Social Services Workforce

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 29th April 2010.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 2:15 pm, 29th April 2010

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-6223, in the name of Adam Ingram, on changing lives: a confident, competent social care workforce.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 2:57 pm, 29th April 2010

I welcome the opportunity to have today's debate and to recognise the important contribution that is made to the lives of the people of Scotland by all those who work in social services, whether in the statutory, voluntary or private sector.

Let me say at the outset that the Scottish Government is inclined to support the Labour amendment, although we are not yet convinced of the Conservative call for another independent review of social work services.

The review that led to the 2006 report "Changing Lives: Report of the 21st Century Social Work Review" took a fundamental look at all aspects of social work services, because people at the time felt that they were not working well enough, that Scotland was changing and that resources were limited. That review identified many examples of services that were transforming and protecting lives and communities, but it also found a social work profession and services that were under great pressure, lacking in confidence and not delivering to their full potential. Both those who worked in services and those who received services felt that there was a growing mismatch between the important values and expectations of social work services and their actual experience. It was also clear that social services alone could not solve society's problems. Change was needed; more of the same was not an option.

To deliver on the aspirations in "Changing Lives", our key focus has been on developing a confident, competent and valued workforce and delivering personalised services that improve outcomes for individuals, families and communities.

The Social Work Inspection Agency overview report on the findings from its independent inspections of all 32 local authorities in the past five years tells us what has been happening in social services in Scotland. It confirmed:

"The messages are clear; the majority of people of all ages who use services and their carers have valued them and think they have made positive differences to their lives. Staff who provide services are committed and look for ways to improve the services they offer to people."

There are excellent examples of support and services that are flexible and responsive to the needs of service users and carers, and which meet the demands of change. For example, smart, plug-in technology is being used in West Lothian, where unobtrusive electronic movement sensors, coupled with flexible, responsive and joined-up care-at-home services, are not only supporting people to stay in their own homes but proving to be a catalyst for changing the culture of the workforce, reducing demarcation across staff and agencies, maximising flexibility and encouraging an adaptive approach as people's needs change.

There are many services that allow people to be active participants in shaping, creating and delivering their care to meet their needs. That personalisation is at the core of services for older people in North Lanarkshire, where systems are in place for agreeing with people what their day care needs are, whether they need a meal, some company or the chance to pursue a hobby, and for measuring whether those outcomes have been achieved.

There are also many examples of cases in which collaborative work is done with partners to wrap services around people instead of sending them from pillar to post, from agency to agency. Local resource centres in Clackmannanshire, Aberdeenshire, East Ayrshire, Perth and Kinross, and Shetland offer a mix of services for older people, such as home care, integrated day care, care housing, respite care and carer support, all of which are delivered from one centre. In South Lanarkshire, social work and education services do effective joint working, which involves young people in residential care sitting down with professionals to consider what they need. The result is that they get a good standard of education, complemented by appropriate support, which helps to improve their future prospects.

As we go forward, it is crucial that there is a focus on early intervention and prevention, that we avoid the escalation of service needs, that we manage risk and that we provide improved outcomes. We know how important that is in improving children's life chances and choices and what happens in the rest of their lives, but such an approach can also support older people to live in the community, independently and with dignity, for as long as possible.

Approaches such as the befriending service in East Dunbartonshire, which recruits people with limited mobility to provide telephone support to others, or the good morning West Dunbartonshire service, whereby socially isolated older people are called daily to check on their wellbeing, can increase the resources that are available to help people and can tackle issues before more specialist intervention is required. There are many more examples of people's lives being improved day in and day out by front-line practitioners working collaboratively with others to make a difference.

However, SWIA indicated that provision was variable across the range of services for adults and children that are provided throughout Scotland and that there were wide differences in levels of services and funding but, reassuringly, it reported that its recommendations for improvement were acted on in the vast majority of cases. Evidence of that was provided during follow-up inspections. Improvement is continuous.

The SWIA report challenges local authorities and their partners to examine where they stand in relation to the key features of high-performing areas and to consider how they can learn and improve. It clearly points out the shortcomings across a range of services, which I expect local authorities to examine in the light of their own services and local needs.

It might be expected that the level of funding is the key driver of performance and the ability to make a difference, but SWIA's report emphasises that leadership, rather than the level of spending on services or an area's deprivation level, or even its rurality, is critical to the performance of social work services. It states:

"Leadership was of critical importance in the performance of social work services."

It impacts

"on outcomes for people who use social work services" and, crucially, on "staff morale and confidence". A clear link exists between good performance in the delivery of social work services and the presence of good leadership, not just operational or professional leadership, but corporate leadership, including that from elected members. That is an important finding as we move forward.

The agenda continues to be challenging and, as the Labour amendment points out, significant demographic changes are coming down the line. There are also wider changes, not least of which is the squeeze on our financial resources in the immediate future.

In his report on the "Outlook for Scottish Government Expenditure", which was published earlier this month, the chief economic adviser to the Scottish Government indicated that Scotland enjoyed

"a period of sustained real increases in the resources available to fund public services" between 2001 and 2009-10.

Although we do not yet know the exact details of the size and composition of tightening in the United Kingdom to bring down borrowing, it is clear that public spending will be subjected to a period of significant constraint in the years ahead.

That could mean five consecutive years of real-terms cuts in the Scottish budget, which could be between £3.5 billion and £4 billion lower in real terms by 2014-15. Such an outlook for future funding requires realism and a genuine willingness to put aside a silo mentality. We need to focus on what can be done collaboratively with the available resources. We need strong, focused and purposeful leadership at national and local level. The Government will continue to work with key partners to achieve our purpose of sustainable economic growth.

Community planning partnerships can be key vehicles by working strategically to manage combined resources to deliver joined-up health, social care and educational support. A more strategic approach to planning and commissioning within and across agencies, with stronger links between financial plans and service plans, is required. The skills, expertise and creativity of the people who work in services must be fully utilised, whether that is in the statutory, voluntary or private sector. Opportunities to share training, develop common skills and break down culture, language and technology barriers must be identified and grasped.

We must encourage and support the capacity of people, families and communities to be part of the solution and actively work with services, whether through developments in self-directed support and direct payments, through taking the budget and responsibility for their own care package where appropriate, or through just being good neighbours and looking out for the wellbeing of others. Shifting the focus towards anticipatory and preventive approaches rather than responding when need, cost and impact on the individual have escalated is at the heart of the Government's policies, and it needs to be embedded.

Underpinning all that is the need to continue to value and develop the workforce, whether in the statutory, voluntary or private sector. I welcome the opportunity to acknowledge the excellent work that is being done. I am clear that we are not starting from a zero base; great strides have been made in Scotland in recent years. However, in taking up the challenges that we face, we will need realism, resilience and a genuine willingness to make the transformational change to continue to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland.

I look forward to this afternoon's debate.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises the significant contribution made to the lives of the people of Scotland by all those who work in social services, often in difficult and complex circumstances; agrees the need for a confident, competent and valued social services workforce to deliver safe, effective and personalised practice; notes the work that has been done following the review of social work services, Changing Lives; notes the finding from the performance inspections of the Social Work Inspection Agency that leadership is of critical importance in the performance of social work services; welcomes the focus on leadership being jointly taken forward by the Scottish Social Services Council and the four social services learning networks, and endorses the need for political, operational and professional leadership and engagement to support and develop the social services workforce.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 3:09 pm, 29th April 2010

This afternoon, Labour will support the Government's motion on the social care workforce, but with an addendum that seeks to highlight the particular challenges that we will face over the coming years as our population ages and people live longer.

The motion rightly highlights the important role that people in the social care workforce play in supporting and protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our society. It is right that that is recognised at a Government and parliamentary level and that those who work in social care understand the value that local and national politicians place on the work that they carry out. We all know that bad news stories relating to child protection and the protection of vulnerable adults are often seized on by the media. It is right that serious cases of abuse or neglect are highlighted and investigated. It is also right that all tiers of government are held to account for failures when and where they occur and, importantly, that effective actions are taken to reduce the chances of any recurrence. Nevertheless, we must ensure that those concerns are proportionate and set within the context of a social care service that delivers a high standard of care and protection for the vast majority of the people whom it looks after.

Unfortunately, the large number of good news stories in which social care staff help to support people in the community or help to protect vulnerable children go largely, if not entirely, unreported. I therefore welcome the steps that have been taken by the Association of Directors of Social Work and the Scottish Social Services Council in their social work changes lives campaign. The campaign highlights real-life good news stories in which the intervention of a social care worker has had a real and positive impact on an individual's or a family's life.

