To: UNISON Social Work Members
The deadline for this survey is Friday the 9th of September at 5pm. It is really important that we get the views from as many social work members as possible about the Government's planned reforms.
The Government is currently in the process of introducing major reforms to the social work sector in England through a new Children and Social Work Bill that is working its way through Parliament. This Bill will have far-reaching consequences for all social workers, not just children and family social workers. The reforms will allow councils to outsource their functions to 'social work trusts' which UNISON believes could open the door for the privatisation of social work. The reforms will also lead to all social workers being directly regulated by the Government instead of an independent body. UNISON believes that the reforms do not address the fundamental challenges social workers are facing.
The Government is claiming that its reforms have the backing of social workers but UNISON (along with a number of other social work organisations like the British Association of Social Workers and the Social Work Action Network) has a number of significant reservations about their plans.
You can read UNISON's position on the Government's planned social work reforms at the bottom of this email. You can also read a joint statement from UNISON and the other main social work organisations listing our key concerns with the Government's plans here.
UNISON would now like to get the views of our members on some of the steps being taken by the Government to reform social work. Please take a few minutes to complete this short survey. You can answer the survey anonymously if you wish.
Your answers will help to inform our future campaigning work on this extremely important issue.
Once you have completed the survey then please share it with your social work colleagues and ask them to complete it.
Assistant National Officer
Local Government, Police and Justice Section
UNISON Centre, 130 Euston Road, London NW1 2AY
UNISON Local government | the public service union
UNISON Briefing on the Children and Social Work Bill and the wider reform agenda
UNISON is the UK's largest public services union and the largest representative body for social workers in the United Kingdom. UNISON represents more than 40,000 social workers and social worker assistants across the UK and more than 300,000 members working in broader social care services - for employers in the statutory, private and voluntary sectors. The expertise of our members has driven our desire to improve social work standards for the benefit of wider society and for the social care workforce.
UNISON key messages
UNISON believes that the vision put forward by the Bill is that social work, social care and child protection has nothing to do with wider society. There is nothing to acknowledge the wider societal issues that result in the abuse and neglect that drives children into the care system in the first place. Instead the Bill focuses exclusively on changing the system in a manner that seeks to impose a centrally driven agenda rather than one led by local professionals.
The Bill allows local authorities to pick and choose which pieces of children's legislation applies to them will potentially place children at risk - coming at a time when council funding has been cut by £11.3bn and demand for services is increasing. Any new burdens resulting from this Bill should be accompanied by the appropriate level of new funding for councils expected to deliver them. The Bill fails to tackle the fundamental issues facing children's social work such as caseload levels that are too high, high staff turnover rates, a reliance on agency workers and unqualified social work assistants taking on role of social workers.
The Bill would set a precedent for key adult social work functions to be also delivered outside of local authority control.
UNISON believes improving standards and training within social work must be undertaken with the support of the professionals working within that service - building on the expertise and excellent practice already held. Priority should be given to providing enough staff to carry out social work roles to a high standard, reducing caseloads, looking at the amount of unpaid extra hours staff work and a better way of reimbursing staff for their time.
Part 1, Chapter 2 - Corporate parenting principles for English local authorities
• Clause 1 of the Bill sets out matters that a local authority must 'have regard to' when it is carrying out its functions in relation to children and young people looked after or previously looked after by that local authority
UNISON view: Section 22 of the Children Act 1989 already sets out the general duties on local authorities to children looked after by them. Because Clause 1 makes reference to Section 22, it is unclear whether the corporate parenting principles for English local authorities are in addition to their Section 22 commitments or are in replacement of them. Section 22 already requires local authorities to "safeguard and promote the welfare" of a looked after child or young person, to ascertain and have regard to "wishes and feelings of the child", to help that young person make best use of "use of services available for children cared for by their own parents" and "to promote the child's educational achievement".
It is unclear what the expected relationship between those statutory Section 22 duties and the new principles they must only have regard for under Clause 1of the Bill. There is therefore a serious risk this Clause will create further confusion in children's social services regarding the responsibilities of local authorities - especially when one considers the ability to apply for exemptions within Clause 15.
