My Lords, the college has been established as a membership organisation independent of Parliament and as such it has ongoing revenue from membership fees. Over the past six years the college has received over £8.2 million in core funding, contracts and grants. Both the Department for Education and the Department of Health are currently in discussions with the college over a range of possible direct grants next year, and the college regularly competes for contracts with government and other agencies.
Today is World Social Work Day and our changing world has never been more in need of high-quality social workers, whether in regard to children at risk or the fact that in Britain our population aged over 85 will double in the next 15 years. So would the Minister agree with the Lords Select Committee chaired by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, which concluded that although improving the training of social workers has cost implications,
“this is an area of work of such importance to society … that under-resourcing it would be a false economy”?
If so, in supporting the College of Social Work, should we not seek cross-party consensus to secure longer-term adequate funding?
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of social workers and the vital part that they have to play in our society. On the point about training, the coalition Government have spent over £680 million on training social workers. We now have the Step Up to Social Work programme which has attracted some £47.5 million of funding, and the Frontline pilot, which is also receiving significant funds. The importance of proper training for social workers is in absolutely no doubt.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that at present, social workers are finding life almost intolerable in terms of the pressures on them? What is the level of vacancies in local authorities at present? I know that it is very high. Further, what are the Government doing to encourage local authorities to make sure that they have long-term staffing programmes? I am sure that the work of the College of Social Work encourages these, but a better attitude towards social workers and a sense of being positive about their work, rather than constant criticism, would certainly help.
Yes, I agree entirely with the noble Baroness on that point. Currently there are more registered social workers than there are vacancies, but it is a question of distribution in that they are not always in the areas where the need is greatest. Constant work is being done between local authorities and among providers to try to ensure that the right numbers of social workers are in the right places. Obviously the College of Social Work has a part to play in ensuring that that work progresses.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a friend of the College of Social Work. Does my noble friend agree that professionalism is as important in the public sector as it is in the private sector? The college affords people working in this very important profession across the country opportunities and support for the work they are doing, particularly in the areas of education and in-service training, as well as of course the important areas where new legislation comes into play and has to be accommodated and implemented at what is often quite short notice.
My noble friend is quite right that one of the membership services which the college provides is help with continuous professional development as well as the encouragement of professionalism. We are totally committed to the professionalism of social workers. The sector now has an all-graduate entry and standards are constantly being monitored.
My Lords, Ofsted’s social care annual report, which was published last week, underlines the importance and cost-effectiveness of early intervention and prevention in child protection. Does the Minister accept the case for adequate investment in social work so as to ensure that this preventive work is not neglected, as is so often the case at present? That leads to costly and less effective crisis intervention. Will she also ensure that hard-pressed local authorities have the necessary resources to enable this preventive work to take place?
Indeed, my Lords; of course early intervention is always an economic thing to do, and it is also far more effective. There is constant work going on, revision and research, to try to make sure that we have the most effective ways of resourcing, funding and training social workers.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the College of Social Work has a vitally important role to play in ensuring that the profession remains unified and cohesive, and, in particular, that both children’s social workers and adults’ social workers have the skills to deal with both children’s mental health issues and adult mental health issues, as these are issues which impact on many other family members?
My noble friend is quite right that the college has a responsibility for the professional capabilities framework, and that that has professional standards for generic social work which cover child, family and adult social work, and of course mental health is a key part of that.
My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that local authority social services departments peripheral to London are having acute difficulties recruiting and retaining staff because they do not get London weighting, but house prices are as high as they very often are in London? Is there anything that can be done about this?
The noble Countess raises a point which ranges far wider than social workers. House prices, particularly in the south-east, are going to be a problem for many people in the public sector. Of course, that then strays into areas of housing, which is rather wider than the remit of this Question. However, I assure her that it is important that we have adequate housing for people who work in these vital services, such as social work.
My Lords, as a former trained social worker, I am all too aware of the demands on social workers and the challenges they face, including not receiving adequate training on general disability issues but, more important, on the issue of autism. Given that the lack of recognition often leads to delay and misdiagnosis, causing huge setbacks, how do the Government and the Department of Health view the College of Social Work in its role in supporting people with autism more effectively? Will it ensure that there is commensurate funding available for that?
We are entirely committed to improving the quality of social worker training. Training, of course, is not done directly by the college but through universities and other places, and obviously that training is going to need to take into account all sorts of different forms of disability or disadvantage, of which autism would be one.