The SWIA report "Improving Social Work in Scotland" highlights the importance of strong leadership—something that the minister picked up on in his speech—at both managerial and political levels. Such leadership demonstrates an understanding of the problems that are faced by the social care workforce as well as a commitment to tackle those problems. The report points out that the leadership of social work has a direct impact on staff morale and confidence. In particular, it concludes that action is needed to improve staff confidence that the social work service is valued by elected members. That is an important point. Recent issues such as job evaluation and organisational restructuring have had an impact on the way in which social care workers perceive elected members and senior management. That can only be made worse by the coming budgetary constraints, which is why it is vital that strong, knowledgeable leadership is shown both in local government and in national Government. Such leadership must demonstrate an understanding of the pressures that result from organisational restructuring and budget constraints and must engage in a meaningful dialogue with staff members. Equally, social care workers from all sectors must accept the fact that demographic and financial conditions dictate that change is necessary.

Although the SWIA report points out that there is not always a direct correlation between spending levels and service levels, we must recognise the financial challenges that are coming. Many of the key elements that are required to develop a well-performing, responsive and flexible social care workforce could easily come under pressure during the coming spending cuts that all councils will face. For example, the SWIA report highlights the importance of staff development and training in recruiting, retaining and improving the social care workforce.

I am aware that senior social care managers are concerned that budgets for training and staff development could be an early casualty of spending cuts. With that in mind, I ask the minister to outline what steps he plans to take to ensure that workforce development is protected. Does he recognise the importance of such training and development? Does he recognise that increased statutory responsibilities, such as those associated with the implementation of the Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007, will have a major impact on an already stretched workforce? Will he say what additional funding will be made available to Scottish councils for the predicted additional number of adult protection referrals that will result from the implementation of that act? Does he recognise that failure to provide sufficient resources—including funding for additional staff—could lead to increased workload pressures, which have a proven correlation with sickness levels? I look forward to the minister responding to those questions during his closing speech.

If the social care workforce is to be able to respond to changing needs and to changing statutory and budgetary environments, it is vital that, from day one of employment, it is engaged in continuous learning and development. The continuous learning framework has an important role to play in ensuring that throughout the country there is a consistent approach to on-going staff development and training. I welcome the launch of the continuing learning website, which provides a range of tools to improve areas such as supporting proper induction, recognising prior learning, developing leadership capacity and supporting registration.

A recent article by Harriet Dempster, director of social work in Highland Council and president of the ADSW, highlighted the need for a fresh look at the relationship between the individual, the family and the state. In particular, she called for a return to an approach to social services that is firmly located in the community. The minister will be aware that in the 1970s and 80s, community work was an integral part of most social work departments in Scotland, providing support to community-based organisations such as food co-ops, home help projects and healthy living centres, all of which built strong communities and reduced the burden on the state. Importantly, that approach is also a good way in which to build strong social capital, which has a beneficial effect on all aspects of community. I have real sympathy with the approach, which is worthy of further investigation. We are keen to know the Scottish Government's view on it.

I conclude as I started, by commending the many thousands of people who are engaged in social care, who often have quite literally a thankless task. We should be clear about the value that they contribute to Scottish society. Their efforts really do help to make Scotland a more caring, compassionate and civilised country. Day in, day out, they help to protect vulnerable children and adults. They improve the quality of life of thousands of senior citizens. In criminal justice services, they help to rehabilitate those who are willing to be rehabilitated, and they even manage groups of people that most of us would have real difficulty dealing with, such as sex offenders. Their hard work and commitment deserve the support of the Parliament and the Scottish Government. Where mistakes are made, let us recognise and rectify them, but let us also celebrate the excellent work that social care workers do every day on our behalf.

Labour will listen carefully to what the Conservatives have to say about their amendment. Although we support their call for a greater focus on dealing with alcohol and drug problems in families, we wonder about the need for a review, given that SWIA has just completed a review of social work services in Scotland. We are therefore a little sceptical about the need for the Conservative amendment. Labour's amendment reasonably calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that social care services are sufficiently prepared and resourced to meet the demands of an increasing older population.

I move amendment S3M-6223.2, to insert at end:

"; while acknowledging the important role of the social work and social care workforce in supporting and protecting people across the whole age spectrum, notes the impact of changing demographics and, in particular, the increase in the older population on the demand for services, as indicated by the Social Work Inspection Agency report, Improving Social Work in Scotland, which estimates that by 2018 the number of people aged 85 and over will have increased by 40%, and calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that social care services are sufficiently prepared and resourced accordingly, taking into account the fact that many older people are themselves carers."

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative 3:19 pm, 29th April 2010

I warmly welcome this afternoon's debate. I say at the outset that we will support the Scottish Government's motion and Labour's amendment. I am aware that I have some work to do to persuade members that it is worth while for them to support our amendment, too.

I agree whole-heartedly with what the minister and Karen Whitefield said about social care workers. We, too, commend the outstanding work of the thousands of social care workers throughout the country who do a first-class job day in, day out, often in extremely difficult circumstances that demand a huge variety of skills. I hope that we can all agree that the overwhelming need is to provide them with support rather than blame them personally for any of the shortcomings that have been identified in various reports. We need to recognise that four out of five people who access social care are extremely happy with the service that they receive and with the idea that social care workers are often best placed to help them to lead a more independent life.

Notwithstanding that, many of the statistics on the number of those who require support are deeply worrying. The statistics for children are particularly stark. Some 137,000 children have no parent in work, 200,000 children are living in poverty, 60,000 children are affected by the drug problem of one or more than one parent and 100,000 live with parents who are addicted to alcohol, therefore it is not surprising that the number of children who are looked after by local authorities has increased every year since 2001. Over the past 11 years, within that overall rise, there have been steep increases in the numbers of pre-school and primary school-age children—32 per cent and 29 per cent respectively. That is one of the most worrying features—perhaps it is the most worrying feature—that we must address. It is incumbent on all of us to take on board the serious warnings that the Social Work Inspection Agency has issued about the implications of those increases for the future, specifically the expected growth in the number of teenage children who will require to be looked after away from home.

Similarly, we cannot ignore the Social Work Inspection Agency's conclusions, which make it clear that there is all too often a postcode lottery when it comes to the quality of care. The agency found that not enough local authorities

"had consistent and coherent approaches to achieve long term security for children".

It found that, too often, the

"quality of risk assessments was inconsistent" and that there was frequently wide variability in local authorities' funding. Those differences are simply not acceptable. I do not for a moment doubt the minister's good intentions, but we must do more to address the fundamental failings in the system, many of which relate to the unlevel playing field that exists across the country. Findings too often reveal that vulnerable children and families are not receiving the care and support that they need, and that vulnerable children and families have been left to take on an enormous burden of responsibility without adequate back-up.

I turn to why I am calling for an independent inquiry. I am not doing so because any of the work that has been done previously has been harmful in any way; in many cases, that work has been exceptionally good. I am well aware of all the work that was done under the previous Executive and that has been done recently in the Parliament, and I pay tribute to those who are engaged in that work. However, as is the case with many other aspects of public services in this country, the challenges that we face from the demographics involved, which are highlighted in Labour's amendment, are significant and immense. I am talking about the number of elderly people who are expected to live much longer in the years ahead and the number of children who are expected to go through the system.

On the changing culture of social work care and how local authorities operate, I am very much a supporter of the principle of getting it right for every child, which is outstanding and has in itself brought about a different culture—we look at the services in a much more integrated and holistic way. However, I am asking for an independent inquiry because I do not think that we can address all the needs of social services with the existing resources. The culture of how we approach matters has changed much recently, and it will continue to change. It is a bit like the higher education question. We cannot expect demand to continue to increase, given the level of resources that we will have. Labour and the minister have highlighted the fact that resources will be very tight for some time to come.

We must also accept that more than half of those who are in touch with social work services are not in employment, education or training; indeed, we must be clear that that figure is approaching 100 per cent in some council areas. That is why it is vital that our most vulnerable children can access proper educational support and have more input to their futures beyond school as a matter of course rather than as a matter of chance, depending on the local services in their particular area. I appreciate that all parties have worked immensely hard to improve the process, and I am sure that we will hear from the minister about that in the near future, but we need to do more to harness the support that is required right across the system.

