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Social Workers

Volume 791: debated on Wednesday 16 May 2018

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the report by Dr Jermaine Ravalier, Social Workers —Working Conditions and Wellbeing, published in July, what strategies they have considered to alleviate the workload demands faced by social workers.

My Lords, first, I declare an interest as vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I am delighted to have secured this debate following the report of Dr Jermaine Ravalier on the working conditions and well-being of social workers, published in July of last year. Dr Ravalier is a senior lecturer in psychology at Bath Spa University, where he co-leads the psychological research group. The research was commissioned but not paid for by the Social Workers Union, and the views and conclusions in the report are those of the author alone.

Social workers are dedicated professionals dealing with very complex, very challenging and very stressful situations. They deal with vulnerable children and vulnerable adults. The decisions that they make have a huge impact on people, and getting the assessments right so that the right decisions are made is crucial. Good social work can transform people’s lives and protect them from harm. To deliver that, social workers must have and maintain the skills and knowledge to establish effective relationships with children, adults and families, as well as professionals from a range of agencies.

It is important in this debate to set out the key points, so that the report is seen in that context. In her response to the debate, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, will set out what strategies the Government have considered and are deploying to alleviate the work demands faced by social workers.

The research undertaken by Dr Ravalier had five specific aims: to investigate stress levels in UK social workers; to investigate differences in stress levels experienced by social workers in different job roles; to investigate the working conditions faced by UK social workers; to demonstrate how satisfied social workers are with their role, how many are seeking to leave the role in the next 12 months and the level of presenteeism in the job role; and to demonstrate how the working conditions that social workers are exposed to influence stress, job satisfaction, turnover intentions and presenteeism.

Stress can have devastating consequences for the individuals experiencing it. It has serious health implications, including the development of coronary heart disease, insomnia and musculoskeletal pain. It has also been demonstrated that exposure to chronic stress can have an adverse effect on the immune system. On the effects of stress on workplaces and the number of days at work lost due to stress, the Health and Safety Executive showed that 11.7 million days were lost due to stress in 2016, and the Labour Force Survey of 2016 identified that the highest levels of sickness and absenteeism due to stress were in the health and social care sector.

The report drew out some interesting and concerning aspects that need to be explored and addressed to avoid even more serious problems in the future. Work was done with social workers in a variety of roles and levels of experience across different disciplines, and with social workers of different ethnic origins and both with and without a disability. The first thing to note is that 92% of social workers worked more hours than they were contracted and paid for; on average, they worked 10 extra hours a week. That, in itself, demonstrates the dedication of those working in the profession. Overall job satisfaction was high, and they were highly engaged in their jobs. Even when ill, social workers had often gone to work rather than take time off. However, it was also shown that up to 52% of those workers had contemplated leaving the profession in the next 12 to 15 months.

It was also shown that working conditions were poor across all areas of social work and that demands were high, but there were poor levels of support, which must be of concern to us all, and in particular to the Government. Workloads were seen as a real problem, with too many cases—and too many complex cases per individual social worker—and a general view that more social workers were needed to ensure that the job was undertaken to a sufficiently high standard. Concerns were also expressed about the levels of admin support available and the amount of paperwork that was routinely required. In many cases, workers did not even have their own computer to work from, and hot-desking was not helping the situation.

There were also concerns about the desire expressed by social workers to have more dialogue and supervision from more experienced colleagues as part of a professional development programme. I believe that is linked to a desire and a need for better managerial support within local authorities and other organisations which have a knowledge and understanding of social work and can thereby provide greater support. This could be an issue, as we have seen a number of council departments merge to create super-departments, covering a number of disciplines. But it is incumbent on them, when making these changes, to ensure that the structures in place have professionals in the various disciplines in sufficiently senior posts to provide the managerial and professional support needed.

