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Never knowingly undersold: social workers, not accountants, should have say on assessments

BASW has countered a report by public spending watchdog The Audit Commission, which suggests the adult social care funding gap could be plugged by using unqualified staff to complete assessments, with a reminder that cheaper doesn’t always mean better.

The report, Reducing the cost of assessments and reviews, compares a number of local authorities, claiming that while some spend an average of £2,200 per assessment, some are able to spend only £800. The report indicated that those local authorities that are spending less money are typically employing less specialist staff.

BASW says the Audit Commission’s suggestion that around £300 million could be saved by adopting such an approach – employing non-qualified staff to undertake assessments, rather than qualified social workers – risks causing more problems than it would solve, and fails to recognise social workers’ professional expertise.

BASW has long campaigned for the legal protection of core social work functions, to safeguard service users by ensuring that properly qualified staff are undertaking crucial work alongside vulnerable people. The Association’s fear is that the Audit Commission’s recommendations threaten to further entrench moves away from this principle.

BASW is not opposed to restructuring service delivery where this helps improve the system for service users – such as reducing bureaucracy to aid the delivery of more personalised services – but only where the process is not led by the emphasis on cost cutting at the expense of professionalism and quality.

Commenting on today’s publication of the report, BASW England manager Ruth Cartwright said:

“While the report has some laudable aims to save money needed for funding care, it is social workers, not accountants, who should be making decisions about assessments.

“BASW is concerned that this debate about assessments is being reduced down to form filling. Any social worker could tell you that the job and role in adult services is about far more than carrying out assessments of need.

“We have long said that if you just want a tick-box-mentality, with forms filled in by unqualified staff simply writing down what someone cannot do and prescribing care in ten minute chunks, you may not need a qualified social worker to do this. If, however, you want a person to be engaged in discussion about their needs and their strengths, to be helped to come to terms with any difficulties, to be part of a process along with carers and family as appropriate to enable them to receive good support in more than just the practical areas of their life – psychologically and emotionally as well as physically – then you need a social worker.

“Ironically, the Audit Commission talks of unqualified staff yet but it does not appear to have spoken to social workers about what they actually do, although it has spoken to some employers. My other guess is that the Audit Commission would not use their receptionist to compile a report such as this, yet it is keen to entrust the care of vulnerable people to administrative staff.

“BASW also fears that some local authority employers with a desperate need to save money in the face of draconian cuts, combined with an ignorance or unwillingness to consider what social workers actually do, will indulge in a knee-jerk reaction and put social work posts in danger.

“We hope that employers who want the best for their service users will not be interpreting this report to mean they should reduce the number of social workers but will, as many have done up to now, continue to retain these important frontline posts.”