We must also engage in a much more structured conversation with the excellent voluntary sector groups that do so much to try to improve the lives of vulnerable families. The whole philosophy of GIRFEC, and its related principle of ensuring that there is a more holistic approach to care, is absolutely right, but it is also challenging and has implications for our care services.

All public services, and especially social services, can benefit so much from good-quality partnerships with the voluntary sector. Volunteers and voluntary organisations play a vital role in ensuring that we all live in a strong and cohesive society. They do an excellent job and we believe that there should be much more joined-up working between social services and the voluntary sector so that they can take advantage of each other's strengths.

I finish by stressing the need for commitment in United Kingdom policies to make Britain a more family-friendly nation. On this side of the chamber, we believe firmly that there is a need to support families in the tax and benefits system, to extend flexible working and to improve the structure of parental leave when families are most in need of help. We must not underestimate the enormous role that is played by kinship carers and foster parents, which was flagged up prominently in the reports. Their input is crucial, and we must be conscious of the support that they need when fulfilling a role that would otherwise be fulfilled by social services staff. The Scottish Government has worked hard in that respect, but there is still more to be done, just as there is more to be done with drugs and alcohol policies. There is much to be gained from cross-party support as we go forward.

I am only too conscious of the challenges that lie ahead and of the urgent need to support our most vulnerable families and all those who care for them. Some of the challenges are enormous, which is why I repeat my party's call for an independent review of all social work services.

I move amendment S3M-6223.1, to insert at end:

"also notes that the Social Work Inspection Agency concluded that there were wide variations in the level of social care service provided by local authorities throughout Scotland and therefore calls for an independent review of social work services to identify the local authorities that need more help, and, furthermore, calls for the Scottish Government to facilitate greater use of the expertise of the voluntary sector and for greater focus from the Scottish Government on tackling the misuse of drugs and alcohol, which the Social Work Inspection Agency has identified as leading to an increase in the number of children needing to be looked after."

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 3:26 pm, 29th April 2010

I see that the cabinet secretary was so entranced by the thought of hearing me speak that he left the building, which is not necessarily a bad judgment on his part, but that is another matter.

I start my contribution on behalf of the Liberal Democrats with a specific thank you to approximately 100,000 members of the workforce in Scotland—those in the voluntary sector, statutory services and the private sector who deserve our thanks for the work that they do with the people they support in practical ways. Day and daily they demonstrate Scotland's real values.

For better or worse, our society has developed in such a way that we have placed increasing responsibility on the shoulders of social services to work with, protect and support those in our communities who are the most vulnerable, the most challenged and, all too frequently, the most challenging. However, as our world has become more complex, so too have the demands and expectations that we place on that workforce and, consequently, the burdens of responsibility that we place on it have grown. Regardless, it is incumbent on us all, particularly politicians, to recognise that such workers are not a panacea for all of society's ills, nor should they always be the whipping boys, girls, men or women when things occasionally—thankfully rarely—go wrong. They carry a huge duty on behalf of us all.

Liberal Democrats are proud of the role that we have played since the re-establishment of this Parliament in recognising and, I hope, valuing the role that the social service workforce plays. In a previous existence, I was part of that workforce and I am familiar with some of the things that other members, in particular Karen Whitefield, referred to, such as the need for people who are not the best paid in the country to be valued and given the confidence that the role they play deserves. We have not been particularly good at that in any of the areas of social services and we are not necessarily good at giving workers in those areas the training to allow them to achieve the professional standards that we expect of them.

That is even more critical now, as we move away from institutional care to the much more personalised approach to the delivery of services to which the minister referred. We need to have regulation, but regulation will not ensure that those working in the area have the skills, support and leadership to ensure that service users are best served by their profession.

There have been many changes. I will focus for a while on the personalisation agenda, which has huge implications for the workforce in terms of changing practice, developing skills and recognising that personalisation is all about choice—what care people want, when they want it, who they want to provide it and how it will be provided. I recognise what Karen Whitefield said about strong leadership, but I favour the word "effective"—the two are not always mutually compatible. The challenge for the workforce under good leadership is to shift from designing care packages in team meetings, at which the service user is simply the service user, to enabling and empowering service users to make choices for themselves and letting them explore the choices that might be available, rather than the choices that the professionals are giving them.

As Liz Smith said, it is also about appropriate risk assessments. Such assessments should be carried out on the basis of what benefits the individual and does so safely, rather than on the basis of the litigation that service providers may face if something goes wrong. All too often, services are provided on a defensive basis, to protect the service provider rather than to enable the service user.

The minister mentioned independent living, in respect of which there are major challenges. In all local authorities, the queues are around the block when it comes to giving people an opportunity to access independent living, either through the independent living fund or through any of the other packages of resources that are available. Glasgow City Council has a waiting list of two and a half years. If we are serious about independent living, we need to enable the people who are leading on the issue to be confident that the finger will not be pointed at them and that they will not be challenged for enabling people to live the type of lives that many members take for granted.

There is no doubt that we face demographic challenges. The Equal Opportunities Committee heard from Jon Harris of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, who stated:

"we will still have to consider fundamental issues about how we deliver services, particularly services that we know will become more expensive because of demographic changes. For example, by 2031, there will be 83 per cent more 75-year-olds. We have to rethink and take a longer-term perspective."—[Official Report, Equal Opportunities Committee, 20 April 2010; c 1611.]

In doing so, we must value the work and role of our social care workforce, working more smartly—but not necessarily more expensively—to deliver services.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party 3:33 pm, 29th April 2010

I open by declaring an interest. Last year, I was honoured to become a social work champion, as part of the ADSW's social work changes lives campaign, which, I am delighted to hear, has just been extended for a further year.

I am also a local champion, but I am a social work champion and my employment before I was elected was in the training and assessing of social care workers. I have first-hand knowledge of the dedication and commitment of those who work in social services and stand in admiration of the professionalism that they display day in, day out.

As we have heard, the Scottish Government recognised the need to strengthen leadership in the sector and to create a single, integrated qualification and professional development framework. The Scottish Social Services Council responded admirably. I pay tribute to the work of the Scottish Social Services Council, noting the development of the childhood practice award, which helps to develop the professional skill set that workers in social work need. The approach has been centred on the needs of the children who use social work services, and that is the right approach to take. It is a development from the service sector with minimum interference from Government, which draws on the knowledge and experience of the best practice and the best practitioners to develop a qualification that prepares students for the delivery of high quality care in education. It is a development that is attracting interest from around the world—again, Scotland blazing the trail.

The council is also driving forward the development of leadership in the profession, as we have heard today.

The Scottish Government chairs a steering group that has been set up to provide strategic direction in partnership with the council and others. It will develop a clear strategic vision for leadership in social services, using a model of accessible, flexible learning, which I benefited from greatly in my career. It will improve senior leadership capacity within social services and will review the current leadership model. That focus on leadership—that lighting of the lamp to guide the footsteps of the profession—provides a solid foundation on which the professionals can build.

No system is perfect, and no group of workers is perfect. There are problems and challenges in every walk of life. Social workers and social carers are people whose employment sends them into some of the most challenging situations in domestic life. They are people who see and seek to mend some of the damaged lives in our society. They are people who seek to improve other people's lives. However, I do not claim beatification for them or set them apart from the rest of society. They are people with flaws, vices and virtues and, in my experience, a lot of compassion. We ask them to do a difficult job and they accept it. We ask them to help hold society together and they respond with generosity.

Social capital is the glue of society and is enhanced by the proper treatment of the most vulnerable members of society. We can judge the health of our society by the manner in which it protects its weakest. Our social work services renew our social capital every day, and we should seek to nurture and improve those services.

That is why I praise the minister for his foresight in launching the continuous learning framework to improve outcomes for people who use social services by supporting everyone working in social services in Scotland to be the best that they can be.

I understand that the council has a project team working with the learning networks and other partners to spread the word about the framework. It has already helped 112 organisations, and the work continues.

With the framework growing and proper registration due to be complete in just a few years' time, the service is growing in professionalism. When the council was first established, only 20 per cent of the workforce had the relevant qualification for their job—my first job, when I first started training in social work, was to get everyone in learning disability services in Glasgow trained to the minimum level, and it was an absolute privilege, as I met some amazing people who were working in some challenging situations. By 2015, however, all of the workforce will be qualified and registered. That is great, and should be welcomed.

As we have heard, registration and regulation will mean that all social service workers will have a qualification that is relevant to their job, which will raise the professionalism and status of the sector and ensure that people who use the services can rely on a trained and trusted workforce. That will be an embodiment of the "confident, competent" workforce that is referred to in the motion.