There was also a feeling that the research picked up that social workers and the roles they undertook were not well understood by the general public. I think that is true. People understand what doctors, nurses, teachers and police officers do, but they are less clear about the range of work undertaken by social workers and the highly skilled and complex nature of their job. It does not help that, when things go tragically wrong, as sometimes they do, that is often the only time you hear about social workers and the work they do. That can paint a very unfair and negative view of the profession, which is unjustified.

Can the Minister outline what the Government are doing to raise the status of the profession? What are the Government doing to assist the recruitment of more social workers and to retain more social workers in the profession? In particular, what action is being taken to keep more experienced staff in the profession? We are all aware that budgets for local government are under pressure, but can the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to help protect vulnerable groups who need support—children, families and elderly people—as the pressures on local authorities are so great and it is in the Government’s gift to do something about that? Can the Minister give us her thoughts on what action should be taken to support new and existing social work managers in their jobs? Can she confirm that she would be happy for representatives of the Social Workers Union to meet with a Minister, and for a representative of the union to come in to discuss with officials in the department the issues contained within this research to see what further measures can be brought to bear to improve the situation? These are serious problems that need addressing. The funding gap facing children’s services is £2 billion. The Government have made cuts to programmes such as the early intervention grant, which has lost £500 million since 2013 just in children’s services and is projected to have a further reduction of £183 million by 2020. This is just one example of how the situation is getting worse every day.

Finally, can the Minister say something about the Return to Social Work campaign, which I think has been a very worthwhile initiative that needs to be supported for future years to make a real difference in tackling the problems we are discussing this evening? I thank everyone who is speaking in this short debate and look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark for initiating this debate so well. I am disappointed that the debate has been so poorly subscribed today, especially as this is a subject of such great importance. But that is for reasons on which I can only speculate—maybe it is the end of the day, or maybe the European Union debate took up a lot of time. Had I not been able to participate in this debate myself, I think the debate would have been limited to the initiator of the debate and the spokesmen for three parties. I put down my name, but it is not a subject on which I am known to have done any academic work. It has interested me greatly, especially when I read Dr Ravalier’s report and had the occasion to meet social workers in recent months. I felt that the subject was of such great importance that I had to speak.

Social workers deal with all kinds of important issues: mental health problems, addiction, alcohol and drug dependency, family breakdown and so on. Think of almost any human frailty or human weakness and they are expected to deal with it. They give life to people and they even attempt to heal broken selves. For a profession engaged in this kind of activity, the questions are: why is it under so much stress and why is it not content with the kind of work it is doing?

Here I will make a very simple point. It is not just that social workers are under stress. Everybody is under stress. There is no job I can think of that is stress-free. In a world like ours, anything we do is always going to subject us to stress. What is peculiar to social workers is a certain kind of stress: stress brought about by a combination of certain kinds of factors. These are the factors that Dr Ravalier highlighted and I want to highlight as well.

Several of these factors are worth mentioning. The first, of course, is the sheer amount of work. As the report points out, 92% of people work more than they are contracted for and that amounts to 10 extra hours per week. Secondly, the working conditions are not satisfactory. Social workers share computers, they may share desks, and they work with very little managerial guidance. Thirdly, the inflexible working hours mean that not many of them are able to work from home. Fourthly, social workers do not enjoy respect or the kind of managerial and institutional support that they are entitled to expect. Fifthly, clinical supervision on a regular basis is not available.

It is also rather disappointing that the profession is not valued as highly as other professions of comparable social significance. A graduate careers survey about two years ago showed that 73% of final-year students knew little about social work and had not even considered it as a possible career option. Then of course there is the bureaucracy which bedevils all areas of life; for example, where there is a 40-minute visit to a child and three hours spent filling in the paperwork. In addition, social workers carry the blame when things go wrong even though they themselves are not to blame.

In combination, all these factors—excessive hours, poor working conditions and inadequate recognition and appreciation by people outside—lead to a low sense of self-worth and that generates a degree of stress where one is struggling to do things and unable to produce results. If social workers could hope that things will get better, the stress might be less, but there is no hope that things are getting better. There are the public sector job losses, the climate of austerity and, if I remember correctly, the demotion of the Children’s Minister to Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. All these factors have combined to block off any kind of future hope for improvement in their condition.

