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BASW expresses grave concerns at spending cuts

BASW has responded to the UK coalition government’s first budget by issuing a stark warning that cuts which fail to protect social work services will put the lives of vulnerable children and adults at serious risk.

No government would be forgiven, BASW said, if it put a 4% cut in corporation tax ahead of the welfare of the most vulnerable people in the country. Mr Osborne revealed that unprotected departmental spending will be slashed by 25% over the coming four years.

BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson insisted that social work services must be prioritised for continued investment in exactly the same way the government has set out for health spending.

“The lives of children will continue to be lost and vulnerable adults left unprotected if investment in social work does not grow. Social work simply must have priority in public expenditure even in difficult times,” Mr Dawson said.

BASW was responding to a Budget in which chancellor George Osborne revealed a cap on housing benefit, a freezing of child benefit and tougher rules on benefits for lone parents and those claiming disability allowance. He also revealed plans to raise VAT to 20% from next April, potentially impacting greatest on lower income families.

He expressed “serious concern” that the two-year pay freeze for public sector workers would “massively undermine attempts to attract and retain social workers to severely understaffed child protection teams”. An online BASW survey last month found that only 5% of child protection teams are fully staffed and 52% are struggling with social worker shortages of 30% or more.

Mr Dawson said the current government’s priorities would be tested by the extent to which it challenges the previous Labour administration’s “wasted billions on unnecessary and unaccountable quangos”.

He urged the government not to miss a unique chance to pass power from unaccountable institutions to a powerful College of Social Work. “The degree to which the government is prepared to tackle London-centred elites and support frontline services is a test of its credibility. The College of Social Work offers the government a way of improving services based on professional responsibility and accountability rather than public expenditure.

“There are significant savings for government in providing leaner and fitter inspection bodies and diverting other important functions to a college.”

With the chancellor also encouraging local authorities to freeze council tax levels, the BASW chief executive said it was vital that local authority spending on social work services are not part of the cost cutting to support such moves. He urged the chancellor to protect social work spending within increasingly crucial spending settlements for local government, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

More details on specific spending levels are expected in the autumn when Osborne reveals the contents of the Comprehensive Spending Review. BASW made it clear it will be studying the small print of the Budget in detail and would continue to lobby ministers extensively over the coming months.

BASW has already secured an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, as part of its Not Doomed Yet campaign. Ahead of the Budget BASW chair Fran Fuller also wrote to the prime minister, David Cameron, and his deputy Nick Clegg to urge them to prioritise social work and spare the profession from spending cuts.