Pamphlet Launch: People Before Profit: The future of social care in Scotland

SWAN in partnership with the Jimmy Reid Foundation have brought together a collection of contributions to discuss the need for a better and radical shift in social care. This follows from the Scottish Government commission into a developing a National Care Service following the tragedies of the covid-19 pandemic. Although a review was in the pipeline, the consequence of the pandemic has highlighted the desperate needs for a change in welfare within social care. The Feeley Report has elements that should be welcomed however this does not go far enough and does not end the market influence within social care and limitations to independent living.

This pamphlet aims to intervene in the debate of what changes are need to develop support that takes the profit motive out of social care, arguing that we need a nationalised service that puts the voices and experiences of service users at the front in designing a service that promotes collaboration between service users and social work and care workers, and advocates for independent living, challenging the structural barriers that stop it.

But more important than debating, we need to build a campaign that pushes for a democratically controlled care service not a top down bureaucratic operation that we’ve seen before.

You can order your copy from Calton Books and we encourage you to share with your trade unions, colleagues, friends, carers, and organisations to spread the message of nothing for us, without us.

SIGN THE PETITION: Vote of No Confidence in Independent Review of Children’s Services England.

Vote of No Confidence in the Independent Children’s Services Review.

The government’s announcement that Josh MacAlister will chair an ‘independent’ review of children’s social care in England has provoked concern amongst the social work profession.

As social workers we are fully aware that the system is in crisis. At heart this is the result of years of cuts, austerity, privatisation and deregulation. We are in favour of a review of children’s services that will be, in the Government’s words, ‘radical’ but that means confronting the impact of years of privatisation, mismanagement and austerity. It requires the scope of the review is widened to assess the impact that poverty, austerity, racial and gender oppression and the privatisation of social services, including education, have had upon those with experience of care.

The present Government has a terrible record of cronyism with large contracts being offered to their friends and donors – as recently revealed by the New York Times. The appointment of MacAllister falls into this pattern. He is not a social worker and he is not independent.

MacAlister is the CEO of Frontline, a privatised provider of social work education. It has significant links with corporate partners and has been heavily funded by the global management company the Boston Consulting Group. He has previously published his ‘blueprint of child services’, in reality a blue print for privatisation. It is not appropriate that the review is being led by a privatisation ideologue

We demand that any review of children’s social care be led by a qualified social worker – someone who has the trust of frontline workers. And we demand that care-experienced people be included in the review leadership team.

The Social Work Action Network opposes Josh MacAlister’s appointment and calls for a vote of no confidence in the ‘independent’ review of children’s social care.

Sign our petition to the UK Government here.

Steve Rogowski: Children’s Social Care is not a Business!

This article was originally going to be published within Professional Social Work Magazine, however, we are glad we are able to publish it here.

Going Through the Motions? The Review of Children’s Services/Social Care 

The Department for Education’s (DfE) review into children services/social care under Josh MacAlister, the Frontline chief, has been broadly welcomed by sector leaders and children’s organisations. However, is it all really as it seems? Not least there are concerns over the review’s independence because of the DfE’s direct funding of Frontline, the fast-track training provider for children’s social workers, and ministers’ vocal championing of the organisation since its inception.

The review will consider how the children’s social care system responds to referrals and consider the full spectrum of need from early help to looked-after children. Within the care system, it will look at fostering, residential and kinship care, though it will be up to review to decide whether it covers adoption support. It will also be up to the review to decide whether to include care leavers, despite the DfE’s terms of reference highlighting the poorer adult outcomes experienced by people who have been through the care system.

The DfE said the review would tackle challenges including the sharp increase in recent years in the number of looked after children and the failure of the system to provide sufficient stable homes for children. Specific issues include:  the capacity and capability to support families to prevent children being taken into care unnecessarily; hearing the voices of children, young people, and adults that have received the help or support of a social worker, or who have been looked after; and how partner agencies, such as health and police, interact with children’s social care. Importantly, a key question is how social care funding, workforce and other resources can be used most effectively to change children’s lives and represent good value for money.