What do we need to do? Here the report has a few ideas and other reports have come out over the years which have had many interesting ideas as well. If you put them together, you would get a wonderful programme. I am not going to talk about the programme. In the few minutes that I have, I will talk about four ideas that I think worth pursuing.

First, no profession can generate a sense of pride or self-worth unless it is valued by its peers and its contribution to society is widely appreciated. Therefore, there should be a publicly supported campaign to raise the profile of the profession. This can be done not only by highlighting what the profession does and the contribution it makes to society but by cherishing and valuing the contributions of different social workers to different areas of life.

The second thing that needs to be done—the House of Commons Select Committee report talks about it—is the creation of a professional body for social work. That will help raise the quality of leadership, regulate the performance of social workers and raise the profile of the profession.

Thirdly, there is also a strong necessity for co-operation with universities, with universities training social workers and providing benchmarks for what training is needed for a social worker at what stage.

Fourthly and finally, it is very important that public authorities should find ways of finding and retaining staff. That is not easy. It requires a lot of things. It requires that people do not have to work longer hours than they need to, some hope that salaries will be better than they were last year, and the kind of climate in which one is valued and can hope for better conditions to come.

I hope the Government will take into account the many suggestions that have been made—not just by me and my noble friend Lord Kennedy—and that the Minister will respond to the question of what the Government intend to do with plans to promote a public campaign about the profession, set up a professional body and find ways of retaining people within the profession, especially the younger ones.

My Lords, when we come to the end of this short debate and we all go home for our piece of toast because all the cafés here are closed, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, will feel that we may not have had quantity but we certainly had quality. We have certainly had that so far from him and from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy.

The job of a social worker is always difficult. They have to make finely balanced judgments every day, based on a large number of factors. Every case requires them to use their professional judgment and experience and very often they are themselves judged by those who know little about it. When it comes to decisions about taking children into care, they are often damned if they do and damned if they don’t—but I thank them for what they do.

As vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, I will focus on children and family social workers, because last year our group carried out a very revealing inquiry in this area called No Good Options. We are currently part way through a piece of follow-up work. Many of the issues we revealed are applicable to all social workers.

The big issues are heavy case loads and stress; staff turnover and stability of the workforce; and the opportunity to undertake further professional development, with pathways to progress in the profession. Staff were also concerned about the status of the profession. I hope that the new regulator, Social Work England, under the able leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, will be able to contribute positively to that status and quality with the right kind of regulation. Social workers want their professional views to be respected and to bring about the best outcomes for the children in their care. I think I can say that anyone who becomes a social worker really cares about the people they serve, and we should value the work they do for society.

We found evidence of rising demand, rising thresholds for intervention, and increasing case complexity—at a time when resources are falling. Schools are now taking on tasks that used to be carried out by children’s social workers. As a result of this, one of our recommendations was that the Department for Education and the then Department for Communities and Local Government should carry out a review of the resourcing of children’s social services and provide the resources needed to enable local authorities to adhere to the LGA guidance on case loads. One problem reported to us was that local authorities cannot afford the early, low-level interventions that can prevent a case escalating into a more complex and serious matter that costs more to treat. All our witnesses were committed to this preventive work, but many found it impossible to afford because they can afford only the mandatory services.

This upward cost and case-load spiral puts a very heavy burden on staff and supervisors. All this leads to high staff turnover, which hinders the development of stable relationships with service users. When social workers leave a stable job and go to work for an agency, they often have more work flexibility, a more manageable workload and sometimes higher pay, so you cannot really blame them. But this is not the ideal way to serve vulnerable children who suffer when their social worker keeps changing.

Some local authorities have managed to reduce the use of locum staff, but some still have very high levels. Whereas the average was 16%, five authorities had 40% and one had 100% locum staff. In response to this, many authorities have grouped together to sign a memorandum of understanding to keep the cost of locums down and reduce churn. This has worked well and we believe that 80% of children’s services now work in this way—but will the Government please look into whether there could be a national memorandum on the payment of locum staff, as the costs are crippling some hard-pressed local authorities?

