Aberdeenshire UNISON

Social work issues 27th Feb 2010

Report of Social Services Seminar 23rd and 24th Feb 2010

Social care members 'give this union its ethos', says Prentis as seminar speaks up for services

Aberdeenshire Branch members, Jim Murphy and Kate Ramsden joined 150 social care and home care members from across the UK who gathered in Manchester on 23rd and 24th February, to share experiences, learn from each other and re-focus on the fight to protect services, the workers who provide them and the people who depend on them.

The seminar focussed on organisation, recruitment across the sector and shared experience and strategies on issues like workload management and supervision, privatisation, personalisation, vetting and barring, health and safety, workforce development and how to combat the negative media image of social care.

A recurring theme was the need to engage with communities and service users on a broad front to protect services; services often being cut where the financial reasons were suspect. Cuts where councils had received increased settlements but were freezing Council Tax, hoarding huge reserves, with suspect financial management. Mainly Tory councils but not always.

Delegates shared horror stories of excessive workloads, lack of support, cuts, privatisation, and 'piece work' in home care. But they also shared good practice, tactics they had developed to fight back and strategies to take forward from the seminar.

Greater challenges south of the border
"It was clear to us that despite the many challenges we have in delivering good quality social work services here in Scotland, it is better than in many authorities south of the border," said Jim.

Scotland's Colin Turbett led lively sessions on 'workload management' and presented Scotland's Social Work Issues Group's negotiating tool on workload management and supervision. He told the Seminar that management and unions were often both suspicious of workload management but without a measure of actual workloads, it was often hard to protect staff and fight for more resources. Caseload numbers tell us nothing but time spent on actually working these cases does. But he also warned that this had to go hand in hand with good trade union organisation with agreed schemes and negotiations on what happens to the work that will be exposed as being unable to be done.

UNISON Press and Broadcasting chief Mary Maguire led sessions on how we challenge the media and try to get 'good news' social care stories across.

Grass roots activists from Norfolk outlined their fightback on employment rights for homecare workers, followed by 'new opportunities' in learning and development for homecare staff.

Trade union organisation and practical strategies led by members at the frontline
Kate said, "Not all was consensus, with debates about how we face the challenges. The traditional trade union tactics of demos, rallies, joint work with communities and industrial action sometimes sitting uneasily alongside more detailed workforce and practice issues."

She added, "In my view, it is not one or the other. We need the trade union organisation if we are to achieve anything but we also need the detailed and practical strategies to support members day in day out.

"UNISON members in social care want their union to speak up for jobs and services but they also want it to be a forum where they can discuss - and act on - issues about their services, the way they are delivered, the ethics they stand for and the rights of the people who rely on the services. That is what the Social Work Issues Group in Scotland tries to do. Members want the support from their union that they so often do not get from their employers.

"Grass roots involvement is the key issue and it is needed more than ever with social work and social care facing its biggest challenges ever."

Social care members give the union its ethos
General Secretary, Dave Prentis addressed the seminar and told delegates, "Our social care members give this union its ethos. Its ethos to combat discrimination, to promote fairness and equality and to speak up for the vulnerable and disadvantaged".

Dave was 'proud' of the level of membership involvement in the union but he recognised that many social care and home care activists were overburdened at work but also in their union role. Some of the pressure came because, "we are the people standing in the way of cuts in jobs and services, privatisation, bullying, discrimination and racism. We need to stand firm and be proud of what we are doing. We are such a powerful force, we can't be ignored".

And later, head of Local Government Heather Wakefield pledged resources to support social care and home care organisation in regions. The whole sector faced the biggest attacks ever with the myth going unchallenged in the media and some political circles that we cannot afford essential social care services.

The forthcoming election was a key issue. While some members voiced 'a plague on all their houses' view, others warned that apathy would let the Tories in and if anyone thought the Tories would be better for public services..........

"Labour has to be providing a vision for social care in this country and we need to get our agenda on the table", said Dave Prentis. "The issues identified by our members have to be addressed. If there's money to bail out the banks. If there's money for bonuses; if there's money for war, if there's money for Trident, then there is money to protect our social services".

Kate Ramsden