Although it might be well and good to embark on such a review, there are certainly caveats to all of this. First, there is the spectre of cronyism concerning MacAlister’s direct appointment rather than through a formal process. Second, there are concerns about the fast-track child protection training scheme Frontline, including its students being privately and generously funded when compared to university social work education and social work students. And third, a decade of Conservative governments’ austerity has led to drastic cuts to key family supports including local authority children’s services, so it is little wonder this has impacted on such services’ capacity and capability to support families and prevent children being taken into care.

But, like Ray Jones in his book ‘In Whose Interest? The Privatisation of Child Protection and Social work’, it is Frontline that I want to dwell on a little here. Within the debate about privatisation and marketisation, both key signifiers of neoliberalisation, little attention is given to the influence of global big business on social work and social care reform. As a result, there has been little critical exploration of the potential implications of this for social work practice and policy. And Frontline is a key example of big money’s incursion into English social work by Boston Consultancy Group (BCG) and others, with BCG being one of the largest management consultancies in the world. Surely such lineage indicates the likely direction of travel for social work and social work education in the UK being to advance private business interests in the public sector. It is hardly a revelation that global corporations are frequently involved in morally questionable activities, but it is unprecedented for an English social work training programme to be part-founded by a global management consultancy.

While recognising we are all caught in the invidious compromise of neoliberalism, it is still legitimate to ask why Frontline has partnered with firms and corporations whose conduct is often counter to social work values? Several other important questions also arise: what have such firms to offer an English social work training scheme? What do they receive in return and at what cost to the public trust in the profession?

Bearing all this in mind, it is no surprise many consider the review is largely going through the motions and that the government and hence the review already know many of its final thoughts and recommendations. For example, the focus of the review includes value for money and the most sustainable and cost-effective way of delivering services including who is best placed to deliver them. An obvious concern is that this could lead to the review to see looked after children as a cost that needs reducing, with the way forward including increased outsourcing or privatisation/marketisation of services. This in turn leads to questions about the morality of profits being made on the backs of vulnerable children and their families.

In short, it is surely time to critically consider and resist the mantra of ‘private sector good, public sector bad’.

Dr Steve Rogowski is a social worker/independent scholar.

Rights for Residents!

Rights for Residents is a grass roots campaign founded by Jenny Morrison and Diane Mayhew that aims to end the inhumane bans on visiting loved ones in care homes and other care settings. Together with our members we are the voices of those locked away unable to speak. We will fight with every breath in our bodies to resume visits and see our loved ones before it’s too late.

How Rights for Residents began

The Campaign began in response to an extremely distressing window visit to Jenny’s mum, Jean Morrison, who lives in a nursing home and has been denied meaningful contact with her family for over eight months. Jean has advanced dementia and is unable to recognise us at the window, which causes her to become upset and confused. This particular day, she broke down in tears, put her head in her hands and said that she’d never smile again. Given that her nickname in the home is ‘Smiler’, we were heartbroken! Being on the other side of a closed window, we had no way to comfort her and came away from the window feeling upset and powerless.  Jean has no understanding of why she has suddenly been abandoned by her family, who between them visited five full days a week prior to lock down. Witnessing the rapid deterioration in her mental and physical health, we decided we’d had enough of being shut out of the care home.

We wanted to reach out to other relatives experiencing the pain of separation and who were suffering the guilt of leaving a loved one imprisoned with no end in sight. The very next day I contacted BBC Radio Merseyside to raise the issue locally.

A local BBC TV appearance soon followed and we noticed that our video clip on the BBC North West Tonight Facebook page had received over 37,000 views in less than two days. We quickly came up with the name Rights for Residents and set up a dedicated Facebook page to unite with other families who found themselves in the same situation. We’ve been inundated with devastating stories from others who are also witnessing the physical and mental deterioration of their loved ones, resulting from eight months without family contact.

When restrictions were eased for vulnerable members of our society on the 1st August, we expected the same for those living in care homes. However, this wasn’t the case and we wanted to raise awareness of this to the wider public.