Case loads vary tremendously. A number of our witnesses recommended 12 families per social worker as the optimum case load. In Essex, where average case loads have decreased in recent years, from between 25 and 40 per social worker down to 12, the inquiry heard that staff turnover had markedly decreased and morale had improved. The LGA advises that all employers should use a workload management system that sets clear targets for safe workloads in each service and regularly assess each social worker’s case load, taking into account complexity, capacity and the need for supervision. We recommended that the Department for Education should develop a strategy to reduce churn in the children’s social work system. Will the Government seriously consider the need to do this?

Cafcass is one of the country’s largest employers of children and family social workers, because of their role in making assessments and advising the courts. Under the recently ended chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield, who cannot be in her place today because of other commitments, Cafcass has been turned around from what some in past years regarded as a failing organisation to one that recently received an outstanding inspection report from Ofsted. My noble friend, her chief executive and every single Cafcass staff member are to be congratulated on this achievement.

Although, as with most organisations, some still criticise aspects of Cafcass’s service, it might be instructive to look at how it made such impressive improvements. The answer, of course, is complex—and a lot of hard work. However, two paragraphs of the Ofsted report stand out in relation to our debate today. Ofsted stated:

“Successful workforce planning and innovations in Cafcass’s recruitment processes (plus additional investment secured by the chief executive) have resulted in a higher number of frontline practitioners with more capacity to sustain a high-quality service. Senior leaders are not complacent. They are committed to maintaining average caseloads for staff at manageable levels to safeguard employee well-being and productivity. In our survey of Cafcass staff, 97% agreed or strongly agreed that Cafcass, as a national organisation, continually strives to improve”.

This comment is a great credit to the management and governance of the organisation, but I did notice that very important phrase,

“plus additional investment secured by the chief executive”.

I suspect that all employers of social workers would want to be able to say that.

Attention at Cafcass was also paid to staff well-being, continued professional development and promotion opportunities. Ofsted stated:

“Staff report that they are well supported, feel valued and have good access to a wide range of training and development opportunities. Many staff have benefited from in-house development schemes and have been promoted to more senior positions within the area. Staff turnover is low and caseloads are manageable across all areas of practice. Managers are readily available and guide and advise the skilled workforce effectively. The performance and learning review (PLR) process works well and includes a good balance of staff development and well-being, self-assessment, reflection and case discussion”.

This has clearly been a blueprint for success that others could follow.

The fact that careful case planning allows the majority of Cafcass staff to consistently provide excellent, timely services for children, their families and the family courts contributes to staff morale and a high level of staff retention. I know that a big effort was also made to ensure that staff produce strong, evidence-based and succinct reports that minimise the need for additional experts, and reduce delay and the need for further appointments, which can only be helpful to service users. The voice of the child is very powerful and often quoted verbatim in reports.

Social work is a people business and those who find ways to invest in their staff reap the rewards, as has been demonstrated. What plans do the Government have to invest in the quality and status of social work, for the sake of the workers themselves and that of their clients?

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Kennedy for securing this debate on a subject of much greater importance than is evident from the number of noble Lords who have chosen to participate.

I start by also paying tribute to the essential work that is undertaken by social workers the length and breadth of the country. As my noble friend Lord Kennedy said in his opening remarks, they transform lives—often the lives of children and vulnerable adults unable to care for themselves. We all, even if we have never personally made contact with them in a professional context, owe a debt of gratitude to social workers for the service that they contribute to making this a caring and civilised society. So we should all be concerned at the content and conclusions of the report by Dr Ravalier and Mr McGowan.

