 15% to 17.1%, from 2020-21 to 2021-22.

Opposition to ‘dilution of social work role

In response to the proposals, Liz Howard, professional officer for BASW England, warned: “We oppose any attempts to dilute the vital role that social workers play in adult social care. We are concerned that the use of non-qualified staff will undermine a system that puts the needs of people first.

“The best way to ensure the needs of people are met is to invest in the social worker workforce and renew efforts to recruit and retain, including a national review of working conditions that are having an adverse impact on wellbeing and driving so many out of the profession.”

Many councils have long used non-social work qualified staff to carry out assessments, care planning and reviews, though figures are not available for how many there are. By contrast, Skills for Care collects data annually on the number of social workers and occupational therapists in post in local authorities, who numbered 17,300 and 3,200, respectively, in September 2022.

Assessment ‘so much more than completing a form’

In response to the announcement, ADASS joint chief executive Cathie Williams said: “Assessment is so much more than the completion of a form to determine eligibility and funding. It is about ascertaining people’s circumstances and what is important to them.

“It is intrinsically linked to information and advice and to making sure that people are aware of options and can weigh up the risks, benefits and costs of each of them (after recovery and rehabilitation if the assessment is as a result of a hospital admission) so that if they can plan for the longer term.

“Digital technology can contribute to this, as can people other than social workers. However, consideration will be needed around how ‘trusted’ assessors and others are trained and accredited. Capacity and what support or representation/advocacy people need in relation to decision making, together with safeguards in relation to abuse, exploitation, coercion or neglect will also be critical.”

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11 Responses to BASW warns of ‘dilution of social worker role’ as DHSC plans more assessments by non-qualified staff

  1. Jennifer Bensaidane April 1, 2023 at 12:06 am #

    I’ve been out of social work for a few years now, would like to return I would not mind doing a course I would say three months would do but can I thought to take three months out of work-no I can’t I know someone else to do the same as it should be like to go back into social work, but feels the need to catch up and can’t do it in the few months of the initial job because it would look as if you’re not coping it’s just that you have to relearn so much. And things have moved on. It is not such a people based career as it used to be

  2. Jacqui April 3, 2023 at 9:30 am #

    My sister is an unqualified worker in ACS and has been for a long time. She is more able to do assessments than a lot of SW’s in her team, so a blanket ‘unqualified shouldn’t do this’ is rude and patronising. She knows it is more than just filling in a form, and has a lot of insight into what families need. Don’t write people off just because they don’t have a degree.

    • Ruth Cartwright April 4, 2023 at 11:46 am #

      HI, Jacqui What should be happpening is that your sister should be given the opportunity to become qualified and receive a better wage and acknowledgement for the job she is doing so well. Her experience would stand her in good stead and her employer should support her to do this, but I’m not sure this will happen.

  3. Andy April 3, 2023 at 1:34 pm #

    The ‘qualified vs unqualified’ issue has long been a conundrum in social work, particularly in adult services. I remember many, many years back working in teams with non qualified colleagues who, despite subtle tweaks in respective job descriptions, were doing EXACTLY the same tasks as qualified colleagues and it was a contentious issue that was ALWAYS coming up in rather uncomfortable team debates. I eventually moved on to an area of work which was exclusively for qualified personnel.

  4. Chris Sterry April 3, 2023 at 3:19 pm #

    Undertaking assessments and filling in forms are both areas were many skills are required and qualified social workers have gone through many years of obtaining the required academic qualifications to do so, but learning theory is only part of the process as there is also a skill need into putting into practice what has been learnt in all academic studies. This is a major skills and not all have these skills.

    When doing this there is the skill of listening to what is being said and perhaps more importantly to what is not being said for a multitude of reasons. For persons undergoing these assessments may have been through them before and have very poor experiences or it may be the first time and they are unsure of the process and therefore may not only not provide all information and maybe importantly in the right way.

    For the information required is what you can do or what you can’t do and whether it can or can’t be done the severity of the need and any timescales experienced in undertaking any tasks of need.

    This can be and in many instances is a very stressful process on the persons involved and should never be rushed.

    I know of social workers who are not willing to be employed by local authorities, (LAs) as they have said due to demands directed to them by the LAs they are not being allowed to do the work as they have been trained to do, so this is a very worrying aspect.

    Really it all depends on the ability of the person undertaking the assessment and whether they really have the bests interests of the person being assessed or the interests of the LAs.

    It should be that the person with needs be at the centre, but there are many instances of where this is not.

    To result in an inappropriate assessment being created will not fully cater for all the required needs of the person in need being correctly assessed and will lead to many essential needs being ignored or not fully considered.

    When a decision is then given it should be made fully clear that if the person in need is not content with the outcome then they can ask for it to be reconsidered and maybe take further actions.

  5. Anom April 3, 2023 at 8:42 pm #

    Like other professions where people skills and empathy are at the fore; cost cutting has been introduced to the detriment of the people we support. Managers look at decisions as black or white, without any need for theory or EBP to inform decisions. This makes qualified social workers less needed because decision making is then just a tick box process.

  6. Mrs Miggins April 3, 2023 at 10:55 pm #

    Oh wake up this is the same across the public sector. Increased use of Teaching Assistants in schools, nurse prescribers and health care assistants in hospital. It’s not right but don’t think there isn’t a precedent.

  7. Armie Fortune April 4, 2023 at 1:48 am #

    Funny how they talk about shortage of staff, yet many newly qualified social workers, including myself, are having trouble finding vacancies in local authorities for ASYE. I can’t even get a social work assistant job it’s frustrating.

  8. Social Worker April 4, 2023 at 1:19 pm #

    If we define ourselves as social workers as coordinators of assessments and processes then we probably reap what we sow. Somethings may be better delivered by others. We are educated in rights, ensuring social justice, inclusion and support. Assessments are a part of that but assessment is the function not the outcome. The social worker and the social work are the intervention.

    • Liz April 7, 2023 at 11:36 am #

      Perfectly put

  9. Tahin April 8, 2023 at 9:07 am #

    If BASW cares to step into practice environments, if that’s not too undignified a walk for it’s esoteric assumptions, it will find that huge numbers and perhaps most “assessments” are done by so patronisingly described non-qualified staff. Social work teams would function in even less meaningful ways if thet depended on registered social workers. It’s so dispiriting to still see the denigration of staff without whom services could not run and whose dedication and delivery for users of services allows the likes of BASW and fellow hand wringers the privilege of their constant waffle of what it means to be a “social worker”, the noise distracting us from the realities of poverty, discrimination and vindictive gaslighting. Jacqui is spot on, Ruth I think misses the point made.