The Way of Wirral

Wirral Council are planning to replace qualified social workers with unqualified equivalents. This is apparently in the face of the new ‘personalisation’ agenda where there will be a stronger focus on self-assessment and providing guidance and support through the new systems – none of which requires professional social work qualifications.

image DSNelson at Flickr

Community Care picks up on the story and digs deeper and finds out some more about the figures in question. The plan is, apparently, to replace 29 qualified posts with 26 unqualified posts.

The distinction between qualified and unqualified is a little disingenuous. Anyone who has worked in Care Management will know that something of this divide exists already – and I know when I took my first post-qualifying steps. I felt a little foolish and shamed that I, with my sparkly new DipSW felt I knew nothing in comparison with some of my colleagues who, although unqualified, had had many decades worth of experience in the field.  Especially (as was pointed out to me) as I was being paid more.

Community Care quotes some of the social workers in the affected council saying

One social worker said there was a “high amount of concern” among practitioners. “Initially, people were shocked and concerned about their personal jobs and they then started to think about the future of social work with adults.

“If we can be marginalised to this extent we have to wonder whether other councils will follow suit.”

The practitioner added: “Our view is that the majority of the work we do is complex. It couldn’t be done by someone without a social work qualification to the same standard.

So worrying times.

The model seemingly proposed by Wirral looks remarkably similar to a model used where I have worked. There is a single access point of contact and work is then either given to an unqualified worker if it is not ‘complex’ or passed on to a social worker if there are more complicated issues involved – usually personal care needs (rather than domestic care needs) or high level care, any adult protection investigations or any respite or residential care placements.

Actually setting up a care package and care management for basic needs is absolutely something that one does not have to have any higher level study in social work to achieve. There is no magic involved – it is fairly straightforward.

I am surprised at the level of disposability of workers in Wirral though – I don’t know much about Wirral except that it’s near Liverpool on the map – I don’t know the size of it but I don’t imagine it is that large that to lose 29 social workers won’t be insignificant.

The problems that we had when I was in the team that worked to a similar models were that sometimes things that seem very simple can actually be remarkably complex.

You can go into a situation where someone has just had a fall at home, for example, always been completely independent, but needs some help through the difficult recovery period – exactly what re-enablement programmes are set up for, in fact. The person, say, Mrs A, has never had any contact with Social Services before because she has never needed to. She’s filled in her self-assessment saying that she’s fine (because she doesn’t need any state help) – but is beginning to struggle so her nephew who visits monthly, makes a call.

Seems to be well suited to the new system. But on arriving and being a remarkably proud and dignified woman, she has held back on saying that really she’s virtually unable to move from her chair and hasn’t been able to have anything other than biscuits and water in a few weeks.

It happens. When social services start sticking their nose in, they uncover lots of unpaid bills because she hasn’t been able to get to the post office – which, in turn is a source of stress. Mrs A is still grieving for the loss of her husband just a year previously  who had managed all the finances. She’s lonely at home but she doesn’t want anyone to come in to see her – needs, perhaps, some active engagement.

Anyway, it’s a very quick example, but anyone with any experience in the area will know it isn’t always easy to separate simple from complex situations on the telephone.

Particularly with older people who might have very different perceptions of state help and be extremely reluctant to accept services  that either they are then expected to pay for with the meager pensions or not pay for and be taking ‘hand-outs’ from the state which although perfectly entitled to, is not something that their pride allows.

Anyway, back to Wirral. Maybe I’m being over-protective of the Social Work status. I can understand the concern of the workers in question. There will always be a need for qualified Social Workers in these settings because there will always be some work which is ring-fenced for us. Safeguarding Adults investigations, complex case-work, higher need packages. Personalisation is likely to lengthen rather than shorten that list.

And for care management? I’ve said before there isn’t a need for a qualified social worker necessarily. There are, though,  issues that need to be taken into consideration if it is just a matter of replacing qualified with unqualified in a wholesale manner.

Wirral council’s spokeswoman said, according to the Liverpool Daily Post

To achieve the ‘personalisation agenda’, as agreed by cabinet in March of this year, the access and assessment branch is being restructured. As a result, new posts within the branch will be established to ensure that going forward, social care staff have the right skills and experience to respond to the changes in the social care sector.

“A number of the new jobs in the branch will not require the postholder to have a social work qualification. This will mean that qualified social workers are deployed more effectively and can carry out more appropriate duties.”

I think the use of personalisation to justify this change is a smoke-screen. I’ve worked to the model of having more unqualified staff to do more work and it was nothing to do with personalisation agendas – it was to do with the cost of recruiting and retaining qualified staff.

The claim that self-assessment somehow reduces the need for qualified staff is completely baffling. Self-assessment for service users isn’t about replacing work done by staff – it is about empowerment of service users. Staff would still have to work on interpretation and implementation of care packages – and no, it doesn’t have to be someone who has a degree in social work doing that.

But it looks to me like a pure and simple cost cutting exercise by Wirral – dressed in personalisation packaging to ease some of the disquiet – rather than an alarm bell ringing as to future needs in the system.

4 thoughts on “The Way of Wirral

  1. Excellent post and worrying for anyone who has been on the receiving end of care management decisions – which I was, in a way, when my mother was so ill. I agree with you that it’s hard to distinguich between complex and straightforward situations and also that, of course, the whole thing is a cost-cutting exercise.

  2. Wirral DASS are up shit creek (due to their own lack of planning in ordering paddles).”Personalisation” is a smokescreen for the erosion of status,withdrawal of services and reduction in funding.I’d love to see the reaction of the Wirral spokewoman when she eventually gets told “Sorry but your being replaced by a 17 year old with an NVQ in Advanced Mendacity”.

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