Through our Campaign families have come together and no longer feel alone in their fight to change this and Rights for Residents has become a national campaign group. Members are actively lobbying MPs, Government Ministers and the media in order to get our voices heard.

Just twelve weeks on and Rights for Residents have over 197,000 signatures on our petition and have received a huge amount of publicity. Rights for Residents have appeared on ITV This Morning, BBC Breakfast, Channel 4 News, BBC Radio 4 Today, BBC Radio 5 Live and LBC Radio to name but a few. We’ve also featured heavily in the national newspapers including the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mirror. The Daily Express has ran a series of major articles in support and The Daily Mail are now running a very powerful series campaign which is gaining support from high profile politicians from across the political spectrum.

Our message to the Government is simple:

Grant key worker status to relatives with access to rapid tests to enable safe face to visits to resume.

Indemnify care providers – as they have done for the NHS – as they are frozen by fear of litigation if a visitor was to take the virus into a care home

We are calling on the Government to find a more humane and nuanced solution that balances the risk of contracting Covid-19 against the devastating mental and physical deterioration we are witnessing.

Recently. the Government bowed to pressure from campaigning organisations, major charities, and experts by producing new guidelines. The Minister for Care, Helen Whately claims that the new Guidance offers the solution to reuniting families with their loved ones. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth and the fact is that restrictions on visits have become even harsher.

Quoting the new Guidance, many relatives have contacted their care providers, only to be told that all visits will now be banned unless they take place behind floor to ceiling screens or at a closed window. Some have even banned these. A few are permitting indoor visits with screens relatives feel that this is not a visit but a “viewing”!

There is inconsistency in how the Guidelines are interpreted across the country. The Local Directors of Public Health are supposed to be working with Local Authorities and care providers – and can interpret them as they see fit – which has led to a postcode lottery.

The floor to ceiling screens suggested in the new Guidelines have left families distraught as they feel their loved ones are being treated like exhibits in a zoo rather than human beings in need of social contact. The £7.5 million investment on tablets and i-pads, is completely misplaced. Those with dementia, communication difficulties, sensory impairment, learning difficulties or who are bed bound are unable to access the technology. Many find Skype and Zoom confusing and upsetting and simply don’t recognise their relatives on the screen. Surely this huge sum of money would have been better spent on testing relatives and providing indemnity for care homes as these two issues hold the key to opening up care homes.

Rapid testing has now been rolled out to a whole city region. We are at a loss as to why the Government haven’t prioritised these rapid tests for relatives who haven’t seen their loved ones in care homes for over eight months. Once again, the virus is getting in to care homes via staff. Test results are taking too long got come back, by which time the virus has spread to residents and staff. Care staff are understandably going about their daily lives – which is not a criticism – but a fact and many have school age children who as we know can spread the virus. The Government’s claim that the bans are keeping residents safe doesn’t hold water. Residents are not only contracting the virus but they are in grave danger of dying from loneliness and isolation. Charities have produced statistics to show that many excess deaths since March are a direct result of people simply giving up the will to live. The Alzheimer’s Society have called this a “Hidden Catastrophe”. Rapid tests would resolve both of these issues.

They say they are encouraging care providers to facilitate safe visits but in reality their advice is preventing this. They encourage window visits but these are not acceptable in Winter for frail, elderly people visiting their wives, husbands, partners, mum’s, dad’s, daughters, sons, siblings etc. In fact, to encourage this is nothing short of reckless and exposes the risk of flu, or worse – pneumonia.

The Government have now launched a pilot scheme, yet after almost nine long months of waiting it is only available to twenty care homes in Devon, Cornwall and Hampshire. The majority of the other 15,980 care homes continue to enforce blanket bans on visiting and families have reached breaking point. The pilot will take at least four weeks to complete and then there will be a further period of evaluation.

The  DHSC have also stated that “Any decision on rolling out care home testing nationally will be taken in light of the latest available data on transmission rates as a result of Covid 19 restrictions” and many relatives fear they will never see their loved ones again. Unable to influence the general public, all we can do is ensure that we are leading a responsible lifestyle, and this statement gives little hope of a speedy reunion.

