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Allison Hulmes, National Director for Wales responds to stage 2 of Welsh Labour’s Policy Process 2021

11/06/2020c

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is the UK’s professional membership association for social work. We are the independent voice of social work. We champion social workers and support members in achieving the highest professional standards. BASW Cymru represents over 1300 members in Wales working in local government, independent practice, the 3rd Sector, and the NHS.

BASW Cymru welcomes the opportunity to contribute to Welsh Labour Policy Process 2021. BASW Cymru has three main policy suggestions which are congruent with your 2021 policy development themes, also with the broader policy objectives as set out in A Healthier Wales – the long-term plan for health and social care which focuses on a ‘whole system approach to health and social care’ with an emphasis on the quadruple aims of:

  • Improved population health and wellbeing
  • Better quality and more accessible health and social care services
  • Higher value health and social care
  • A motivated and sustainable health and social care workforce
  1. Health and Social Care – Investing in our workforce – A motivated and sustainable health and social care workforce

Registered social workers are employed in all 22 local authorities in Wales and are essential to those local authorities discharging their statutory duties and obligations. The White Paper Sustainable Social Services: A Framework for Action (Welsh Assembly Government, 2011) clearly set out the Welsh Government’s priorities for action to bring about ‘high quality responsive, citizen-centred social services’ (Welsh Assembly Government, 2011, p. 3) by ‘placing the professional contribution of social workers…even more at the heart of services’ (p. 24). The Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 (SSWb Act) aims to address the issues raised in the White Paper and is contributing towards the process of transforming social care and support in Wales since its implementation in 2016. The statutory functions of social workers are at the heart of the SSWb Act.

These ambitions cannot be realised unless the role of social workers to effect transformational change is better understood. Social work in Wales needs to be reimagined with social workers embedded in communities, Schools, Colleges, and primary care hubs where their knowledge, skills and expertise can be focussed on building and sustaining community assets, strengthening families, and improving population wellbeing.

Primary care is often the first point of contact for most citizens and the role of primary care in maximising opportunities for prevention and self-management at every opportunity is not be underestimated. Although much work has been undertaken to move to a social model approach to primary care, the essential role of social workers in maximising this ambition, is absent. Unless the value of social work skills and knowledge to drive primary care towards a more social model approach are recognised, it will risk being stuck in a costly (both financial and in potentially poorer outcomes for citizens) medicalisation of the problem’s citizens present. Social workers are skilled at advanced communication and therapeutic approaches to sustained behaviour change and are not being given an opportunity to practice these advanced skills in primary care, where they can make significant differences to the long-term health and wellbeing of citizens in Wales.

Social workers in Wales (2017 & 2018 Working Conditions Research https://www.basw.co.uk/what-we-do/campaigns/professional-working-conditions and ongoing BASW UK pandemic surveyhttps://www.basw.co.uk/media/news/2020/mar/social-work-during-coronavirus-covid-19-ongoing-survey-open-all-social-workers) have told us loud and clear that they do not feel valued and that parity of esteem with professionals in health, does not exist. Wales has a social work recruitment crisis and the pandemic has not eased this problem, it has exposed and increased it.

The Social Care Wales workforce data reveals that there were 3,300 social work vacancies in Wales between March 2018/19 (latest data not available). At the same time applications to study social work have fallen and there has been a real terms loss in the number of social posts available in children’s services in recent years, by 2.1% (Social Care Wales data). The WeCare Wales recruitment campaign https://socialcare.wales/news-stories/thousands-more-care-workers-needed-in-wales-by-2030 has also not made an appreciable difference to the social work workforce.

We expect to see a surge in demand for social work services in the coming months, which will impact severely on a workforce that was compromised and feeling undervalued prior to the pandemic. We also know that the workforce is overwhelmingly female with an average age of 46 years and fall within the ‘sandwich generation’ of women who have caring responsibility at either end of the caring spectrum. We need to understand how this demographic of social workers will be impacted by the pandemic both in the short and longer term and what that means for a confident and sustainable workforce.

