Tories in new drive to help social workers

The Conservatives have today called for an urgent review of the role and status of social workers, warning they are currently underfunded and overstretched.

The party has set up a new social work commission, which will sit like a select committee at Westminster and take evidence on how the profession can be better supported. Its findings will inform the Tories’ policy on health and social care.

In a speech to the Association of Directors of Society Services and Local Government conference this morning, shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton admitted his party had not always been seen as “fully engaged” with social workers.

But he warned that all the government’s proposals to protect children – including intervening early to help disadvantaged families and, most recently, to better support children in care – would be nothing without a properly trained and financed workforce.

“It is very clear to me that we must urgently reassess the role and status and value of social workers, especially those working with children,” he said.

Ministers should stop announcing new responsibilities but focus on ensuring “we have an army of professional child social workers fit for purpose – properly resourced and staffed, reinvigorated, respected and valued”, Mr Loughton said.

The service is currently facing serious staff problems – recent figures from public sector union Unison suggest 70 per cent of local authorities have problems recruiting social workers for children, and vacancy rates among residential staff are at 15 per cent.

One of the problems facing the profession was the public’s perception of social work, the shadow minister said – something he warned would get worse with the latest round of government measures on social exclusion.

Tony Blair wants social workers to intervene earlier in families whose children may grow up to be anti-social or criminals, but Mr Loughton warned they risked being viewed as “snatch and grabs” – and needed more support.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) welcomed Mr Loughton’s comments as part of the effort to “help get social workers better recognised and valued for our role”.

Chairwoman of the standards and ethics board, Felicity Collier, told politics.co.uk that she recognised how social workers had “slipped behind and need to be on an equal footing with teachers and doctors in the professional workforce”.

But she stressed there must be a “radical” investment of resources into social work. BASW members particularly welcomed new proposals to improve the support for children in state care, but Ms Collier said they must be properly funded.

“I’m pleased that all political parties are putting social work at the top of their agenda,” she said.