Emma calls for increased funding and real reform in Adult Safeguarding

May 4, 2016

Last week, Emma delivered a keynote address to the Safeguarding Adults Conference at the Hallam Conference Centre in London.

The Conference was attended by a cross-section of delegates from the Health and Social Care sector to review and analyse the latest developments impacting on safeguarding issues following the implementation of the Care Act, such as personalising care for the elderly and improving patient care by improved partnership working and information sharing.

Currently Chair of the of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Work and Co-chair of the APPG on Child Protection, Emma formerly worked as child protection social worker and was a Cabinet member on South Tyneside Council with responsibility for adult social care.

Speaking after the event Emma said

‘The event was a great opportunity for health and social care-workers to come together to exchange experiences and examine whether safeguarding issues have improved since the implementation of the Care Act two years ago. What is becoming apparent as with many vital services is that the Government’s austerity policies, lack of affordable housing and disproportionate cuts to welfare have hit the most vulnerable in society very hard. As a consequence, the numbers of people accessing social care and health services, which have themselves been continually subject to brutal cuts has increased. The pressure on health and social care professionals has never been greater making safeguarding more important than ever, yet even harder to embed in practice’.

You can read Emma’s speech below:

Thanks for that Jane and thank you for inviting me here to speak with you today.

As well as being the current Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Work, some of you may already know that my former profession was as a child protection social worker. I was also Cabinet lead on my local council for adult services.

It is always said that safeguarding is everyone’s business, yet in reality it rarely is everyone’s business until a scandal breaks or it directly affects families and communities.

Once this happens suddenly everyone becomes an expert on what should have happened, what went wrong, who is to blame and how we make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future.

A review is then completed by someone who has limited, or in many cases, no experience at all of safeguarding. Recommendations are made, legislation produced, then things go quiet until the next scandal and then the whole process is repeated again.

It has struck me since becoming a Member of Parliament how well-meaning legislation and guidance does not always translate as it is intended on the ground, the place where it really matters.  All too often implementation does not match the vision.

Social work seems to be forever in a state of flux and reform, but for every new report and every promise of transformative change there is little improvement in the way services are actually delivered.

I believe there needs to be fewer lengthy studies and investigations on how we improve the system; fewer high level reports on what should be done and more emphasis on action and making sure practice is effective on the ground.

So whilst the new duties around safeguarding adults in the Care Act are of course welcome, I am sorry to say that all of the arguments I and my Labour colleagues made during the passage of the Bill seem to have come to fruition because without the necessary funding and investment needed, the legislation has become, to some practitioners, simply words on paper that they are struggling to implement. Reports show that for some service users, there is a decrease in choice and provision as a result.

Safeguarding Adults has never captured the public imagination in the same way as Safeguarding Children. This is something I have never really understood. A child has a midwife, a GP, School Nurse, Teachers and a range of other professionals monitoring their progress yet the elderly housebound neighbour with dementia sitting behind a closed door may only have a stranger visiting from a care company twice a day for 15 minutes. I think we can all agree who is at increased risk of unnoticed abuse.

Ask a member of the public to name a child who has died after being abused and they will mention Baby P, Victoria Climbie or Daniel Pelka. However whilst many of us in this room will know of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francesca, I suspect many members of the public will struggle to recall their pain.

Their suffering was equally as horrific as each of these other cases but they did not receive the same outrage in society or media attention.

Often cases involving children can lead to public pressure resulting in knee jerk changes in policy. Often, these rapid changes tend to have the opposite desired effect, resulting in what Social Workers are now saying about the Care Act – that in terms of adult safeguarding working arrangements, bureaucracy has increased with too much focus on process such as referral, strategy meeting, investigation, protection planning, case conference and review – and not enough on agreeing which actions which will achieve the most positive outcomes for people.

What has been proven to protect vulnerable adults is good Partnership working. Whilst to all of us here, this is accepted, anyone who has, is, or trying to work collaboratively with other professions within the safeguarding framework will know how difficult it is. To not only look at the situation from your own professional perspective and ethics, as well as having to immerse yourself in those of another professional background and then come together to an agreed position whilst maintaining a positive outcome is complex.

But it is possible if there is good leadership and time given to develop those partnerships. Sadly, time is the one thing many practitioners say they simply do not have.

As you will know, the most common theme that comes up in Serious Case Reviews for adults is poor communication and information sharing between agencies and a series of missed opportunities.

Opportunities missed because social workers, police and health professionals are operating in highly bureaucratic, constantly restructured and underfunded services to such a degree that they inherently retreat into their own cultures and service demands as opposed to fostering good, robust multi-agency practices.

This of course has been made more difficult – in terms of adult safeguarding, by the plethora of private organisations now in the care sector. Private companies have shareholders and are continually encouraged to put profit before people. We see it all the time in the private companies running aspects of the NHS – that’s how free market forces operate. When profit margin is the bottom-line – safe practices can often be the first to fall.

These private services should see safeguarding adults as their core business and have a culture where all staff know it is their responsibility to act. Yet, time and time again, when there has been serious abuse or harm perpetrated to a vulnerable adult or adult we hear that staff recordings, training, support, supervision and organisational understanding of safeguarding were woefully inadequate.

I know from constituents who have worked for decades in the private care sector that improvements in safeguarding have not been forthcoming. Some have told me that their safeguarding training consisted of an online course, needing to be completed in their own private time with no tuition or guidance and financial penalties to their already low pay if the course wasn’t completed within a specified timescale. By not safeguarding and valuing care professionals themselves, this Government is doing a disservice to vulnerable adults.

After all, all Governments have choices in how they allocate finances, this Government have thrown money into the wrong places and taken it from the right ones, service users overall are not getting the service they need or deserve and as usual hard working professionals like you, who do passionately care about safeguarding are battling against a system that is on the verge of collapse. Yet the Chancellor made no mention of health or social care in his latest Budget. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Social Care Precept and the Better Care Fund come nowhere near to plugging the 4.3 billion funding gap in local authority adult social care budgets, the very budgets that good safeguarding depends on.

We all know that legislation alone will not protect the vulnerable and that we should be constantly challenging the Government to do more, because it is clear that there is still a long way to go in transforming attitudes to adult safeguarding and properly building safeguarding into the fabric of our society.

My aim is to make sure the urgency of this issue is understood by government and convince them of the need for real reform. This is one of my priorities as a Member of Parliament. My colleagues and I in my All Party Group will continue to work hard so that these concerns are heard.

We owe it to all victims of abuse to make sure that lessons are learned.

We need a new era in safeguarding where it really is everyone’s business.

Thank you, I am sure you will all have some great debate and discussion throughout the day. Happy to take any questions, comments or suggestions.


Safeguarding Conference crop





















Latest News