Adult social care: all “innovation”and no money

Submitted by Matthew on 1 August, 2012 - 10:36

The government’s White Paper “Care and Support”, on reforming adult social services, was launched on 11 July. It is full of supposedly innovative ideas but without any money or commitment.

The government keeps repeating that it will put £300 million into adult social care between 2013 and 2015. The majority of this money is to implement the innovative ideas with none left to cover shortfalls left by cuts to a system that was already on its knees.

The government’s answers to problems involve the appointment of principal social workers in local authorities (with a very ill-defined role), social workers setting up social enterprises, and giving private companies the chance to take over parts of the assessment process.

This is so wrong it that it's hard to know where to begin. As someone who works in social services I can tell you most of our complaints (which rise in line with our cuts) and general dissatisfaction aren’t about the assessment but about the outcome

In Worcester there have been caps put on the care you can receive at home and the independent living fund, which topped up local authority care for people with high needs, is being abolished.

Increasingly, the support people receive is less yet they’re asked to pay more.

Charges for services have increased massively as has the local authority’s chasing of them.

In my own London local authority this isn’t bringing in many savings.

Local authorities will retain their statutory duties. The opportunity to assess, write support plans and provide services can be privatised but the monitoring, quality assurance and safeguarding has to remain with the local authority. Private companies take all the easier (and often more pleasant) work including any profit and local authorities take all the risk.

The government has already made it clear that they want fewer staff and to leave those remaining with less support, lower pay and worse conditions.

Whenever local authorities tender anything out it takes months of scrutiny by staff, usually in lower or middle management. We still have the monitoring role but fewer staff to do it with.

This leads to a general lower standard in care, corners have to be cut and risks taken, and most of the time service users muddle along with the care they can get.

Sometimes this results in fatal disasters, but these hit the papers only occasionally so that’s okay!

Since the purchaser/provider split was introduced in 1990 there’s been a rhetoric of reducing bureaucracy but it has actually only increased. A colleague of mine recently worked out that I spend about 10% of my time in face-to-face contact with service users, carers and families.

At times the rhetoric of social enterprises with social workers committed to practice can sound appealing, hence the College of Social Work is lukewarm on the idea. However, research shows that those that have been set up have closed down or been taken over. People know the reality hence there is little in the way of enthusiasm in local authorities and a lot of resistance from frontline staff.

This White Paper is just the latest chapter in the government’s ongoing ideologically-driven campaign against any kind of a welfare state.

Campaigning against the proposals must be combined with campaigns against the cuts to social services that are taking place in councils across the country.

Unfortunately, the main union organising staff, Unison, continues to miss almost every opportunity to provide any leadership or strategy to push back against attacks.

Unison correctly calls for funding of social care to be through general taxation, but their mealy mouthed press release only makes this clear in the last paragraph, after much about how it’s “unrealistic” to rely on private insurance. There’s no strategy from Unison to succeed in getting this demand.

Workers in social care need to organise, both in Unison and outside of it through campaigns such as the Social Work Action Network (SWAN) which links social workers, academics and service users.

The rank and file needs to force the bureaucrats in our union to run a decent campaign, and join with service users and activists to make the government fund services properly through taxing the rich.

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