Skills for Care’s (SfC) annual report ‘The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England 2017’, published today brings to the fore many pressing challenges for the provision of adult social care, and who can contribute to the needs of an ageing population.
The report shows that the adult social care sector workforce has increased to 1.58 million. Yet only 19,000 of this workforce are social workers, with 16,100 in local authorities and the rest being in the independent sector and NHS.
While this is a welcome increase of 500 social workers from the year previous, it still means local authority social workers are the smallest group of regulated professionals in this workforce, equating to around 1%.
Speaking as Chair of BASW's packed out fringe seminar at the Labour Party Conference, BASW CEO Ruth Allen said: "Care should be about enabling people to live their lives to the fullest, for as long as possible, preventing deterioration and crisis, enabling dignity and self-determination.”
“We know that strengths based, personalised, citizen based approaches are core to modern social care and social work.”
Allen adds: “But the reality is very different: a lack of resources, fewer options, higher caseloads, higher thresholds, people losing or not getting funded services, and an increasingly difficult oversight task for social workers and others.”
BASW thinks social workers should be able to work with individuals and families to help them use their strengths and personal assets early and to manage their own resources well.
But, as the recent Social Workers Union-commissioned Social Worker Wellbeing study illustrated, the current size of the social work workforce and the growing scale of need may be making this impossible.
Against this backdrop is a population projection from the SfC report which predicts an increase of 36% between 2016 and 2030, from 9.74 million to 13.25 million people. It states: “…in the short and medium term this poses potential challenges for the adult social care sector and workforce”.
Furthermore, it forecasts an increase of 31% (500,000 jobs) would be required by 2030. But this figure could increase, as the 75 and over population is forecast to grow at a faster rate than those aged 65-74, and if the workforce increases proportionally to this demographic then a 44% (700,000 jobs) increase would be required.
With the challenges that these forecasts will present, coupled with the small number of regulated local authority-employed social workers involved in adult social care, it is surely time to rethink the role of the social worker in adult social care.
Social workers are particularly charged with statutory assessments of needs, mental capacity assessments and best interest decisions, as well as reviews, safeguarding, complex work, carers services, and wider social matters such as housing and welfare.
Although not alone in these tasks within the social care spectrum, social workers have specialist training and thus are at the heart of local authority responsibility for ensuring the ongoing quality and effectiveness of funded care. They are, effectively, their eyes and ears for provision of quality care.
Therefore, it is even more worrying that the Social Worker Wellbeing study highlighted that over half were contemplating leaving – in adults this was in next 18 months.
Levels of stress, risk of burnout, poor workplace relationships, control and particularly demand and workload put social workers in the lowest 5% of all occupations in most if these categories.
Yet further evidence from the study shows that engagement with the job was high, and peer relationships were valued. Social workers like what they do, but too often do not have the conditions to flourish.
This is why BASW last week launched ‘Respect for Social Work: the campaign for professional working conditions'.
The aims of the campaign are essential for the ongoing health of the profession, and to adult social care service users now and in the future.
“If we want to enable smooth transitions from hospital to home, if we want to enable people to live well independently and use their strengths, if we want to recognise and address poor care, if we want effective safeguarding and accountability then we need to reboot our thinking on the status, and physical number, of our local authority social work workforce,” says Allen.