Local authority social care cuts: a special report
Social workers are being urged to stand up for the principles of their profession by campaigning against the spending cuts affecting social care recipients.
As millions of pounds are slashed from care budgets, resulting in thousands of job losses within the sector, unions and care leaders called on professionals to participate in the TUC rally against cuts planned for London on 26 March.
Writing on Community Care’s Frontline Focus blog, Chris Tansley, Unison vice president and children’s social worker in Nottinghamshire, said: “We need the real Big Society – our communities, service users, public sector workers and trade unionists – to join together on 26 March and hold the biggest demonstration that this country has ever seen before it’s too late.”
The call comes as it emerged that council-employed social care workers outsourced to the private and voluntary sectors may lose out on pension settlements.
Meanwhile, Birmingham Council has abandoned plans to set the country’s highest adult care eligibility threshold following opposition from disability groups.
How do I protest? The pros and cons
Strikes can only take place if a postal ballot of union members results in a "yes" verdict and the strike relates to a dispute between workers and their own employer. The law provides workers with protection against dismissal or other disciplinary action. Withholding labour constitutes a powerful protest but social care workers are understandably reluctant to leave service users without support.
Work-to-rule, where staff work to their job description and refuse to do any work outside of this, requires a majority vote from union members. Staff taking part in unofficial work-to-rule protests lose the right to claim unfair dismissal. Working to rule can make a point but may affect service users.
Helping others to protest
Persuading other people to lobby against cuts can have a big impact without jeopardising career prospects. Staff at one closure-threatened trauma therapy centre were reluctant to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. Instead, they informed community activists and staff previously employed there, organising a petition that gained more than 2,000 signatures.
Engaging with the media
Speaking to the media can help to raise awareness of the impact of the cuts, showing the local community the strength of feeling. However, many councils prevent staff from speaking to the media without permission and failure to observe this can lead to disciplinary action. Even council-employed union officials can get into trouble.
Stunts allow protesters to show off their creative side: for example, a mock funeral was held by a local organisation in Lewisham earlier this month to mourn the death of public services. Last Halloween saw Unison members in Somerset dress up in skeleton suits to lobby councillors against "skeleton services". Protest stunts attract attention but persuading colleagues to don fancy dress may prove difficult.
Writing letters to MPs and councillors and attending their surgeries will raise awareness of social workers’ plight. Even petitions can still have an impact, especially if online. However, politicians may not always have time to listen, and many will toe their party line and refuse to listen. Bosses can react badly if staff go over their heads to speak to councillors.
Social work code of practice
The General Social Care Council’s code of practice for social care workers requires professionals to report to their employer resource or operational difficulties that might prevent delivery of safe care. This can be used to justify a campaign against cuts, by arguing that social workers are legally obliged to raise their concerns.
Social workers are being urged to play a full part in the campaign against spending cuts, by unions and care leaders
Councils throughout England are slashing services as the cuts bite
A children’s social care chief warns of the dangers of cuts to early intervention and social work caseloads
There are many ways for social care professionals to express their anger at the threat to vital services and people’s lives posed by the cuts.
Why social workers and other professionals must not accept the line ‘we’ve spent too much money, now we have to cut everything’.
Many vital services for women and children who have experienced domestic violence are now under threat.
Join social workers in debating how to respond to the government’s social care cuts