Workplace stress is a well-known determinant of employee health and is the biggest cause of long-term sickness absence in the UK public sector. It can and does cause both physical and psychological ill health, yet it is both an underestimated and an underreported problem. It should be neither, because it is calculated to cost the UK economy approximately £800 per employee each year. Given that the public sector workforce numbers some 5.5 million, that amounts to around £4.4 billion annually. For that reason, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that the Ravalier-McGowan report is in fact the first of its kind into stress within the social work profession.

I have to say that, hitherto, I have been much more aware of stress among another part of the public sector workforce: schoolteachers. The National Union of Teachers conducted a survey of its members in 2016 and found that 90% had considered giving up teaching in the previous two years because of the workload. In response, the Department for Education produced three reports in an attempt to reduce workload pressures for teachers and committed to an annual review of workloads. That process is continuing, but the teacher unions are facing the workload challenge and working with the DfE to get assurances on workload reduction. It is clear that what is required is a similarly positive approach from government as regards social workers and their workload.

The Ravalier-McGowan report contains some stark and troubling findings, perhaps the most hard-hitting of which is the revelation that UK social workers are working more than £600 million-worth of unpaid overtime each year. The profession is unequivocal in its view that it is government cuts to services that have led to the forced extra hours. Because social workers have too many cases allocated to them and have to cope with the associated administrative work, they work an average of 64 days a year of unpaid overtime. That is the equivalent of more than nine weeks’ work. I await with interest the Minister’s view on that rather chilling statistic. We should pause to consider what that means for the public sector pay bill. It is a double whammy, because social workers are asked to do more—some of it unpaid —with fewer resources. It is also a double whammy for the Government, because not only do they save money through cutting the resources allocated to local authorities, and hence social work departments, they then get greater productivity from social work staff, whose dedication to their job and the vulnerable people they joined the profession to help means that they do not incur the additional wage costs to which they are entitled.

Unprecedented upheavals are taking place in the social work sector due to reforms that include—as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to—a new regulator, new and untested models of delivery and new routes to qualification. Closures to services because of cuts to local government budgets are welcome, but inconsistent efforts to integrate health and social care are adding to the rising demand on social workers. These events highlight the necessity of finding ways to reduce staff turnover among social workers and to prevent them leaving the sector altogether. Unsurprisingly, the volume and the diversity of the work was found to be directly related to increased stress levels. That and poor working conditions means that over half of social workers say they intend to leave the role within the next 18 months. Dr Ravalier pulled no punches when he commented that:

“What our research has revealed is that most social workers are actually deeply fulfilled by their work but the satisfaction they feel can no longer outweigh the lack of support they are experiencing … If this keeps up, and the social workers we spoke with do leave the profession, local authorities will be forced to pay for contract workers who are expensive, transient, and certainly won’t be working lots of free hours”.

Furthermore, the respondents to the Ravalier-McGowan survey also described that, all too often, there was a culture within social work of institutional racism that played against non-white employees. In addition,

“with respect to those social workers with a disability, respondents described a lack of understanding from management and colleagues within their organisation, and others also described a lack of reasonable adjustments for their disability at work”.

I would be obliged if the Minister would comment on that aspect of the report as well.

The impact of the working conditions of social workers—particularly excessive overtime, which means that they simply have too many cases to manage—could lead to an increased risk of crisis situations developing. Noble Lords will be only too aware of a number of tragic cases in recent years, which led to the new Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel emanating from the Children and Social Work Act 2017.

The British Association of Social Workers has identified several developments that it believes are necessary if we are to avoid—or at least reduce to a bare minimum—such crisis situations. It has called for a reduction of the demands placed on social workers to ease stress and attrition rates. That means employing more social workers, ensuring a consistent approach to caseload allocation and enabling flexible and remote working through improved use of technology. The BASW believes that not enough time is currently available for reflective supervision to work through complex cases and it urges that additional administrative support be made available to enable social workers to focus on their caseloads. Perhaps the most pertinent proposal from a morale point of view is the need to end the blame culture that the media first seize upon and then feed off. That means giving social workers the respect and positive support that their dedicated professionalism deserves.

