Tories In New Drive To Help Social Workers

The Conservatives have promised to create an “army of professional child social workers fit for purpose” in place of the underfunded, overstretched workforce that exists today. The party has set up a new social work commission, which will sit like a select committee at Westminster and take evidence on how the profession can be better supported. In a speech to the Association of Directors of Society Services and Local Government conference, shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton admitted the Tories had not been seen as “fully engaged” with social workers.

But he warned that all the government’s proposals – to protect children, intervene early in families that had the most problems and, most recently, to better support children in care – would come to nothing without a properly trained and financed workforce.

“It is very clear to me that we must urgently reassess the role and status and value of social workers, especially those working with children,” he said.

Ministers should stop announcing new responsibilities but focus on ensuring “we have an army of professional child social workers fit for purpose – properly resourced and staffed, reinvigorated, respected and valued”, Mr Loughton said.

The service at the moment was in trouble – recent figures from public sector union Unison suggest 70 per cent of local authorities have problems recruiting social workers for children, and vacancy rates among residential staff are at 15 per cent.

One of the problems facing the profession was the public’s perception of social work, the shadow minister said – something he warned would get worse with the latest round of government measures on social exclusion.

Tony Blair wants social workers to intervene earlier in families whose children may grow up to be anti-social or criminals. Mr Loughton warned that social workers risked being viewed as “snatch and grabs” in this programme – and said they needed more support.

He added that today’s commission launch was indicative of the “genuine desire” of the Conservatives to engage more with professionals and let them lead the changes he wants. “We need to be able to treat people more as individuals than as case studies and take more risks, trust people’s professionalism and allow them more time away from the manuals and paperwork to get on with their jobs,” he said.