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
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
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".