There is supposed to be a Chinese curse that goes, "May you live in interesting times." We are certainly living in interesting times in politics right now. However, that curse is reputed to be the weakest of three, the other two being, "May the government be aware of you" and "May you find what you are looking for." Thanks to the Scottish Social Services Council, social services staff live in interesting times; the Government is most definitely aware of them; and I think that they might just find what they are looking for—but that is not a curse; it is a positive thing.

The profession is developing from the inside and is doing so without politicians getting too involved. It is a great success story for the profession and for Scotland—a professional service being developed and delivered by professionals intent on improving the services that they provide.

I look forward to seeing a gradual and on-going improvement in the outcomes of inspections as the on-going improvements in the qualifications, training and professionalism of the sector continue.

I applaud the council and its partners for the excellent work that they have done and are doing.

I am pleased to support the motion in the name of Adam Ingram.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 3:39 pm, 29th April 2010

I do not know whether you, Presiding Officer, or other members saw an intriguing article in the papers this week with a headline that read:

"Nurses blame Holby City for unrealistic expectations".

Apparently, the portrayal of medical miracles in television dramas such as "Holby City" is responsible not only for raising hopes of what can be achieved in our hospitals, but for feeding the blame culture, which results in endless and expensive litigation against our national health service staff when things go wrong. To be honest, I am not sure that I bought the whole argument, but it is true that nurses have long been worried about their portrayal as ministering angels of mercy, which is a flattering but not very helpful description and a set-up that almost demands a fall.

If nurses are the angels, social workers and social services staff are undoubtedly the demons—they are blamed for every damaged child or every case of abuse or neglect that they encounter. In fact, those who work in social services attract the opprobrium without the initial flattery. Those are simply popular stereotypes but, unfortunately, they help to undermine and damage one of the most important workforces in the public sector. Rather than simply value and respect those who care for the most frail and vulnerable members of society, we are too quick to pounce on them and hold them responsible for everything that goes wrong.

I want to highlight the role that we politicians play in furthering those stereotypes or, I hope, challenging them. The minister and my colleague, Karen Whitefield, commented on that in their opening remarks. The point is not so much that we, too, use the convenient shorthand of angels of mercy for nursing staff and other carers—we do—but more that we offer supposed solutions to some of society's most intractable problems. After each and every tragedy, we respond to the calls of, "Something must be done." I do not believe that we intend to, but we help to create an illusion that the problems could be fixed if only social workers did this, that or the next thing.

There are of course actions that we can take now that would make a difference. I am not saying that they would solve all the problems that face the social work profession or care in our communities, but they would certainly move us in the right direction. The efforts that have been made as a result of the 21st century social work review and its "Changing Lives" report have been crucial to improving the profession's morale. Good leadership and improved support and management will help those who deliver social services and those who receive them.

The briefing by Unison and the British Association of Social Workers that was circulated before the debate was particularly informative. One of the many quotes in the document that particularly caught my eye was from the final report of the social work task force in England. It states:

"We are in no doubt that too many social workers are carrying caseloads which can be too high and make it hard for them to do their job well. There is very strong evidence that the absence of effective management of workload makes practitioners feel de-skilled, lowers their morale and can lead to poor health".

The scary thing for me when I read that description of the pressures on front-line social service staff was that I recognised—with some guilt, I must say—the similarities with my office. Members are certainly not social workers, but many of us and our constituency staff will know what it is like to have simply too many cases to deal with. Dare I say it but, in members such as me, staff do not necessarily have the most effective managers of case load. If we MSPs feel the stress of managing difficult case loads, it is not difficult to imagine the pressure on social care staff, on whose shoulders so much more depends.

The other crucial policy development that I am pleased we support across party and political divides is the getting it right for every child policy, which has at its heart the principle of sharing information and sharing responsibility without avoiding it. I hope that it will make a tremendous difference over the long term.

The cases that make the headlines that so damage staff in social services often involve helpless children or frail elderly people. The question that is always asked is, "How could we let such vulnerable people down?" However, as several members have said, social workers and carers often have to deal with needy, manipulative, demanding, aggressive, obstructive, violent, disturbed and abusive individuals. At the same time, and sometimes in the same cases, those people will themselves have been neglected and abused and in need of protection. It helps no one to stereotype the social care workforce, to oversimplify often complex lives and to overreact or to try to find someone to blame following the worst cases; instead, that hinders our efforts to develop and support a confident and competent social care workforce.

What other attitudes or prejudices do we politicians add to the mix, with the best of intentions but perhaps sub-optimum outcomes? I do not particularly want to stray into imminent election territory, but I am conscious that the family is often held up by politicians from all sides as being the ideal supportive and loving relationship in which to bring up children and care for the elderly. We tend to mythologise family ties, yet we know that the family bonds and relationships that we praise can hide domestic violence. While social workers are excluded from a family home or kept in the dark, family members can be complicit in keeping quiet about horrific abuse and neglect. We read or hear rarely about strangers abusing children; far more commonly, authorities look to a close relative such as a father or uncle. However, we do not round on families—we blame the authorities and social workers.

Perhaps an even trickier question is deciding how acceptable intervening in family lives is. At the turn of the 20th century, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was known in poorer communities as the Cruelty—an organisation that would come and take people's kids from them. The Cruelty was an ironic term that reflected the them-and-us attitude of the working classes to middle-class interference.

Of course, we have come full circle. The emphasis on keeping families together at all costs that is reflected in the Children Act 1989 means that babies born to families whose children have all been taken into care are left with parents who do not care for them. Parents with a known record of abuse and neglect are often given repeated chances to bond with their new children, until it is too late. We need to review our approach to early intervention.

I mention in passing one of my bêtes noires: risk aversion, from which the social services workforce suffers, as we all do in today's society. In theory, we have put in place multitudinous layers of protection for the most vulnerable among us, but sometimes that supposedly protective shield is simply an illusion. Bureaucracy and report filling are used to protect staff or the service from blame rather than the child or vulnerable adult.

I suggested that additional resources are not the only issue that is at stake. It is difficult to see how worsening terms and conditions for staff can improve services. Community Care Providers Scotland has highlighted how much competitive tendering and continuous retendering of social services, particularly among voluntary sector providers, has had a detrimental effect on carers and the work that they do.

We need to become a more caring society. As politicians, we need to move away from holding out so-called solutions. Providing more resources, better training and organisational restructuring might help, but society becoming kinder and more thoughtful would really help. In policy documents, that is often included in the clumsy expression, "Building community capacity." We are reminded every day that tough times might be ahead, that the spending environment is difficult and that public services will be under pressure. That is all the more reason to talk about reassessing our values and looking out for others—our neighbours, families and friends. The job is not just for social workers. As the memorably titled 2002 report into child protection said, "It's everyone's job to make sure I'm alright." As politicians, that is our job, too.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 3:47 pm, 29th April 2010

As other members have said, the debate is consensual, in contrast to what is probably being said the length and breadth of Britain as the general election campaign takes place.

All of us bring personal knowledge to the debate. As I have described before, in my last years as a Highland councillor, I was the Ross and Cromarty area chairman of social work. Doing that job for those years leads me to make one or two points that are connected with what other members have said.

I am worried about the perception of social work. I take members back to the scene after I was elected as a councillor for the Ross and Cromarty area, when the area chairmanships had to be divvied up. There was competition and voting for the area chairmen of planning, roads and transport and so on. At the end, the area chairmanship of social work was left. The approach was almost, "Ah, well, we'll give that to Jamie—he can do it." That is a bit of a giveaway of the perception in Highland Council then of the social work service in comparison with other services. In the past, I have heard social work called a Cinderella service. That was the situation then, but I hope that it is not the case today. We must always fight against that perception.

Social work took centre stage for me almost by default, but I learned much in the four years in which I chaired the service. When I was a district councillor, I learned about children's services, old people's services and so on. I used to visit care homes regularly with my chairmanship hat on, which was good. On a lighter note, people seemed to know who I was, except for one old person—I think that I have told members about this before—who told her friends that she was delighted to have met Jeremy Thorpe, which was somewhat worrying.

The other point on which I want to touch is how carers work in our society. Through personal family connections, I am well acquainted with the outreach service that the Highland Council provides. In that service, I see people who are absolutely dedicated and crucial to people's lives—so it is a happy association—but I also see carers who work long hours and are having longer hours put on them.

