Emma was delighted to speak at the Social Workers Union Fringe event in Manchester at the end of last month. Prior to becoming an MP Emma was a child protection social worker and a Cabinet member for adult social services in her local authority. She is very proud of her profession and believes it is like no other.
In her speech Emma stated:
“There are over one hundred and forty-three thousand social workers in England alone. Each of those social workers as your excellent research undertaken with Bath Spa University showed, are working above and beyond their contracted hours amounting to an extra sixty-four days more per year than they are contracted for.
This is a 46-hour week, in a physically, emotionally and mentally demanding job. It is little wonder that recruitment and retention rates are so abysmal.
I recall being regularly assaulted, punched, spat at, needing security escort and being held in victim support services.
Many people in the profession tell me that things are not getting better; things are getting worse. It is therefore vital that the Government support and value the profession, but they do not.
The fact is that they, like most politicians don’t understand the profession and when something is misunderstood, they revert to type and seek to control and regulate it, such that social work and in particular child protection social work in England is in a stranglehold of excessive and debilitating state oversight more so than any other profession.
The problems I faced and what social workers face now are not of their own doing or by their own design.
It is therefore vital that the Government support and value the profession, but they do not.
Since 2010 the Government have certainly had our profession in their sights, children’s services, with their aggressive focus on reform of social work education, regulation, assessment and accreditation the clear message has been that the problems are with social workers themselves.
They have further stuck the boot in telling us that the best of our profession comes from Frontline and Frontline only, this drive towards what they say is raising the professionalism of children’s social work has not only led to a more prescriptive and tick box social work, devaluing that link between social workers and those they support, but it has also served to aid the Government’s overall agenda to rip the very heart and soul of social work apart – that political drive for social change.
The Governments whole approach to the crisis in children’s services is lacking in any cohesive, strategic or joined up vision and is consumed with short term measures that are not yielding any long-term positive changes, but so far have cost over sixty million pounds.
The forcing of mainly Labour led Councils into Trust models that are little more than a rebranding exercise at a cost in excess of 17 million. The national assessment and accreditation system proved grossly unpopular, which forced a U-turn on roll-out, while gifting £23 million to private companies.
The innovation programme has similarly bestowed £12 million on private consultancies, despite being time-limited and given only to certain local authorities, it not only pits local authorities against each other for funding but exacerbates the postcode lottery.
These changes have all took place against a backdrop of savage and unrelenting austerity, where social workers have suffered under years of the public sector pay freeze and local Government is being hollowed out and decimated, the drive from Government is one ideologically focussed on marketization and profit where everyone and everything has a price and their real value diminished.
Action for Children recently reported that some 36,000 children had to be referred multiple times before they received statutory support to help them with serious issues like abuse, neglect and family dysfunction.
What this means is that children who are in a desperate state of help or protection are being subjected to further harm because of a lack of resources. That the most vulnerable children in our society are at further risk because of funding cuts is quite frankly shameful.
It is little wonder that in this desperate environment one in seven children’s social workers quit the profession in 2017.
I know that a Labour Government … are committed to looking strategically and holistically at children’s social care and stemming the tide of privatisation and outsourcing in the sector because we know that when profit becomes the driving force good social care suffers.
John McDonnell announced at Conference in September that we would strengthen trade union rights, introduce a real living wage and set up a working time commission to recommend better rights for workers leave.
Our approach is a clear move from the prescriptive, controlling resource poor environment, we’ve seen under the Tories to one where services and the people working within them or using them are treated with dignity and respect.
Despite this Government’s best efforts, the profession survives. Excellent social work happens every single day in all areas of our country. Children and adults are protected from harm and their lives are improved.
I want to thank you all for what you do.
I am proud to be a social worker.
I am proud to be with you here today and stand with your over twelve thousand strong and growing membership in this historic building.
I am not proud of our Government because their attacks on our profession are not only harming the workforce but leaving thousands of people without much needed support.
Let’s keep pushing for change and know you always have a friend in me.