Social work jobs in Leicestershire to be axed and replaced by call centre staff

More than 50 social worker jobs are to be axed and replaced with call centre staff to save cash. County Hall said that from November, some elderly or vulnerable people would be dealt with over the phone instead of seeing a care worker face-to-face.

Campaigners for the elderly and unions said they feared Leicestershire County Council’s plan would see a “deterioration” in the level of help which vulnerable people receive.

A document leaked to the Leicester Mercury revealed 360 people in the council’s adults and communities department are at risk of seeing their jobs changed or scrapped under the scheme, which will save the authority £2.9 million over three years.

More than 50 redundancies are expected – some compulsory and many affecting social workers and occupational therapists.

Age Concern and unions warned people could slip through the net with a call centre, as it relied on people being able to decide for themselves they needed help.

A spokesman for Unison said: “We are concerned not only for our members but for the level of care citizens will receive.

“I’m not saying something will go wrong, I’m saying there is the potential for more decisions being handled incorrectly.

“The council has overestimated the number of people with simple needs.

“I’m a social worker and in my experience many people cannot assess needs for themselves.

“These are the ones who will lose out.

“In child social care the people answering the phones have to be qualified social workers but with adults they think this isn’t necessary.

“In reality, a vulnerable child is the same as a vulnerable adult.”

The re-structuring is part of the council’s drive to save money and also linked to its gradual introduction of the national personalisation programme.

This scheme sees people given a fixed sum to buy the care they want, rather than getting free services direct from the council.

Tony Donovan, director of Age Concern LeicesterShire and Rutland, said: “Older people are not entirely comfortable with using the telephone.

“It can cause distress for some people if they are asked to use a complex system.

“It sounds like a good idea on paper but if people ring up and are asked questions, they sometimes can’t give a full explanation or know the extent of their physical limitations.

“In my view, it’s clear that the level of service will deteriorate.”

Karen Eyres, assistant director of community services at the county’s sight-loss charity Vista, said: “We have concerns that the proposed restructuring could be to the detriment of people with sight loss and deaf/blind people.”

The job cuts are part of the council’s plans to reduce its workforce by 680 in the next four years.

Director of adult social care, Mick Connell said the idea of personalisation was to encourage those able to assess their own care needs to do so with minimal help.

He said: “We need to reduce the amount of time spent on assessment, which means we are moving more towards self-assessment.

“The customer service centre will deal with relatively simple requests so staff can respond very quickly to people’s needs.

“That means the small number of people who have more complex needs can be dealt with by senior staff.”

Mr Connell said the 26 customer service centre staff would not be trained social workers but would be briefed and backed up by a “professional support” team.

He said 80 per cent of adult social care inquiries were made by phone and that people would still be able to visit area offices.

A staff consultation is due to be completed by the end August.