I see a change in the way things are done. As we all know, old people get used to the same person coming to them, so when they get a new face—somebody they do not know—it can put them wrong. When the system involves a changeover in the people who go round from Monday to Wednesday, that can be somewhat worrying.

I absolutely associate myself with the Labour amendment in the name of Ken Macintosh. Representing the constituency that I do, with an ageing population in Caithness and Sutherland—particularly in the most remote part of Sutherland—I know exactly what the amendment is about. As members can imagine, the difficulty is compounded by distance and inclement weather. How does the social worker or carer get out to see the people who have to be seen?

Recruitment of new carers seems to be an increasing problem. I am not sure of the reasons, but it is not as easy to recruit as it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago. The 32 local authorities in Scotland or the Government may have to do outreach to encourage young people to consider it as a career. Perhaps that work should even involve youngsters as young as those leaving high school.

Some creative thought has to be given to that because, if I am correct, I detect that there will be a shortage given the number of people that we will require with an increasingly ageing population.

I could not speak on the subject without briefly touching on the problems that are faced. Karen Whitefield mentioned Harriet Dempster, who is responsible for social work in the Highland Council. In February, it was reported that the council was having to approve a package of £12.1 million-worth of cuts, which would result in 70 posts being axed in education, social work and technical services. I cannot give members the split of that, but it is a worrying feature, and Harriet Dempster is doing her best to minimise the impact on a crucial service.

I said at the outset of my speech that there was a danger of social work being perceived as a Cinderella service. Karen Whitefield talked about involving social work in the communities. That struck a chord with me because I have been to too many community council meetings in my constituency where I hear elected community councillors and people who should know better talking ignorantly about social work. I have even heard people on one community council suggest that social workers should be got rid of all together in a particular community. Such lack of information and ignorance is exceedingly dangerous for social work, so Ken Macintosh is correct that we must educate people and get them to understand what social work is all about.

I also praise Christina McKelvie's speech. It was worthy of note.

This is an informative and consensual debate. That shows the Parliament in its best light.

Photo of Christopher Harvie Christopher Harvie Scottish National Party 3:53 pm, 29th April 2010

I support Adam Ingram's motion highlighting the contribution that is made by all who work for social services in Scotland, especially the front-line workers and carers. I can say that because I work practically every day with such staff, who are supplied by private contractors to the Borders social work service. I, for one, would never be able to perform any parliamentary work without Wilma, Cath, Anne, Fiona and their colleagues, who help me with my 92-year-old parents, although some members might consider that that is a service too far.

There are many volunteers working in social care. The estimated 660,000 Scots who care for family and friends probably save the Scottish economy around £7 billion to £8 billion a year.

Adam Ingram stressed the importance of imaginative, subtle leadership. The challenge is to integrate the various networks of support to provide assistance, relief and association through social care services. We must approach the issue of social care leadership by focusing on strengthening the confidence that the people who use such services have in their situation and their expectations. We must co-ordinate performance in response to users' changing needs. That is very important for elderly people who might be suffering from progressive, but not necessarily hopeless, dementia.

It is equally important to streamline administrative structures and procedures and to look at them from the viewpoint of the person who is being cared for, so that they can comprehend what is expected of them and are not baffled by complicated phone procedures and the like. It is important to channel funds to and place emphasis on the social workers and carers on the ground. That involves seeking a personal rapport with the people who require assistance and the carers who work with them. That is important because, often, the people who need support from social work services are particularly vulnerable—they do not just suffer economic hardship and health and emotional problems but very often find it difficult to express their feelings. As a result, they can feel overwhelmed and rejected by an unfamiliar, overtechnologised, bureaucratic system. For instance, they might fear the abolition of the cheque, because they have always been used to cheques and are frightened by the business of having a phone conversation that will inevitably involve being asked to press 1, 2 or 3. God, that baffles me—goodness knows what it must be like for either of my parents. Providing intelligent assistance from the start, mapping out the likely progress of a particular patient's condition and reducing bureaucracy are other leadership challenges for the future.

Co-operation, as well as leadership, is important. Other pragmatic elements can help to improve social work and social care. Forgive me if my examples focus on care and support for the elderly, but that is my personal experience. There is also short-term, emergency care. For instance, I am relieved one weekend in every month by my brother, who is a lorry driver, coming up from the south to look after my parents for a long weekend. A fortnight ago, he went in for a speedway run in Wolverhampton—he is 60 years old and should know better—where he fell off and ended up in hospital with a fractured pelvis. I went down there to help the carer at his house to do something that is often quite necessary and will become more necessary in future, which was to move all his electronics around, so that his computer and phone were down on his bed, where he could access them. That sort of technical intervention was required for someone who would not usually be the subject of such care but desperately needed it at that time.

Much of social care is not just about dealing with ailments or sight or hearing impairments but about handling domestic equipment, such as the alarms that go wrong. I had a horrible hour when my parents' alarm, which rings in the Borders care section, got tangled up with the telephone system and none of us—not even the care people—could get to the bottom of it. The thing was going off every 10 minutes. Such high-technology equipment is put in to assist patients, but it can have great deficiencies, too, so it is important that people who can deal with it are easily accessible. We need such things as phone bells that are loud enough for people to hear and we need people to come in and help people with their hearing aids, which, if they have very small controls, are something of a problem.

I do not have a panacea to offer, but I have a suggestion. In many countries on the continent, students going into tertiary education are required to do a year of social service, which can vary from pushing and pulling to helping elderly folk with computers and household equipment. A voluntary community or social service year between high school and higher education or job training is valuable and is an important part of education, which offers the practical introduction to life that such students require. The voluntary year is not simply a burden.

Finally, when my daughter was growing up, we had an elderly Welsh lady in the house next to us. Miss Thomas, who had been born in 1905 and lived until 1999, was a person whose wisdom had accumulated over the years, along with her cheerfulness and intelligence. She kept a diary in which she noted down details of her condition, such as what she was eating and how she was sleeping. When I asked why, she said, "Because if someone comes in and finds me flat out, they will know at least something about my previous condition." She was very bright and still had the eyes of a young girl, as well as the intelligence. When we saw her last, the taxi driver, whom she had schooled in the local school, told us, "She will be out skiing next." As it happened, she was not there to see us when we went back, but she had lived her life for 94 years and she was still teaching people up to the end. I can think of no better tribute for anyone at the end of their life. Often, those whom we set out to help help us every bit as much we help them.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour 4:01 pm, 29th April 2010

From the many interesting speeches that we have heard this afternoon, it is clear that many members have some direct involvement in and experience of social care, which has made for an informative debate. That is to be welcomed, given the importance of social care to the lives of those whom we, individually and collectively, represent. As others have done, I want to recognise at the outset the—at times very difficult—work that is undertaken by our social care workforce and the important contribution that such carers make to the lives of vulnerable people and families throughout Scotland.

Our amendment highlights the challenges ahead and the importance of policy planning across the sector, including for the elderly. Just as Elizabeth Smith drew attention to some considerable statistics on young people and children, I want to say a few words about the statistics on the elderly, to highlight my belief that social care for the elderly is at a crossroads. By 2042, the number of people aged 65 and older is expected to rise by an estimated 61 per cent, which will be equivalent to having 1.3 million older people. At the moment, older persons services account for roughly half the total spend on social work services; by 2031, the cost for elderly care alone could be £3.5 billion, which is more than treble the current level of spend. Given the timescales involved, the response to that challenge will require a concerted effort from across the political spectrum. That is why we felt it important to highlight the issue in the Labour amendment, for which we certainly welcome support from all sides of the chamber.

If we get it wrong now, the ramifications for the future care of the vulnerable elderly could be severe. Therefore, it is important that we prepare the workforce, which will undoubtedly face greater demands and increasing workloads without the time and resources commensurate to the scale of the problem. If staff morale is affected, that will ultimately affect those who rely on the services.

Christopher Harvie is the only member so far to have mentioned dementia. As convener of the cross-party group on Alzheimer's, I want to say a few words about dementia and social care. Ironically, as we get better at dealing with health problems such as cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease, we shift some of the needs from the health sector to the social care sector. Dementia is one of the huge challenges that we will need to address, which will require us to adapt our resources and our workforce.

Last year, the cross-party group on Alzheimer's published the report "People with Dementia in NHS Accident and Emergency - Recognising their Needs", which includes many findings that have some relevance to social work. As part of a literature review, we highlighted the findings of a 2006 Scottish Executive-funded study of undergraduate programmes in Scotland for all health and social care professionals, which showed that there was

"very poor educational preparation on dementia care."

