Social services face staffing crisis

27 Sep 01
Public service union Unison has demanded an urgent meeting with health minister Jacqui Smith to discuss the staffing 'crisis' in social services.

28 September 2001

Head of local government Malcolm Wing has written to the minister to outline the union's 'grave concerns' about the problems facing its 350,000 social care members.

His actions were prompted by a survey, published on September 24 by the Association of Directors of Social Services, which found more than 2,000 vacancies in the child protection units of English social services departments.

Wing warned Smith that the number of vacancies was seriously affecting the services offered. 'Staff shortages in many areas are at levels which make it impossible for managers to guarantee the consistency and quality of the work of their staff,' he wrote.

'Where things do go wrong, the staff are often unfairly scapegoated and subjected to "trial by media". This has the effect of demoralising all those in social care.'

Wing's letter was sent on the eve of the inquiry into the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie, who was abused and killed by her great-aunt just weeks after Haringey social services closed her case.

The ADSS survey was also intended as a pre-emptive strike against the inquiry, headed by Lord Laming, which is likely to be critical of the social workers involved in the Climbie case.

The survey showed that staff shortages in London were especially acute, running at 20%, and some authorities in the capital are trying to fill up to 35% of their child protection posts. It also found that just under 10% of management posts across England were vacant.

ADSS president Moira Gibb told Public Finance that for too long social services had been the 'poor relation' of other public services. It had received an increase of just 2.5% in the past financial year, compared with the 6.8% awarded to the health service.

'The net we use in order to catch and support children and families in distress is being stretched far too tightly.

There is a very real danger of some of them falling through,' she added.

The Local Government Association has also joined the fray, calling on the government to make an extra £300m available for social care this year.

A survey the LGA published earlier this month found that 75% of English authorities are currently running a total of £183m over budget, and it estimates that a further £100m will be needed to alleviate winter pressures.


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