Despite all the obstacles that have been put in the way of Care providers – a few are already allowing safe visits. If the Government really cared about the most vulnerable in our society  they could very quickly learn and share good practice from these initiatives and produce a Covid-safe visiting protocol. There is absolutely no need for a pilot scheme, which will delay the resumption of visits further and lead to more deaths from loneliness and isolation.

Many have stopped eating and drinking as they exercise the only liberty left to them and choose to give up the will to live. Relatives too are suffering mental health issues – many for the first time in their lives – as they witness the terrible decline of their loved one and feel powerless to help them. The guilt is horrendous and the sleepless nights are taking their toll. The impact on the well being of over 400,000 families of those living in care settings is immense and becoming more critical every day.

People have been driven beyond despair and recently a trained nurse tried to remove her mother from a care home to be looked after at home. She made this decision purely on instinct so that she could hug her, talk to her, have human contact and spend quality time with her. She did this without seeking permission but it was not a premeditated act and the resulted in her being arrested. Her mum was forcibly taken back to the care home, while her distressed granddaughter filmed the upsetting and traumatic turn of events. This incident shows just how desperate families are becoming.

The Government are playing Russian Roulette with the lives of our loved ones and so far have failed to apply compassion or urgency in finding a solution.

A group of infection control experts wrote an open letter in the Nursing Times stating that infection control should not be a barrier “but an enabler to compassionate care” and recommended the urgent resumption of  visits. A recent Sage report also stated that there is a “low risk” of the virus being taken into a care home by a visitor and testing visitors is a mitigation option. The Sage report goes on to say that the substantial social and emotional impact on residents is moderate to high. However the Government continues to ignore these experts and residents and their families are paying the price.  

Today I was asked by a journalist how important would it be to us all if we could see our loved ones this Christmas. My response was that many won’t make it to Christmas – we need urgent action right now!!

What’s next for Rights for Residents

As we continue to fight for the right to see our loved ones, our campaigning actions are paying off. Forty MP’s from across the political spectrum have now agreed to work collectively on this issue. Recently a debate took place in Parliament on the subject of care home visits which was quickly followed by another debate in Westminster Hall about the impact of Covid-19 on those living with Dementia.

An open letter from the NCF to the Government, calling for an end to blanket bans on care home visits has now been signed by a coalition of 130 organisations including Rights for Residents. Our regular campaigns with The Daily Mail, The Daily Express and Daily Telegraph are building momentum and when lock down is over we are planning a socially distanced protest.

We have also released a record ‘Right here waiting for you’, featuring images of those currently imprisoned and suffering immensely as a result of these inhumane visiting restrictions. George Gallagher a professional singer from Liverpool has very kindly donated his time and voice to our Rights for Residents campaign in the hope we will be heard.

If you would like to join the voices speaking on behalf of those who can’t, please visit our website and sign our petition to help our loved ones regain their rights to a family life!

Our campaign video speaks volumes as it features those directly affected by the lack of meaningful contact with their families. 

We have now also released a record sung by a professional singer George Gallagher to the cover ‘Right here waiting for you’.

Don’s story

Mum and Dad have been married for 61 years. They’d hardly spent a night apart in all that time but when Mum’s Alzheimers progressed earlier this year, he could no longer look after her in their own home as she needed full-time care.

Once mum moved into a care home, Dad would travel each day to see her. Even after the Covid virus hit, he would still go and see his beloved wife through the window of her Home. Dad thought that visiting mum at the window like this would just be temporary but months later nothing’s changed and there’s no end in sight.

Mum is well cared for in her home but her face lights up when she knows that Dad is coming. However, mum doesn’t recognise dad with a mask on and she can’t hear him through the window and so these restricted visits are stressful for them both.

Dad wants to dance with Mum like they used to do. He’d put her favourite songs on and they would dance together in the lounge of the care home. He desperately wants to do that again. He desperately wants to hold her and tell her how much he loves her.

