Let’s Hear It For Social Workers, Says Conservative Minister

Social workers are too often vilified for creating problems rather than given due credit for the work they do with the vulnerable, a senior Conservative politician said today.

Tim Loughton, the shadow children’s minister, told the National Children’s Services Commissioning Conference in London that social workers are caricatured as a result of general ignorance about what they actually do.

Loughton, who also chairs the Conservatives’ commission on social work, attacked what he described as the “deeply corrosive situation where too many social workers are seen as part of the problem rather than an integral part of the solution”.

He told the conference, which is supported by the Guardian, that recent research by the General Social Care Council found only 40% of the population see the contribution of social workers to society as “very important”.

“This is perhaps unsurprising when another survey found that more than half understood little or nothing about what social work involves,” said Loughton. “Misconceptions are too often fuelled by stereotyped social worker characters as they appear in the media, ranging from slightly alternative liberal busybodies to out-and-out child snatchers.

“Invariably they are panned, either for turning up too late after some terrible fate has befallen a vulnerable child or for intervening too early as the agents of ‘nanny state’. Even children’s computer games portray the appearance of the social worker as a ‘game over’ moment.”

Mounting a robust and, for a Conservative politician, eye opening defence of social work, he said little was heard about how many families are living in difficult circumstances have been held together through the dedication and professionalism of social services.

“But then no one is interested in hearing about the plane that lands safely,” he added. “Yet a good social worker is as crucial to the wellbeing of vulnerable children or to the survival of damaged families as a doctor is to the health of his patient or a teacher to the learning chances of his pupil.”

He said that in other countries, particularly in northern Europe, social workers are respected on a par with teachers, doctors and other public service professionals.

“This inevitably makes for a more confident profession whose practitioners particularly question the risk-averse nature of social work in the UK,” he said. “If social workers are seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution, no wonder there is concern about their morale.”

Loughton also promised that a future incoming Cameron government would not launch wholesale changes to social services but would instead look closely at how existing structures can be made to work better.

“We are not going to chuck out a whole lot of stuff that has gone before,” he said. “A lot of what has happened in the last ten years has been good – there has been greater work between agencies. But we’re not getting a enough bang for our buck.”