It is widely recognised that training is key to improving the quality of care for people with dementia, and it is essential that the training is of a high enough standard. That means addressing the need to adopt a system of recognition for dementia care trainers. I have been in touch with the dementia services development centre in Stirling this week. I am pleased that the centre has been awarded a massive boost of more than £300,000 from the Big Lottery Fund to address training needs in particular. Training can and should be viewed as a spend-to-save initiative. As well as improving the service, training leads to lower absence, improved morale and greater retention of staff. It is very worth while.

The minister and other members have mentioned the SWIA report—the minister pointed out some of its conclusions. In relation to the elderly, the report found:

"There was not generally a good range and quality of services for people with dementia. Social work resources were under pressure ... Services were generally inadequate to meet the scale of needs ... One of the main gaps we identified in many areas was a lack of support at the point someone was diagnosed and in the early stages of illness.

It concluded that

"services for people with dementia needed to be given much higher priority by councils."

I believe that we should take the findings of the SWIA report very seriously. The concerns that it raises regarding dementia care suggest that we have a considerable way to go in improving services. That raises the question of leadership, which many members have mentioned this afternoon. It is vital that we show leadership on such matters.

That, in turn, brings me to the Scottish dementia strategy. In September 2009, the Scottish Government gave a commitment to produce the strategy in the spring of this year. At that debate in the chamber, concern was expressed that the term "spring" was too indefinite in Scotland, and that it was rather elastic. The Parliament agreed an amendment to produce the strategy by April 2010, and the Government approved that amendment.

I am sure that it has not escaped the minister's notice that the daffodils have bloomed, and that tomorrow is the last day of April. I would welcome an indication from the minister in his winding-up speech as to when we can expect to see that important strategy document. I would hope that a significant part of its proposals will address how we can make services better, not just for the people with dementia and their carers but for those who work on the front line, delivering services.

Social care is not an easy job, but it is a rewarding one—I think that those who are involved in the profession would say that. For every bad-news report that we see, there are many success stories that go unreported. Social care has changed the lives of many elderly people for the better, and the policies that the Scottish Parliament has brought in over the past decade should not be underestimated; they have undoubtedly made life better for many elderly people.

However, the challenges ahead are significant, and it is easy to come to the chamber today—as it was in September 2009—to talk the talk, but we need to follow the debate through with action. We need to ensure that the appropriate resources, training and policy planning are in place to enable the social care workforce whom we are supporting today to rise to the challenge with confidence. The thousands of elderly people in Scotland who depend on us to show that commitment and leadership deserve no less.

I support the amendment in the name of Ken Macintosh.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party 4:08 pm, 29th April 2010

I pay tribute to the dedicated people, from a wide range of professions, who contribute to the provision of social work services. As Ken Macintosh said, some of our work as politicians and representatives seems like social work sometimes, but it is not a job that I could do full-time.

As Irene Oldfather said, when social work services are at their most successful, we do not hear about the work that is done. By its nature, it is a sector that receives publicity almost exclusively when it fails, and we do not hear about the incredibly difficult task that thousands of social workers throughout Scotland perform or about the many successes that they achieve.

No one can overestimate how stressful and thankless the job of social worker is. The nature of the job is often a cause of high staff turnover. I have huge admiration for new social work recruits who are catapulted into the difficult area of children and families services. It is sad that too many social workers—even the most dedicated social workers—suffer burnout. They need all the support that is on offer to encourage them to stay in the job.

The strength of leadership is fundamentally linked to the recruitment and retention of people in social work services. Good leadership is likely to improve staff morale and confidence and increases the likelihood that people will remain in their jobs, whereas poor leadership has the inverse effect. It is also the case that high turnover of staff has an impact on the quality of leadership. As people leave social work, the number of experienced staff who could take up leadership roles is reduced.

That cycle needs to be broken. I welcome the greater focus that the Scottish Social Services Council and the four Scottish social services learning networks are putting on the development of leadership abilities among people in the sector. I am sure that all members hope that there will be improvements in social services as a result of that focus. Leadership is not confined to senior management in council social work departments and the private and voluntary sectors; leadership and drive are required throughout the workforce.

Of course, it is important that the focus on leadership does not distract from the need to put new ideas into practice and improve other aspects of social work services. As Hugh O'Donnell said, it is about putting in place a care package that places the user at centre stage and shows what choices are available to the individual and their family. It is about seeing the implementation of the package—refined, if necessary—right through to an end game in which the individual is resilient and able to live as independently as possible.

There are many excellent examples of good practice. At Craiginches prison in Aberdeen, a scheme will soon be a piloted in which a support team will mentor and advise offenders while they are in prison and after they have been released into their communities. The aim is to break the cycle of crime whereby all too often the same people are locked up in prison time and again. The provision of continuous support to get offenders' lives back on track after they leave prison is vital. I am sure that prisons throughout Scotland will closely monitor the scheme's impact on reoffending rates.

A joined-up approach to all aspects of social work services, such as the approach that will be piloted at Craiginches prison, is fundamental to the provision of effective care to everyone who needs it. Often, multiple organisations are responsible for services that fall under the broad umbrella of social work, so the need for clear and unambiguous leadership is vital if a joined-up approach is to be achieved. If there is confusion about who is responsible for delivering different aspects of social work services, or if there is a lack of communication and co-ordination about what is happening in vulnerable people's lives, problems can quickly emerge.

The key goal for the clients of social workers, education professionals or people who are involved in drug or alcohol rehabilitation is to build up resilience and self-reliance, thereby going some way towards reducing dependency. The Government's embrace of early intervention and GIRFEC should, in the longer term, increase the number of families who can live fulfilling lives without intervention.

What is important is that people who are involved in providing social work services have the confidence in their decisions to be willing to make early interventions when needed before a crisis point is reached in people's lives. That confidence can be achieved only through good leadership of social services staff and through those staff members having a wealth of experience behind them, which makes the need to lower the high turnover of people in the sector even more important.

Having worked closely with the minister, I know the drive and leadership that he is providing and the efforts that he goes to, travelling throughout the country to enthuse people in the sector to drive up standards and to improve the lives of children and families, older people and offenders who need our support.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 4:15 pm, 29th April 2010

This has been for the most part a consensual debate, but I am acutely aware that the minister will have listened closely and will wish to respond to some of the comments and observations that have been made, so I will keep my contribution brief.

The social care workforce is in many ways an unsung hero, considering the expectations that our society places on it. It is valuable and useful and gives that workforce its 15 minutes of fame, in Andy Warhol's terms, for us to discuss in such a consensual way the work that so often goes unrecognised—apart from the negative aspects of it.

I know that there is still a lot of work to be done. I am relying on the efforts of the minister, who I know has an extensive commitment to social services, to encourage all the local authorities, the private sector and the voluntary sector to work together to provide a universal type of service that may be a more cost-effective way of delivering the care and support that the most vulnerable in our society need.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 4:17 pm, 29th April 2010

I commented to the minister as we entered the chamber earlier that I hoped that this would be a fiery debate. He said that, if I was expecting that, I was clearly in the wrong place. Nevertheless, it has been an interesting debate, and I congratulate all the speakers, not least Jamie Stone on a gratuitous mention of Jeremy Thorpe, which is not a name that we often hear in the chamber.

The debate has served to bring to the fore an important issue that deserves our attention. We have heard from speakers throughout the debate how the efforts of social workers and social care workers across the country are vital to many people's lives. Their work is often carried out in the most arduous and challenging of circumstances.

The demographic challenges that are outlined in the Labour amendment and which were mentioned by both Karen Whitefield and Irene Oldfather, and the rising number of children who are looked after by local authorities, mean that it is more important than ever that we do what we can to provide and maintain an effective social care workforce.

As Elizabeth Smith said, more than 15,000 children are now in social care, and there has been a rise every year since 2001 in the number of those who need to be looked after. Despite that, the number of staff employed by Scottish local authority social services is decreasing, according to figures released last June. That leads to the clear conclusion that we are simply not doing enough to help the most vulnerable in our society.

I listened with great interest to the minister's comments at the start of the debate about the need for us to deliver joined-up services against the backdrop of the serious budget cuts that we know are ahead. I welcome the minister's mature approach. We will face some difficult times in the public sector, and if we are to ensure that the most vulnerable do not suffer as a result we must look at new ways of doing things. I was also interested in what the minister said about how, when looking at the effectiveness of social work services, leadership is more important than resources. There are lessons to be learned in that.

