Fast-track Social Work

Ed Balls

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Yesterday, Ed Balls announced a plan to fast-track other ‘professionals’ like lawyers, teachers and police officers into social work on a one year ‘scheme’.

He says that this scheme – which will attract a £15,000 payment to those who take up the offer – would appeal to those who might be put off by a three year degree.

I wonder how much he knows about social work itself though outside his departmental bubble. Ten years ago, I took a two year postgraduate Masters course – the kind of which exist currently – and alongside me on my course were former teachers, police officers and even (believe it or not!) a clinical psychologist. Sure, we didn’t get £15,000 but we did two placements alongside the academic training.

I wonder how it will be compressed into one year. My understanding is that it will be ‘on the job’ type training. Perhaps he hasn’t learnt from the difficulties universities are having at the moment in finding placements.

Maybe I’m just too cynical but I have to wonder if Balls is even aware of the post-graduate route to train as a social worker. He seems completely oblivious to its existence – from his comments that social workers should be trained to post-graduate level (a good proportion already are, Balls!) to his comments that some professionals wouldn’t want to leave work to take a three year unpaid degree (the Masters attracts more funding and it’s only two years so no lawyer/teacher etc would be taking the three year route anyway!).

For all that, I don’t want to be too cynical. It isn’t Ed’s fault he is so ignorant but the idea behind it – namely to encourage people to seek a second career in social work – isn’t a bad one. I am just confused as to how the necessary skills can be compressed into one year – after all, as practitioners, they will still need the same knowledge and experience.

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Stalling on the Case for Change

The Guardian reported yesterday that the expected publication of the Green Paper which would outline future funding plans for adult care has been put on hold, having been due for publication on Tuesday. The Case for Change – a presentation of the discussion document – was the precursor of the still embryonic Green Paper and those discussions and debates took up a good proportion of last year.

I haven’t probably followed the progress of the Green Paper as much as I should have – apart from having a vague awareness that ‘it is coming’ but the article made some points that sprung out at me and that I’m sure I’d have caught earlier had I been paying more attention.

The reason that is stated for the delay is some kind of wrangling between the Department of Health and the Department of Work and Pensions – because there may be on the cards a proposed scale back of the Care Component of DLA (Disability Living Allowance) and AA (Attendance Allowance) to use this money to pay towards the cost of care services. In essence (although not in monetary value) they are the same benefit but DLA is paid to under 65s and AA is paid to over 65s (at a lower rate usually but that’s another argument for another day).

In the case of residential care, this money is already taken by the local authority when they fund placements but the proposals, reported in the Guardian, would be used to fund some kind of discretionary ‘social care’ grants which would likely be used to filter this money to local authorities who could then possibly reallocate according to their means-testing.

These benefits are wholly non-means tested and are provided to pay for additional costs related to disability. There are few non-means tested benefits left and understandably they are deemed to be less efficient than those that are targeted to the highest need. It would though, be a political bombshell – hence, the Guardian claims – the delaying of the publication of the Paper.

Personally, I’m torn. I have, first-hand, seen the benefits of a non-means tested benefit for older people. The criteria are clear while often it is a question of persuading people to take what they are entitled to, particularly, in my experience anyway, with older people rather than creating a further layer of tiered funding that it more arbitrary and unfathomable and creates another level of bureaucracy, no doubt.

However, money is needed to fund care services. The money has to come from somewhere and if it is a matter of taking from a blanket benefit paid regardless of levels of savings and assets or raising the bar to accessing services, I’d rather the former.

Whatever is announced there will be political implications. People don’t like paying for care, perhaps it is the line between health and social care that becomes too blurred and we are accustomed to a health service that is free at the point of delivery.

Personally, I think over the long term, some kind of insurance system is bound to be implemented and is possibly the most equitable but it won’t solve any of the short term issues that are going to arise.

Interesting times.