Social-care workers face major change to their roles

Social-care workers face worsening terms and conditions as a result of “personalisation” policies, according to new research.

The Government and councils are increasingly promoting the personalisation of social care, giving more control and choice to the people who actually use social services.

However, academics say there are significant implications for the workers who provide these services.

These include changes to working hours; a need for new training; the development of a more casualised workforce; and potential fragmentation of pay and conditions away from collective terms.

The research was commissioned by the Voluntary Sector Social Services Workforce Unit, and carried out by the Scottish Centre for Employment Research at the University of Strathclyde.

It found that policy-makers and social-care providers were enthusiastic about the potential benefits of personalisation, but concerned that it could become a mechanism for cost-cutting rather than for improvement.

Dr Ian Cunningham of Strathclyde University said: “Front-line staff and managers welcomed opportunities to develop their skills.

“However, there was considerable anxiety about job security, and the impact that deteriorating terms and conditions can have on morale.”

The report argues that giving individuals more control over their own budgets and the services they receive has the potential to change the whole character of the social-services workforce.

“One of the organisational leads we spoke to suggested that personalisation will mean the days of working set shifts are over,” said Dr Cunningham. “Attitudes will have to change, so if a service user wants support to go to a nightclub that finishes at two o’clock in the morning, staff will have to recognise that it’s not just their job, it’s somebody’s life.

“Clearly this kind of increase in expectation will have implications for individual workers.”

Judith Midgley, director of the Workforce Unit, said: “ Rolling out personalised services will rely on the commitment, skills and enthusiasm of the existing workforce.

“The challenge for policy-makers and organisations is to ensure that the opportunities it offers for greater job satisfaction outweigh concerns about working conditions.”

The Scottish Social Services Council welcomed the report. Chief executive Anna Fowlie said: “Personalisation brings real opportunities for people who use social services to live independently, on more equal terms, and the workforce is key to this.”

But she added: “This report raises real concerns about the working conditions of people who are already under-valued and under pressure.”

She said the Government, employers, regulators and unions needed to work together quickly to support staff and to avoid personalisation being used simply to cut costs.

“It’s not only frontline workers who need new skills to address changing demands,” she said. “People who commission services need to be fully signed up to personalised approaches. It’s not all about money – it’s about culture, attitudes and expectations.”