With all those statistics in mind, I welcome the "Changing Lives" review of social work services. The review's findings on the importance of clear and efficient leadership in supporting our social services workforce are an important step towards developing a more effective service. However, given the extent of the problems that social care in Scotland faces, more must and should be done to tackle them, which is why I fully support my colleague Elizabeth Smith's amendment.

In the report that it published in March, the Social Work Inspection Agency emphasised several vital areas that need to be addressed. Potentially the most worrying point that the agency made was about the postcode lottery that exists in social services. That affects the future of children in care. On average, more than half of those children who were still in contact with social services were not in employment, and the figure went up to 100 per cent in the worst-performing council areas. The quality of risk assessments and of the care that is provided was found to vary hugely between councils, which is hardly surprising, given the variation in funding from council to council.

We think that if a consistently valuable service is to be established throughout the country, it is important that we have an accurate picture of the current situation. That is why we have called for an independent review of social work services, so that we can identify, as soon as possible, where we are failing those who rely on social care the most. We think that the backdrop of demographic changes that we have heard about is a powerful argument for holding such a review. Although we accept that we might still have to convince the minister and other members of the need for it, we hope that they will understand our arguments about why it is important for us to get a picture of the present situation.

Up to 60,000 children in Scotland are affected by a parent's drug problem and seven out of 20 children who are referred to the children's reporter have a parent or carer who has abused drugs, so it is essential that we tackle the issue of drugs in our society. We believe that by doing so, we can destroy the problem at its roots and help prevent more children from having to enter care in the first place.

We can take further steps to help fix our broken society by making better use of the voluntary sector and reducing the amount of Government interference and red tape, which act as a huge hindrance to many voluntary agencies. The funding of the voluntary sector is an issue that comes up continually, and it is one that I raise in the Parliament whenever I have the opportunity. When budgets are squeezed, there is always a temptation to cut off funding for outside agencies and the voluntary sector. In the coming years, with the budget squeeze that will apply to the Scottish Government budget, which will be passed down to local government budgets, there will be tremendous pressure on the voluntary sector. I would like the minister to provide as much reassurance as he can that the Government acknowledges the problem, that support will be given to that sector and that he will try to ensure that long-term, secure funding is put in place.

One of the most debilitating aspects of voluntary sector funding is the uncertainty that surrounds it from year to year, which means that organisations simply cannot plan ahead or offer secure employment because they do not know whether their funding will be sustained. It is vital that that is addressed if we are to tackle the serious issues that face the most deprived people in society.

It is always the most vulnerable in our society who are affected by Government failings. That is why we think that an independent review of social services is necessary. Although UK-wide policies to support families through the tax and benefits system will undoubtedly aid the situation, more needs to be done to ensure that people in the system receive the best that our tremendous social care workforce has to offer. An independent review would be useful in identifying gaps in service provision, particularly in the context of the likely increased demand for services and the downward pressure on budgets. I hope that other members will understand why we make that case. I have pleasure in supporting Elizabeth Smith's amendment.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour 4:24 pm, 29th April 2010

I note that there is a significant amount of time to fill. I do not propose to fill it all, but I will attempt to ease the burden on the minister slightly.

The "Changing Lives" report that is mentioned in the motion highlighted the need for

"a joined up approach to prevention, in which social work services better support universal services to pick up and respond to the early signs of problems as well as tackling the complex problems of some individuals and communities."

So far, so good. We can all agree that a joined-up, prevention-focused approach is the right way to go. Simply saying something is not the same as achieving it, however, and we must acknowledge the changing nature of our society—to make a preventive approach work, we need a much more developed system of social work services than we have at present.

Some might say that there is a balance to be struck between intervening in people's lives and identifying appropriate need. How do we strike that balance? One of the problems is that so much social work policy has been driven by cases in which things have gone wrong—the well-known cases in which the system has fallen apart and dreadful things have happened to individuals—rather than by the vast majority of cases in which things have gone right. I hope that that is the case for the majority of interventions by social workers, particularly in the area of caring for children, but I suspect that the reality is somewhere in the middle. In some cases in which things go wrong, it is because of catastrophic failure in the system, but other failures are not catastrophic and we do not pick those up as well as we should. It is not the case that things go wrong in only a few instances and right in all others. The reality is that the results of interventions are much more mixed.

One of the problems is that we politicians are not clear or robust enough in identifying what we want in sufficiently realistic terms. If we say to social workers that we expect them to intervene in 60 child protection cases a week, or whatever the figure might be, and we also say that every intervention must be of high quality, the way in which they manage an unreasonable workload is not likely to be entirely satisfactory in every case. As Ken Macintosh said, there will be a tendency to move towards risk aversion, and for social workers to do what is sufficient to avoid the problem of being identified as the person who is responsible if things go seriously wrong, while not necessarily having the time or resources to put an intervention in place that would achieve the most positive outcome.

As politicians, we do not always take our role in that process seriously. We are quick to blame if things go wrong, but perhaps we are not sufficiently quick to recognise when we are asking for impossible or contradictory things to be done by social workers or others in vulnerable positions.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

The member makes an important and valid point about the role of politicians. There are certain things that we cannot do as politicians. Does the member accept that that is one reason why we should have an independent review?

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

Elizabeth Smith is always the most reasonable and consensual of Conservatives, and she makes a fair point that we need to consider the reality, which could be done through an independent review. However, an independent review really needs to take place at the right time.

There could be two types of independent review. First, it could be an information-gathering exercise that is designed to drive policy forward—a set of problems is identified in general terms, and we ask the independent review to do more detailed work that will lead us towards policy conclusions. Alternatively, an independent review could be more focused on implementation. We decide what we are going to do, and ask independent experts to tell us how best to do it. Each of those two types of review implies that we have decided that there is a problem, what the problem is, and what we intend to do about it.

I am genuinely not sure that we are at that point. The fact that the debate is so consensual on the surface disguises the underlying reality that we all know: there are huge issues arising from demography and associated with budget capping. There are also changing practices and expectations in terms of support needs—not just in social work; arguably, it cuts across the care sector even more—and constraints on what the delivery agencies will be in a position to do. Unless we are collectively prepared to face up to that reality, an independent review will be a slightly pointless exercise because the information that it generates will not promote action and will not drive implementation.

I watched the parliamentary leaders debate a couple of weeks ago between the candidates for Prime Minister, in which somebody asked the valid question, "What about people who are forced to sell their houses to provide for their social care?" My view is that, if someone has accumulated wealth in the form of property, it is reasonable that, in certain circumstances, the proceeds of that should be used to underpin their care—the responsibility should not necessarily fall on the state. If it is to fall on the state, there must be entirely different expectations about taxation, given the demographic problems that Irene Oldfather and others have been talking about. The number of people who require significantly enhanced care because of dementia alone is huge, and the taxation consequences are considerable. So, we face a real dilemma. I did not think that any of the candidates who were asked the question gave an economically correct answer.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

Murdo Fraser may be about to correct that position.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Let us see whether we can extend the debate by having this discussion. I was interested to hear Des McNulty's argument—which is entirely reasonable, albeit that I might not agree with it—about why people who have accumulated wealth should make a contribution out of their own pocket. Does he not recognise that there is a moral hazard attached to that? If people know that they will have their wealth taken away from them later in life, they might, during their working life, decide not to save money, buy a house or put money aside for a rainy day only to be penalised when they retire.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

That is absolutely right. In contrast to Elizabeth Smith, Murdo Fraser is more comfortable on the train of the broken society and in rolling back the state.

We must have an honest deal with people, whereby their expectations about what services may or may not be available over an extended period are managed. We should not assume that services will be put in place if we know that we will not be able to finance them over a period. People should not make incorrect assumptions, and we should not create a service that is inherently substandard because it cannot be properly financed.

There are a series of debates to be had about how we talk about needs, which needs will qualify, what standard of service should be provided and how it should all be financed. My concern about the Conservative amendment is that the independent review that it talks about is about different arrangements in different localities. The problem in Scotland is the fact that the most deprived areas are typically those in the greatest need and they are not getting sufficient resources to match the level of need. However, I am sure that all localities could make the case that they have insufficient money to provide the social care services that they would like to provide.

It might take a long time to reach consensus, but until we get to being able to state the first principles of what we should be doing, what we can provide, what it is reasonable to expect and what we expect of our social work system and social work staff, the independent review will not take account of all the factors and considerations that need to be taken into account. Perhaps we need to be more open and honest with each other and with the people about the scale of demographic pressure and the consequences of different kinds of decisions. We may need more mapping out of what the consequences are of adopting approach A as opposed to approach B.

