NIASW’s warning on cuts as minister lauds social work

The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW) has written to the Stormont government to offer a stark warning that ‘if further cuts are made to frontline social work services the most vulnerable people in our society will suffer and some will die’.

In a letter outlining NIASW’s concerns about the potential impact of the Westminster government’s Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October, the Association urged ministers to emphasise the gravity of the danger in their discussions with the UK Treasury.

The letter was sent to Michael McGimpsey, the minister for health in Northern Ireland, who suggested during September that he understood the pressures facing social workers and pledged to help safeguard social work services from cuts.

Addressing concerns about budget cuts he used a speech in Lisburn to describe health and social care as “a necessity – not a luxury”. He told delegates at the Social Work at its Best conference: “That is why I will continue to fight to protect these vital services from further crippling cuts.”

NIASW manager Carolyn Ewart said the minister’s comments were a positive signal of the Northern Ireland administration’s commitment to the profession.

In the letter to the minister, written by Ms Ewart and NIASW chair Lesley McDowell and sent before he made his comments, NIASW’s leaders stated: ‘NIASW is extremely concerned that the Trusts are already experiencing acute financial pressure and, in some cases, an overspend. This has resulted in some Trusts being forced to make cuts already. A widespread freeze on recruitment has meant that stretched social workers have had to take on increasingly more work – in turn greatly exacerbating the problem of excessive caseloads and undermining practitioners’ ability to work effectively with service users.’

In separate comments during his Lisburn speech Mr McGimpsey emphasised the importance of the ten-year strategy for the profession, launched in July, in making the profession more attractive to new recruits.

“We need to encourage the best to come forward and make sure that social workers are confident and supported in what they do. That is why my Department has developed the first social work strategy for Northern Ireland. The aim of this strategy is to strengthen supports for frontline workers and to address some of the challenges faced by social workers.”

NIASW’s Ms Ewart agreed that the ten-year strategy is vital to the future of social work in Northern Ireland but urged social workers to get involved in the current consultation period, in order to press the Northern Ireland Assembly to go further in its ambitions for the profession.

The initial deadline for the 10 Year Strategy for Social Work In Northern Ireland: 2010 – 2020, launched by the Department for Health Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), is 15 October. A final consultation event takes place in Derry on 8 October.