Tuesday, 17 March 2015

UNISON presentation to social services vision and strategy launch

UNISON Scotland has welcomed the engagement of the social work strategic forum and has consistently supported a united strategy for social work in Scotland.

We share the vision statement of “a socially just Scotland with excellent social services delivered by a skilled, and valued workforce which works with others to empower, support and protect people with a focus on prevention, early intervention and enablement.”

Fundamental to such a vision is a valued, properly trained and decently rewarded workforce with managed workloads that allow them to deliver first class care and protection. That is a challenge because we have long way to go before most of the workforce will be able to say that has been achieved.

Our hope and our aim is that the vision is not just a statement. And it shouldn’t be because it has an important action plan that UNISON will engage with to achieve improvements for the workforce and the service user.

This will include seeking ways to achieve the adoption of UNISON’s Ethical Home Care Charter and extending this to the whole of social services, working on guidance for workload management and effective induction and support for new staff.

UNISON has done considerable work on these issues independently and with others in this room over the years and we are committed to a strategy that takes these forward.

We would make two further points that we feel need to be kept in mind as we take the strategy forward. Health and social care integration is one, and wider understanding of the social work task is another.

Joined up services is like the proverbial mom’s apple pie and you won’t hear anyone saying it’s a bad thing. And I won’t either.

But I will point to one of the issues that social work will need to address along with service users through integration, and that is the danger of a medical model of disability swamping the social and rights model of disability that has been fought for long and hard over the years by service users and social workers alike.

That needs a strong social work voice in Scotland working closely with the people who use our services.

We also need a strong social work voice when it comes to understanding what it takes to deliver social work services.

The vision seeks to address many of the core issues of pay, training and development but there is also the issue of working conditions.

We often hear of home carers not being paid for travelling between visits, the problems of lone working etc and those are issues that need to be urgently addressed.

What we hear less of is a broader failure to understand the specific needs of a social work service. The problem large organisations can have is a lack of understanding of the particular needs of the individual services they provide.

It’s one of the reasons that UNISON set up its Social Work Issues Group to involve social workers like me and give us a distinct voice.

Our members tell us of the growing ‘one size fits all’ approach that sees social work staff in banks of desks struggling for confidentiality and the essential ‘thinking time’ this job needs, and a lack of appropriate facilities to work with people.

The other problem with large organisations is that the organisation is not always clear what the front line does.

I’ve been astonished recently to find some local government co-workers unaware that it is local government that provides Scotland’s child protection and care services with all that that entails. If fellow employees don’t know, it is a fair bet that some decision-makers and the public don’t know.

That underlines the importance of promoting public understanding – another of the paper’s action points.

Underpinning all of this is the sheer pressure on funding. We need a different outlook to funding our social services through local government, the voluntary sector and through procurement strategies and fair taxation.

Above all we need to promote an understanding that you cannot have good, dignified and safe social care on the cheap.

UNISON believes the action points of supporting the workforce, understanding performance, better use of evidence are all completely interlinked. But they will only be delivered politically if supported by the people of Scotland – and that relies on our success in the action point of promoting public understanding.

The vision and strategy takes us an important step on that journey and I believe social work staff will want to fully engage with that.

John Stevenson.

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