There is much in the report that is the subject of this debate that should both inform and alarm us. I make no apology for again quoting the authors:

“What the research has revealed is that most social workers are actually deeply fulfilled by their work but the satisfaction they feel can no longer outweigh the lack of support they are experiencing”.

That must sound a warning to Government, and I cannot believe that anyone, be they Ministers or officials, not to mention the Chief Social Worker, can have read the report with anything other than a sense of foreboding.

Ten months have now passed since the report was published; there has been adequate time to consider it. The key now is for the Minister to inform us what she and her department intend to do in response to the report’s findings and recommendations, and I look forward to her reply to the debate.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, on securing this important debate. I thank all other noble Lords for their valuable contributions today. There was a small number of speakers, but the debate has been excellent. Noble Lords have set out many challenges that social workers can face, and I will endeavour to answer as many questions as I can in the time I have.

This report, Social Workers—Working Conditions and Wellbeing, raises some pertinent questions for all of us who want to see social workers valued and recognised for the vital work they do. I agree with all noble Lords who spoke—the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy, Lord Parekh and Lord Watson and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley—that we need to understand and think about the vital work that social workers do and really recognise the efforts that have been made. I recognise that this is a difficult time for social work and for social care. We know that local authority budgets have faced pressures in recent years and of course the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy alluded to this. That is why we have taken steps to help to secure a strong and sustainable social care system. We have given councils access to up to £9.4 billion more dedicated funding for adult social care over three years. Moreover, we have supported councils to use the flexibility in funding for children’s social care to increase spending to around £9.2 billion for children and young people’s services in 2016-17.

This summer, the Department for Health and Social Care will publish a Green Paper on care and support for older people and a joint health and care workforce strategy. These publications will be vital in helping to achieve a long-term sustainable future for the social care system and address the challenges facing the social care workforce. I agree with everyone who spoke that we want social work to be a respected and valued profession that supports people to remain in it for the whole of their career, should they wish it. We recognise the impact that high workloads, stress and low morale have on recruitment and retention. That is why the Government continue to provide the £58 million social work bursary, which supports over 4,000 students into social work courses. We also continue to provide £20 million through the education support grant for practice placements for social work students.

The Government must do all they can, as has already been said, to empower and champion social work, but we must also acknowledge the responsibility of local authorities to ensure social workers have manageable workloads and receive quality supervision and support, which prioritises practice over process. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said that 92% of social workers are leaving over time. I have to stress that the survey looked at only 12,000 social workers out of a 92,000 workforce. While this number is troubling, it is not really representative of the whole profession when new practice models and improved supervisions—

I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. Frankly, that statement cannot go unchallenged. Opinion polls covering the whole of the UK—some 60 million people—are held to be reasonable based on 1,000 respondents. A survey of 12,000 out of 90,000 seems to me to be a pretty high and representative sample of the profession.

The number is 1,200. If I said 12,000, I apologise. I am not saying that it is not troubling, but I am saying that the survey looked at only 1,200 out of a workforce of 92,000. Although it is troubling, it is not really a fully representative picture of the whole profession. However, I understand the problems: the noble Lord shakes his head, but what I am saying is that we need to look at improving working conditions and practice quality. I entirely agree with the assertion that the noble Lord has made.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, also asked about heavy caseloads leading to a lack of preventive work. She spoke of Cafcass and the very important improvements that have taken place there in relation to children’s social work. There is increasing evidence of innovative practices and approaches for supporting children and young people. I agree with her that this shows examples of very good practice. Ofsted inspections are including caseloads and supervisions in their judgments on quality of local authority children’s services, and this is to be welcomed.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Watson, also asked about further workloads and improving supervision and support of social workers to ensure that they had appropriate workloads. We are improving staffing capacity and the children’s social workers have increased to approximately 30,000 in statutory children’s services over the last two years. The noble Lord also asked about pay. As well as outlining the challenges facing the profession, the report suggests that there are some solutions to help improve social workers’ working conditions. I have just alluded to what we are doing in relation to pay.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked about strategies that the Government are undertaking overall. The Government have an ambitious programme to raise the status and standing of the social work profession. I want to highlight the action we are taking in some key areas, which will help to deliver the improvements we all want to see.

