Social work in Scotland 2016 – on the edge

UNISON Scotland Social Work statement for World Social Work Day.

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UNISON Scotland’s guide to keeping safe in the workplace

The social work and social care workforce in Scotland may not know the details of the economic policies of governments but they are very well aware of the impact of austerity in their working lives and the lives of the service users that they support.

The controversies over Scottish and council budgets have raged back and forward between rival politicians. The people working in the frontline, delivering care and supporting people to change their lives, know that whoever is to blame for the situation it is them and their service users who are paying.

The social worker explaining to a service user why the assessment they did 4 weeks ago has not yet resulted in a care package. The home care worker who doesn’t have time to ask the elderly woman she has known for years how her granddaughter got on at school as she has only 30 minutes to do what she used to do in an hour. The manager, who is frightened to allocate another case to the over-worked, stressed out, heading for a breakdown, recently qualified social worker whose existing caseload is already too great to give the manager confidence that her practice will always be safe.

This is the reality for an increasing number of the workforce in social work in Scotland in 2016. We are working with bigger caseloads, shorter timescales, and greater demands leading to greater risks.  We are working at the edge.

The pressure to reduce budgets, whilst at the same time trying to protect services, has led to councils salami slicing at the workforce, support services, training budgets. Local services have been asked to take on higher risk cases without additional resources. Managers are asked to produce more care hours out of existing staff. The voluntary and private sector contractors have been squeezed to deliver more for less. The workforce is getting more tired, stressed out and concern about the risks of errors or misjudgements is greater.

Innovative ideas, which should be to the benefit of service users and staff alike, have been introduced with the main driving force being reducing budgets. Personalisation, re-ablement, self-directed support, health and social care integration, flexible and agile working, in many cases, rather than creating greater independence for service users and more rewarding work for staff, have added to insecurity and isolation for service users and additional bureaucracy for staff. Workers in many areas of social work spend far more time facing a computer screen that speaking to service users.

There is a recruitment crisis in many parts of the Scottish social care sector as low wages, challenging workloads and unsocial hours make a career in social care seem less attractive than should be the case in a sector where it is still possible to help make a difference to people’s lives and gain real job satisfaction.

Politicians compete for votes arguing over whom best will protect the NHS and make Education a priority. However both of these universal services suffer when social work is weak. Cuts in social workers will mean less support to families where children’s school attendance and educational attainment is a concern. Increasing charges for older people’s day care centres and closing centres for people with learning disabilities increases the likelihood of hospital admissions. Reductions in care in the community services place greater pressure on young carers. Failure to properly resource home care services leads to delays in people getting out of hospital and to risks being taken when discharges take place without adequate support being available leading to re-admission to hospital.

UNISON calls for protection of social work budgets, investment in the services that make a difference, and recognition that social work and social care workers need greater resources to be able to continue to deliver the quality of services that they are committed to.

UNISON is the largest trade union in social work in Scotland and will fight for the rights of our members. However we will also fight for the services that our service users depend on and that are essential in any civilised society. We call on all political parties to commit to strengthening social work and social care in Scotland.

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