Massive vote to challenge crisis in childrens services
Over 98% of Edinburgh Social Work children services members have
voted to lodge a formal grievance against a 'crisis in resources'.
"In a 75% ballot return this is a clear message that action is
needed to address the crisis", said branch chairperson Dougie
Black. Social Work members say that up to 80 children and young
people assessed to be needing 'care' are waiting for places.
"The stress falls on families, children themselves and the social
workers who will carry the blame if anything goes wrong", added
Dougie. The lack of residential places and staff shortages means
that the Council cannot meet its commitment to the first four
recommendations of the Edinburgh Inquiry into abuse in childrens
This called for:
- Children in care are the corporate responsibility of the whole
council, not just the Social Work Department.
- Residential care being a 'positive choice' matched to the
- And to achieve 'genuine choice', the Council would have to
accept that units may have to operate with vacancies.
Since then the number of available beds has been cut and staff
say resources are at an all time low. Initiatives welcomed The
Branch stresses that this is not an issue for the Department,
but for the whole Council and for the Scottish Executive.
"Very often Social Work management are being asked to manage
the unmanageable", said Social Work Stewards Convenor Lyn Williams.
The Branch has welcomed recruitment initiatives announced by
Councillor Kingsley Thomas and his CoSLA initiative for a Social
Work review along the lines of the Teachers' 'McCrone Report'.
"We welcome these genuine attempts to address the problem. There
needs to be a strategy to respond to changes in demand and to
redress the low status and pay problems in Social Work", said
Lyn. "But alongside that, emergency measures are needed now to
address the immediate crisis".
Around Scotland there is a similar picture with recurring themes:-
- shortage of residential places
- difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff
- a resident group that units were not designed or staffed for.
- low staff morale.
In Aberdeen there are recruitment problems in residential care
and home closures create the vicious circle of staff becoming
more demoralised, thereby making is harder to recruit and compounding
the problem. A new working hours flexibility package to ease the
problem is failing.
"Staff are being treated like bendy toys", said Branch Secretary
Gill Thackray, "They feel that flexibility is only one way". Some
staff have raised a grievance about rotas and Senior Social Workers
say they feel pressurised into inappropriately using foster care.
Dundee has a similar picture with understaffing, physical attacks
and high stress levels. "Recently there has been a significant
increase in stress related illness among staff", said Branch Secretary
Mary Crichton. "We have warned for years that if you treat residential
staff as a Cinderella service, a crisis was bound to happen".
Glasgow too faces similar problems. There are major staffing
issues, incidents of violence, rock bottom morale and concerns
about lone working.
Andy Quinn, Social Work steward, said, "Residential care is in
a crisis and politicians need to wake up to it before it's too
late". On the positive side, £800,000 is being put into one unit
with a commitment to look at gradings, staffing levels and training.
Big Win - Big Fee? Not in UNISON
Warnings about the rash of personal injury claims firms currently
advertising on our screens have been aired in the media recently.
Whilst these firms claim to be "no win, no fee" they have apparently
been charging those who do win, big fees.
Successful clients have had to pay the big insurance premiums
demanded by the company to cover costs. The only one of these
companies to be listed as a public company (and therefore obliged
to announce its profits), Claims Direct, has had to post two profit
warnings since it went public last July.
Although some attempts has been made to redress the problem,
it is still the case that in the UK legal system, losers can be
liable for the winners costs. This means that premiums will still
Frank Maguire of Thompsons, who have recently negotiated an extension
of the service to UNISON members, points out that UNISON members
don't have this dilemma.
"Not only does our agreement with UNISON provide for legal support
on a no win - no fee basis", he said, "but we also provide free
insurance to protect members against paying the costs if you lose,
and do not deduct a percentage from any successful damages."
A recent successful case has meant a residential worker who was
injured breaking up a fight and thereby became unfit for work,
was awarded nearly £240,000 by the Criminal Injuries Compensation
Board. "Whilst this money will never compensate her for her injury,"
said John Lambie, Assistant Scottish Secretary, "at least UNISON's
support and partnership with Thompsons has meant she can have
some financial backing to compensate for her loss of wages and
increased care costs".
Car Allowance anger
Proposed new car allowances for Local Government staff have provoked
anger around the country. Branches are consulting and the feedback
so far is to say the least negative.
In Edinburgh the Council has indicated it wants to go for a local
deal but talks are not progressing.
UNISONScotland has sent information out to branches confirming
that this is a consultation to see what members make of the proposals,
not an agreement. The issue will be discussed by the next Forum
of all Local Government branches at the end of this month.
One of the international guests at UNISON Conference, Mohammad
Aruri from Palestine, visited Scotland last month as a guest of
Mohammad took time to visit the Edinburgh Branch Committee and
spoke of being held for three days on the Jordanian border in
his attempt to get to Britain.
Because of the current crisis, 120,000 Palestinians legally working
in Israel are now without work. This is compounded by thousands
of others who work unofficially in Israel also being jobless.
2,000 cases being taken by the unions in Israeli courts are frozen.
Because of the lack of rights and services for Palestinians,
the unions provide free health care and are trying to provide
emergency grants for members affected by the crisis.