Stability is what social care needs, not more turmoil, says Ray Jones
The debates, dithering and disruption about who is in the cabinet have been quite a spectacle. But it is a spectacle with a cost. Alongside changes in people and personalities, there is the linked likelihood of policy changes and changes in political priorities.
Take children’s social care services. Beverley Hughes, who last week resigned as minister of state for children, had been a source of stability amid the storms raging around children’s social care. She had a background within social work. If she had stayed in post, she could have seen through the review of social work that the government has launched.
There are 23 MPs and ministers with previous experience in social work and social care, but none are in key roles where they can be its champions. Meg Munn, a former minister in the Foreign Office, was head of children’s social services in York, but relevant experience is seemingly not best deployed when drawing up the person specifications for political and policy leadership.
For adult social care, there is another change of top political leadership, with Alan Johnson promoted to home secretary. It has become an annual event to see changes in secretaries of state for health and social care.
But among all these political tangles and turmoil, how is continuity to be achieved? Not by a civil service where policy is drafted, and initiatives identified, by very bright young civil servants who are moved and promoted every couple of years. So what might at this time be the forces for stability?
First, the media. We might not expect much here, as news stories and the next scandal feed the appetite for novelty. But the press, having created the fury targeted at social workers over Baby P, could remember in November 2009, a year on, to find out what has been delivered to strengthen child protection and social work.
Second, annual public reports. The Commission for Social Care Inspection, disbanded in April, produced an independent yearly report on the state of social care. Adult social care has lost this opportunity, but the annual reports of the new, post-Baby P, National Safeguarding Delivery Unit will play an important role in addressing progress in protecting children.
Third, experienced professionals staying longer term within ministries. This is happening in the Department of Health, with the director general for social care and three of his top colleagues having substantial backgrounds in delivering social services. The Department for Children, Schools and Families may want to recruit and retain similar experience and expertise for children’s social care.
Fourth, the voices for social care need to be stronger, and the British Association of Social Workers is itself now headed by a former member of parliament.
And then there are the Conservative ministers in waiting. Tim Loughton has retained his children’s brief longer than any of the government ministers. With less than a year before a general election, it is important to have continuity within the political opposition.
A year may be a long time in politics, but it is a very short time to allow policy to be bedded down and the benefits of delivery to be achieved. Yet this is often lost in the drama and disruption within our political landscape.
• Ray Jones is professor of social work at Kingston University and former director of social services in Wiltshire