Dad’s health is not great.  He has an underlying heart condition. He’s 86 years old and is now pining for his wife. He struggles to eat and sleep and is missing her so much it pains him. It pains the rest of us to watch him decline. They need to be with each other.   Why can’t they dance together again before it’s too late?

Maggie’s story

This is Maggie, she lives in a care home and has multiple sclerosis. Unlike like many of those living in care settings she is able to give voice to her opinions and feelings.  Maggie misses her  children and grandchildren immensely and feels very lonely.

Before she was locked up indefinitely, she had a personal assistant who used to take her out to coffee shops, the theatre, etc and now she is trapped like a prisoner in her room – but Maggie has committed no crime.

Leeds has just gone into local lockdown and we’ve received a text from the care home to say all visits, including window visits have been banned with immediate effect. It’s all absolutely heartbreaking.

Read more about her story here.

Linda’s story

A day out.

I cannot visit or see my mum at the moment. She is 99 and has been in lock down since March and has not been out of her care home (apart from an admission to hospital)

Yesterday l was asked to take her to hospital for a check up! l drove via a park. She loved seeing the autumn trees, conkers, squirrels and the children  playing. It was the same park she got engaged in 77 years ago.

At the hospital she was told she would have another check up in a year. She said

“Oh can’t l come next month l need another day out!”

I drove back to the home via my daughter’s house. Two granddaughters 5 great grandchildren lined the pavement so they could see her. They waved, cried and blew kisses!

“I feel like the queen’ mum said “and today will be a memory that l will treasure forever because they won’t let me out again”

In six months time she will be 100 – we wonder how we are going to celebrate?

They say they are keeping her safe from the virus, but then ask homes to take patients with the virus. I cannot see her  and yet I’m asked to take her to hospital. I cannot go in the home, but hairdressers, plumbers, carpet fitters, chiropodist and lift repair men can!!

What about Mum’s mental health?  She is sad, lonely and depressed. Mum says life is not worth as there’s not quality of life and the only way she’ll get out again is in a box!

WATCH: Whose Side Are You On?

Social Work Action Network co-founder discusses the coming the several crises impacting on society and social work. This talk was give to radical social workers in the Philippines who are now part of SWAN-I, our international network of radical social work group. Visit SWAN-I section of the website to find out more.

Solidarity with Unison strikers in Tower Hamlets

Following an arduous period of contract negotiations between Unison and Tower Hamlets Council, workers will now be taking industrial action on the 3rd, 6th and 7th July with a view for further dates in the future. The council has been determined to sack 4000 employees and re-engage them with severe contractual changes, which the union had hoped to avoid through a review process by ACAS however the council has decided to proceed regardless. Prior to the lockdown announcement workers had planned to strike however circumstances prevented this from occurring.

This comes at a time where austerity has ripped apart local budgets and services across the UK, and where council workers have been at the frontline during a global pandemic. Solidarity and resistance are going to be key going forward in many fronts – Social Work Action Network sends its solidarity to the strikers to beat back the Labour council pushing through this vicious attack of sack-and-reemploy against those for whom many in the streets clapped for during Covid-19.

Let’s be clear, this is a disgusting move to force people to engage with a contractual change that allows the Labour council to reduce expenditure as they prepare for tightening budgets and manoeuvres to cut out the unions. Any cut has an impact not only on workers but the communities too – this is a distinctive period where social workers have to come to the fore and fight for a justice economically and politically.

Following the wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the world and the disproportionate deaths of BAME communities, this move by the council will impact BAME workers heavily and only reinforces institutional racism in society. Unison had requested the impact this move would have on BAME and women staff and have found the subsequent Equality Impact Assessment to be misleading as the changes in contract do not deliver this.