In professional regulation, an area raised by all noble Lords, we are establishing a new specialist regulator for social work, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned: Social Work England. Focused purely on social work, this bespoke regulator will cover the whole profession and have public protection at the heart of all of its work—the noble Lords, Lord Watson, Lord Kennedy and Lord Parekh, said that they wanted to see greater emphasis placed on prevention. The new body will be about more than just this. We want to support professionalism and standards across the profession. As a social work-specific regulator, it will be able to develop an in-depth understanding of the profession and use this to set standards for the knowledge, skills, values and behaviours required to become and remain a registered social worker. That addresses the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Finally, it will play a key role in promoting public confidence in the profession and helping to raise the status and standards of social work.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, I am sure noble Lords will join me in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, on his role as the newly appointed chair of Social Work England as he leads work to establish the regulator in 2019.

As the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy, Lord Parekh and Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, education, training and continuous professional development is absolutely key. I have already addressed the issue regarding Cafcass that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised, the importance of staff development and case planning and the improvements that Cafcass has undertaken. I am sure that the new regulator will look at those models very carefully.

We are making sure that those entering the social work profession receive the best training possible. We have established 15 teaching partnerships, bringing together universities and local authorities to improve the quality of social work education. We are also delivering fast-track programmes to bring high-potential graduates into the social work profession. For newly qualified social workers entering the profession, the transition from education to the realities of practice can, as we know, be daunting. That is why we have introduced an assessed supported year in employment to provide social workers with valuable additional support during their first year in practice. The programme has benefited over 20,000 child and family and adult social workers since 2012, helping to improve recruitment, retention and performance management.

For established social workers we are funding a range of assessment and development programmes to enable people to progress into more specialist or senior roles. I hope that addresses the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. We are also supporting social workers who have left the profession and want to return, through the Return to Social Work programme, with the aim to train up to 100 social workers across three regions.

In conclusion, local authorities, like all parts of government, have had to make difficult choices to help us balance the public finances. We also recognise that demand for social care services is rising. That is why, across adult and children’s services, we are looking at how local authorities can safely make best use of the resources available. Funding is important, as most noble Lords highlighted, but a range of factors will influence service quality and workforce capacity, including leadership, support and professional development, which the Government are addressing through our reform and improvement programmes. I add that while we have made good progress, there is more to do to create a sustainable social care system that stretches beyond any electoral cycle to provide world-class care and support for future generations.

I am checking to see if I have missed any questions. The noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Parekh, asked about the Return to Social Work Programme, which I will touch on. This has been supported by the Local Government Association, the DHSC, the DfE and the chief social workers, and it is particularly focused on areas experiencing recruitment challenges. We will look at how that goes as we move forward. I am now out of time, so if there are questions I have not answered, I will endeavour to write to noble Lords and ensure that they get answers.

We should get one point on the record. I asked whether the Minister would arrange for John McGowan, the general secretary of the Social Workers Union, and some of his colleagues and officials, to meet a Minister of the department or some of their officials to discuss the important details. I hope the Minister will be able to agree to that over the Dispatch Box. Finally, I hope the Minister will go away and think carefully. Although she may not like some of the issues that came out of the report, on any basis of the quality of quantitative research, a sample of 1,200 people out of 92,000 is certainly well within the norms of what is considered justifiable to be looked at.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for those two points. I will take the latter first, and say that I recognise the problems and the issues. Certainly, the Government are not dismissing those issues, which is why I tried to address the strategy the Government have put forward. We have taken the report seriously; I read it, and some of its findings, as the noble Lord rightly highlighted, were disturbing. We plan to do more and can do more. Secondly, on the issue of meetings, I will certainly pass on the message to the Minister in the department. However, personally, I am always happy to meet anyone who wishes to do so.

House adjourned at 8.36 pm.