Audit Commission says councils can save money on care assessments by employing unqualified staff

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A report suggesting councils can save money on care assessments by replacing qualified social workers with non-qualified staff is peddling a dangerous myth which will damage care standards and lead to longer term costs, UNISON has warned.

The Audit Commission report, which also promotes ‘reviewing’ of pay levels as a method of cutting council costs, says the biggest cost in providing social care assessments is paying professionally qualified staff. UNISON says that reducing the use of these professionals is tantamount to providing essential social care on the cheap.

Using non-professional staff to carry out work for which they are not trained places inappropriate pressure on them, and places the vulnerable people they care for at inexcusable risk.  The complexity of adult care needs is ever increasing – dementia, drug addiction, mental health conditions, vulnerability to abuse and knock-on effects on children and families – and all these need the highest possible levels of skills and qualifications to get assessments and care plans right first time.

UNISON national officer Helga Pile said: “This is something we’ve been long concerned about in adult social work – providing social care on the cheap – and the Audit Commission’s report is yet more evidence of a flippant approach to care standards when it comes to vulnerable adults.

“The government has said it values the professionalism of social workers in adult care –so we hope they will move quickly to challenge these dangerous myths.

“The recommendations in this report are too simplistic. They diminish the work of both the professionally-qualified social workers – of which there are already a shortage – and the support workers and social care assistants, who play a vital role in the care of vulnerable people and don’t want to be ‘social workers on the cheap’.

“UNISON cannot support recommendations that put pressure on staff to do a job for which they may not be properly trained, for no extra pay, and place the vulnerable people being cared for at risk. Social workers need to be leading this work alongside support workers but it is dangerous to think you can just replace them. The long-term consequences will be more unmet need at greater cost to crisis services and hospital admissions.”

In 2011 UNISON conducted a survey into the exploitation of social work assistants and support workers being used as social workers in an attempt to reduce costs. It found that two thirds of respondents were regularly given work with vulnerable children and adults that they don’t feel qualified or experienced enough to do, only 25% said there were clear boundaries between their roles and that of social workers and 75% of support staff normally worked over and above their contracted week.


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