Jobs freeze evidence in Northern Ireland

Evidence of cuts impacting on social work services in Northern Ireland is already emerging, despite any formal agreement on the budget for the coming year.

Social workers are reporting examples of a recruitment freeze, with vacancies caused by maternity leave, long term sickness absences and even staff resignations going unfilled.

A consultation exercise closed last month on the budget for the coming year, proposals that include plans to slash integrated health and social care budgets by 19%.

The Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers (NIASW – part of BASW) said health and social care board overspending last year, as well as concerns about impending cuts, means damaging cuts are already happening. The problem for social care is compounded by the likelihood that it will be forced to bear the full brunt of the cuts to integrated budgets, with ministers having intimated that health spending will be ringfenced.

Late last year the minister for the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety, Michael McGimpsey, invited NIASW to help define ‘frontline services’ but according to manager Carolyn Ewart an impact on core services is inevitable.

The Association worked with Anna Lo MLA to table a series of questions in the Northern Ireland Assembly last month about the planned cuts, including one outlining concerns about a pan-Northern Ireland recruitment freeze.

Ministers denied that a recruitment freeze is in place but Ms Ewart said the evidence is impossible to ignore: “A lot of teams are operating minus two or three staff and we have already seen an impact on certain services, such as respite care provision. Someone goes off on maternity leave, there is a policy of no cover. People are leaving posts and there is no cover. Trusts are denying this but problems are growing.”