Part 1, Chapter 2 - Children's social care: different ways of working
• Clause 15 introduces the power for the Secretary of State to pass regulations exempting individual local authority children's services teams from their statutory duties when requested by that relevant local authority
• Provision is included to allow the exemption to made for up to 6 years, subject to approval from the Secretary of State
• Clause 15 also allows the Government to make "consequential modifications of children's legislation"
• Clause 19 lists the legislation that the exemptions could apply to and includes legislation subjecting local authorities to inspections by Ofsted and legislation for councils to be subject to inquiries held by the Children's Commissioner for England
UNISON view: UNISON is concerned that the introduction of a power to become exempt from statutory duties will be seen by local authorities as an opportunity to drop certain responsibilities at a time when financial pressures may make it difficult for them to meet all their statutory commitments. In particular, UNISON is concerned that councils may seek to exempt themselves from Section 17 of the Children's Act 1989 which relates to children in need in favour of focusing on children at risk instead. This would have the effect of introducing a higher threshold at which point a local authority must provide services to children & young people.
Exempting a local authority from certain statutory duties will also make the delivery of that individual service more attractive to external providers, further weakening the role of the state in delivering social care, undermining statutory child safeguarding measures, and increasing competition between providers and a profit motive into services for vulnerable children and young people. The Prime Minister and Education Secretary have previously talked about giving high performing children's services 'academy style freedoms' to 'innovate' and this legislation will introduce a system to permit this. However, there is no proof that the social work trust model leads to improvements - for example, where Doncaster Council's children's services were forcibly moved out of council control, the independent, not-for-profit trust that was set up to take over provision continued to be rated as 'inadequate' by Ofsted.
UNISON is worried that Clause 19 covers the vast majority of legislation related to children. This could mean not only the exemption or modification of the duties of local authorities, but also the modifications of the rights of children enshrined in that legislation. Alongside the ability for a Government to use Clause 15 to modify existing children's legislation, these provisions bypass Parliamentary scrutiny - delegating the creation/modification of child protection legislation to statutory instrument on a council-by-council basis.
Part 2, Chapter 2 - Social worker regulations
• Clauses 20 (Social worker regulations) and 21 (The regulator) give the government powers to directly regulate social workers or set up a government-appointed body to oversee the social work profession
• Clauses 22 (Registration) and 24 (Professional standards) set out that such a regulatory system will establish government control over accreditation, registration and re-registration, the fitness to practice regime and professional standards
• Clause 25 (Education and training) allows the new regulatory system to also approve social work education providers and training courses for Approved Mental Health Professionals and Best Interest Assessors
• Clause 34 (Offences) allows for a set of criminal offences to be introduced for social worker misconduct. The offences could apply to practitioners who fail, for example, to comply with restrictions on registration or in cases where registrants facing fitness-to-practice cases fail to attend hearings or provide documents
UNISON view: UNISON members were amongst those who participated in the recently piloted assessment and accreditation scheme for children and family social workers which was seen as testing how a national regulatory scheme could work. The scheme received a largely negative experience - with 84% of participating UNISON members surveyed saying it did not provide a good way of testing their competencies. The most striking response from the survey was that an overwhelming 91% said the introduction of the new assessment and accreditation scheme should not be a priority for the social work profession.
The reform agenda for social work is clearly out of step with the day-to-day experience of the workforce - most of whom experience problems with high caseloads, a lack of resources and a demoralised workplace resulting from high staff turnover and structural reforms. UNISON is concerned that the Bill contains no detail regarding the proposed new statutory regulator - not even a framework. It is unclear why the Government would wish to commit to the huge cost of setting up a new regulator (as happened with the General Social Care Council) at a time when council social care budgets continue to be cut as a result of disproportionate reductions in central government grant to local authorities (a grant which will be withdrawn entirely at the end of this decade).
UNISON believes that direct government control, or a government-appointed body, will risk professional standards being subject to the political priorities of government rather than a professional evidence base. In addition, the Bill allows for central government to direct/control the content of training for social workers - raising concerns of a move to a two-tier social work system for salaries/allowances for those on fast-track courses, non-university providers being favoured when it comes to funding and the introduction of higher charges/withdrawal of bursaries for those undertaking training. These proposals will make social work the only health or social care profession to be directly regulated by government and UNISON believes the Bill should be amended to create greater independence for any regulatory body established.
The provisions within Clause 34 emphasise punishment rather than public protection.
When social workers fail it is primarily because of the systemic problems within the wider system (such as high caseload levels or lack of resources). UNISON members are worried that the Government's plans will further the scapegoating of individual social workers, whilst ignoring the wider service issues (including funding) that must be addressed.