UNISON Black Members Coordinator, Mick Smith : ‘ The Council’s behaviour in relation to the EQIA (Equality Impact Assessment) is very troubling and  smacks of wilful concealment.  Recently the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement (BLM) has thrown a spotlight on how damaging  structural racism and inequality is on the life opportunities of certain communities. While the Chief Executive, Will Tuckley, and Mayor John Biggs have appeared eager to publically align themselves with BLM by putting out statements and having photos taken at statue removals; they have steadfastly refused to ensure that necessary independent scrutiny of the impact of Tower Rewards on BAME and women staff can be completed. Anyone who wants an example of how structural racism and inequality operates in practice need look no further than this.’

There will be socially distanced picket lines at the council sites that will remain open during the strike and online rallies hosted by Unison. You can send your messages of solidarity via https://bit.ly/31sJlj

STATEMENT: Black Lives Matter

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom

It is our duty to win

We must love and protect each other

We have nothing to lose but our chains”

Assata Shakur

The Social Work Action Network International (SWAN-I), a coalition of social work organizations and activists across the globe, stands in solidarity with our social work colleagues in the United States and with protesters all over the globe who are fighting against institutional racism and police brutality and for a better world.

As a value-based profession, we are horrified at the events over the last two weeks; from the execution of George Floyd, an unarmed black man by Minneapolis police officers, to the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery by racists in Georgia.  Yet these tragedies were completely predictable.  They are the inevitable consequences of institutional racism whose roots go back to founding of the United States. 

Institutional racism is responsible for Breonna Taylors’ murder in her own home by Louisville police and for a black man being reported to the cops for daring to challenge a white woman while birdwatching in Central Park New York.  Our system of racial capitalism causes African Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans to die of Covid–19 at much higher rates than whites, experience greater levels of poverty, and increased risk of housing evictions. 

These systems of oppression are worldwide; from Brazil, to Chile, to Palestine. Yet worldwide, racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and imperialism are being unmasked by a new global movement which is standing in solidarity with the victims of institutional racism and insisting that Black Lives Matter. Frederick Douglass an African American Abolitionist, said “Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never has and it never will.”   We demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and all the other victims of police violence. 

 SWAN-I supports all individuals and communities calling for an end to systemic racism. We support efforts around the world that are working to promote alternative systems that takes care of our multiracial communities and planet. We believe that while there is no single model for radical social work, social work must be an unashamedly political project.  Most private troubles have political and social causes arising from the neoliberal model of capitalism and racism, individualism, sexism and homophobia that it produces. This is true whether they are experienced individually through depression or anxiety, or collectively through police violence and substandard housing.  For this reason, social work must be part of the multiracial movement for social transformation and human liberation.  Another world is possible, another social work is possible!

To join SWAN-I, contact us at swaninternational@socialworkfuture.org

WATCH: Human Right Live Stream

As part of our series of live streams based on covid-19 crisis and the impact on social work practice, we focused on human rights and how during this periods these have been reduced.

We were happy to have Derek Boothy (MCA/DOLS Regional Chair Yorkshire and North Humber) Professor Luke Clements (Leeds University) & Carolyne Willow (Article 39).

We would like to thank every one who continues to participate in our meetings and we will continue to host some vital meetings that look at fighting for social justice.

Join Sharing Practitioners’ Experiences Online Forum

We will be hosting an online forum for social workers across the UK to discuss what is happening to social work right now during the Covid-19 crisis but also what has to change. The crisis has highlighted problems in an already stretched system that has thrown an underlying anger into a howl of rage, as social workers we need to connected to fight for a better social work and society.

You can register online via Eventbrite here. Prior to the meeting you will be sent an email with details to participate.

This will be a private meeting where you will be able to share your experience and fight back so join us and let us build the resistance to the crisis.

WATCH: SWAN & IFSW Episode 4

The fourth installment of our webinar series with International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). We were privileged to be joined by Robert and Janestic to discuss the response and demands on social workers in Uganda and Brazil, detailing the root causes of the pandemic and the issues preexisting Covid-19. Rory Truell, secretary-general of IFSW and Iain Ferguson discussed the implications for social work internationally and the need for global campaigns and resistance not just to Covid-19 but also to neoliberal managerialism and capitalism.

We will continue to work with IFSW on webinars that tackle social work issues, more news to follow!