Social workers are conspicuous by their absence from Welsh Labour’s Health and Social Care Second Stage Consultation Document, including in the images used in the document which overwhelmingly feature health type roles. Social workers need to see themselves in such documents to really believe they are visible. There is much said about the investment in the health workforce ‘Welsh Labour has significantly increased the number of training places for healthcare professionals. Since 2014 nurse training places have risen by 68% with an increase across all four fields of nursing. Health visitor training places have increased by 88%, midwifery training places by 43%, GP places by over 20% and District Nursing by 300%.’

Welsh Labour must place the same focus and investment in the social work workforce with attention paid to:

  • bursaries for social work students
  • working conditions of the current workforce
  • link up career advancement and pay rewards with post qualification study
  • leadership roles for social workers in integrated health and social care setting
  • embedding social work roles in primary care

The community, where much social work takes place, will become the next front-line as the hidden consequences of the pandemic reveal themselves. We must have a social work workforce that is equipped to deal with any surges in demand, as well as rebuilding post-pandemic in a way that is consistent with the principles of the SSWb Act and the ambitions as set out in A Healthier Wales.

  1. Social Care for Adults

BASW Cymru recognises and applauds the efforts made by the Welsh Labour Government to invest in adult social care, during a time when Westminster austerity policies have impacted severely on local authority budgets. We are however, concerned that the modifications to the SSWb Act which affect adult social care (including unpaid carers) introduced under the Coronavirus Act 2020, will impact severely on the physical and mental health and wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable citizens in Wales and will undermine the quadruple aims of A Healthier Wales. Our members are reporting to us that some of the local authorities they work in, have introduced these modifications and this challenges the ethical foundations on which social work is built and impacts on the mental wellbeing of a social work workforce already under strain. We urge Welsh Labour Government to reconsider the efficacy of the modifications in the light of negative outcomes for vulnerable citizens and the social work workforce. An investment in the social work workforce is an investment in adult social care because social workers have a pivotal role in supporting adults and our elders to have a voice and to remain safely at home in their communities.

  1. Care for Children and young People

BASW Cymru shares unconditionally, the commitment of Welsh Labour Government to ensure that children and young people have the best start in life and that they have every opportunity to develop their abilities and talents.

Now, more than ever the resilience and wellbeing of children and young people must be a priority and we know that Welsh Labour Government has a strong record in this area. Social workers have a key role to play in supporting and promoting the resilience and well-being of children and young people and are experts in understanding and spotting signs of neglect and abuse. We would ask Welsh Labour Government to consider placing social workers in schools to work alongside teachers in identifying children at risk, this is especially critical for those children and young people who have been locked down in homes where they have witnessed domestic abuse, parental/carer substance use or a deterioration in parental/carer mental health.

There is an evidence base from the What Works Centre for Social Care who undertook 3 studies in 2019/20 to research the efficacy of this approach which resulted in such positive outcomes that it is now being supported in 150 schools across England with an investment of £6.5 million https://www.gov.uk/government/news/social-workers-to-work-with-teachers-in-schools

BASW Cymru cannot overstate that an investment in the social work workforce is an investment in improved outcomes for children and young people. Social workers must be allowed the time and space (and sufficient capacity within the workforce) to undertake direct work to strengthen families. This cannot be done by social care roles in a way that effects sustained, positive change for children, young people and families and our large numbers of looked after children reflects the ineffectiveness of current approaches, as does the real term loss in actual posts for social workers in children’s services. Welsh Labour Government should look at the Integrated Family Support Service and why it has been allowed to diminish. This was and still could be, a service that made a real difference to the lives of vulnerable children and young people which was built on the core ethical and values of the social work profession. The role of the consultant social worker in maintaining expertise in practise and effecting systems change, also needs reasserting.

Allison Hulmes

National Director for Wales, BASW Cymru