Fifteen years ago I was involved in a review of the voluntary sector by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. In the review, we argued that voluntary sector organisations that were subordinate to local government commissioners of services should be given three-year contracts and provided with the same kind of advance financial information about their budgets as local government was getting from central Government. We are now living in a time in which we do not know what the finances of central Government will be, never mind local government or voluntary organisations. That is causing a considerable amount of uncertainty among deliverers and recipients of services, all of whom are feeling some degree of pressure from the cuts that are in place and are worried about the consequences that may come in the future.

It seems to me that there is a sea change in the way in which we do things. We need to open out a fundamental debate about what social care we can and cannot provide and about the regulation of social work in order to get away from the blame culture that often operates in the area. As far as possible, we need to set a standard for how social needs will be met in the future.

The debate has been interesting. Many of the comments that were based on personal experience and broad agreement that social care is a good thing were, in themselves, excellent things to say, but there is a big problem in that many more people now require care services over an extended period than was ever the case in the past. There is a lot of pressure on social care providers because of the financial arrangements under which they operate, and there is a lot of pressure on social workers because their necks are on the line when problems arise because things that they cannot entirely control have somehow fallen between the cracks. We need to find a better way in which to deal with that. Perhaps the consensual debate that we have had needs to be replaced in future by a different kind of consensus that addresses some of those problems.

I hope that I have made Adam Ingram's task a wee bit easier. I will let him carry on.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

Thank you, Mr McNulty. That was a noble effort. I call on the minister to wind up.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 4:38 pm, 29th April 2010

I thank Des McNulty for his extended exposition. Like him and, I dare say, most politicians, I quite like the sound of my own voice, but I do not know whether others share that delight.

In my initial remarks, I welcomed the opportunity to have this debate. It has given us an extended opportunity to celebrate the work that is done by social care workers in Scotland day in, day out. As Mr Macintosh pointed out, they often face difficult and complex problems and they deal with people who can be very challenging.

We have had a thoughtful, informed and open debate that has underscored the complexity of the challenge in moving forward in social work and social care services. Members have recognised the financial challenges that exist, which will not be in the gift of any of us to resolve easily, and highlighted the crucial importance of how we work together to manage our way through matters, the critical nature of leadership in looking to the future, and the importance of providing leadership to Scotland's social services from the Parliament. It is recognised that it is essential to Scotland's future economic and social wellbeing—even in the midst of the current financial difficulties—that we continue to focus on improving services. It is not good enough to think about only maintaining services, particularly services that we know can be significantly improved.

I would like to focus on substance misuse, which I did not do so much in my opening remarks. Liz Smith and Murdo Fraser talked about looked-after children and emphasised the number of children who are coming into the system. That has been driven largely by the growth of the problem of drug misuse in our communities in the past couple of decades, which is clearly unacceptable. We will not be able to cope with the numbers that are coming into the looked-after system if we allow the situation to develop without checking it. Tackling adult substance misuse specifically, and its effects on children and families, must be a key priority for the Government and the Parliament. We need to ensure that more people recover from drug and alcohol problems so that they can live longer and healthier lives, and so that they can be the parents for their children that they ought to be, to ensure that those children reach their potential through the education system and beyond.

It is vital, therefore, that we push forward with the national drugs strategy in "The Road to Recovery: A New Approach to Tackling Scotland's Drug Problem", which we established within a year of coming into power with the unanimous support of the Parliament. One of the main elements of "The Road to Recovery" is in chapter 5, which focuses on children and families.

It is essential that we bring forward early and effective interventions. Liz Smith mentioned the number of much younger children who are coming into the looked-after children system. We are making progress on that symptom, but it is nonetheless extremely worrying that the numbers are growing so fast. We need to ensure that decisions that are made not only in emergency situations, but for long-term, permanent solutions for those children, are much better than they have been in the past. We all know about the number of placements that children have had and the impact that those placements have had on them and their future prospects. Early and effective decisions on permanent solutions for children who have been taken into care are important. In that regard, I am interested in the experiments by the health board, the local authority and others in Glasgow.

We know that alcohol consumption is another big problem in Scotland. As recently as the turn of the year, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children's ChildLine service in Scotland and Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems produced a report on harmful parental drinking. Alcohol consumption is another major blight on Scottish society that we need to act on. We might disagree about some of the measures in the Alcohol etc (Scotland) Bill, but surely we can agree that we must take much more effective action to reduce alcohol consumption in Scotland.

I turn to some of the comments that members have made. I will try to answer as many of the points that have been raised as I can.

Karen Whitefield expressed concerns about maintaining resources for training and professional development as budgets start to be squeezed. Of course, the SSSC has a key role in working with employers, particularly on registration and the promotion of qualifications. Christina McKelvie highlighted the development of the continuous learning framework as an important tool. We will continue to fund the SSSC to help the roll-out and embed the use of the continuous learning framework throughout the country.

The SSSC also helps employers with labour market information for planning purposes. We continue to invest, to the tune of something like £5 million per annum, in the national centres of excellence: the Scottish institute for residential child care; the Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability; Scottish training on drugs and alcohol; and the criminal justice social work development centre. We aim to maintain that investment to feed in to workforce development.

Karen Whitefield mentioned the role of community work. I would be interested to discuss further with her the possibility of a back-to-the-future development on that front.

Liz Smith and Hugh O'Donnell both referred to the need to reshape care for older people. The way in which we currently deliver services for older people is clearly not sustainable in the longer term and incremental adjustments at the margins are not enough. I said in my opening speech that we need to move towards a more anticipatory and preventive approach, with more rehabilitation, more reablement and a greater emphasis on self-care and supported self-care, with consequential support for unpaid carers and volunteers.

We now need to move forward, although not necessarily with an independent inquiry—as Liz Smith knows, we do not agree with the Conservatives' idea of having an independent inquiry. We need to engage with the people of Scotland and ask them to tell us what they think fair care for older people should look like. We are embarking on a public engagement programme along with partners in the national health service and local authorities. We are engaging with front-line staff and members of the public to gather vital information on how we can move forward.

How do we cope with cuts? Des McNulty indicated that we cannot continue with more of the same. We must look to redesign our services. I have been encouraged by the results that are coming through from the GIRFEC Highland pathfinder evaluation. Significant business benefits are to be gained by stripping out a lot of the bureaucracy and multiple form filling and by getting people to work much closer together, as significant cost savings are involved. It remains to be seen how far that will take us, but I believe that moving in that direction is the way to go.

Ken Macintosh mentioned the management of workload and the stresses on front-line practitioners, in particular social workers. As part of the changing lives agenda, we are bringing forward a practice governance framework, one of the key elements of which is supervision. Effective supervision is the key to ensuring that social workers and social care staff are properly supported, that workloads are managed and that a work-life balance is maintained for staff, which is important. As Karen Whitefield mentioned, it is important that staff are able actively to get engaged in their development. Guidance is being prepared to take forward that agenda.

Irene Oldfather asked about the dementia strategy, which will be available early in June. I hope that that reassures her.

Maureen Watt referred to staff numbers. Some of the discussion of that issue is slightly ill informed, as the figures are derived from the latest local government quarterly statistics, which have been affected this year by Glasgow's creation of wholly owned private companies. That has taken about 2,500 social services staff out of the statistics.

Murdo Fraser mentioned the importance of the voluntary sector. Community Care Providers Scotland has provided a submission for the debate. We recognise the important contribution and innovative approaches that voluntary sector organisations provide in relation to care and support services in our communities. I do not want to see any diminution of that contribution. I have been concerned of late by a tendency at local authority level to look to ditch support for some non-statutory services, which is a big mistake in the long run. We may be able to tackle the issue through the development of our community planning partnership approach and single outcome agreements, but we need to get all the various partners much closer together on that front.

I am sure that I have missed one or two points, but I should move to a conclusion. The social problems facing the people of Scotland are incredibly complex, but we are reforming our social services. Doing that requires leadership and the active involvement of everyone in the statutory, voluntary and independent sectors, who must bend their practices, resources and creativity to delivering the personalised services that will improve outcomes for individuals, families and communities. We strongly believe that developing the social services workforce is essential. Put simply and plainly, Scotland as a nation needs to do that if we are to achieve our ambition.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

That concludes the debate on changing lives. Despite the finest efforts of the two closing speakers, I have no option but to suspend the meeting until 5 o'clock.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—