World Social Work Day 2012

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Today is World Social Work Day as deigned by the International Federation of Social Workers. It falls on the third Tuesday in March and is a day of recognition of the profession and particularly the international tint of social work.

The thought of having a day particularly for social work and social workers is something that I have reflected on for a while as well as the place and position of British Social Work – particularly English Social Work – amid the work done internationally.

 

Defining Social Work

The IFSW definition of Social Work is helpful as a starting point, explaining that

The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.

It’s really important to reflect fully on this definition in our own corner of the world and remember that we are not just puppets of the statutory system but we have a professional responsibility to stand up and fight for social justice and to promote human rights.

Social Work ‘intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments’ and that happens in the political as well as social spheres. We cannot be apolitical or apathetic as social workers. We have to care.

For me, social work is about knowledge, compassion, competence, responsibility and advocacy. All those elements are necessary but the work cannot take place in a vacuum – it is about environments, remember.

So the process of embedding not only our profession but our sector into decisions made in health settings is crucial.

I see World Social Work Day 2012 as an opportunity not only to look back at how we have done things but a great chance to look forward to the future and purpose how we can do things better, differently, with more co-production, alongside those who need services and not for those who need services.

When social work is less obsessed by professional status and more in tune with behaving in responsible and professional ways, we will go some way to achieving the respect which seems to be so hard to find at times.

As for me, I don’t particularly crave respect as a social worker. I crave respect as a human being but I understand that to receive respect you have to be willing to dish it out double fold. I want no one to respect me solely on the basis of my title or my qualification but on the basis of my actions and my practice. That, I think, is something to truly strive for.

Changing Worlds

We are firmly embedded in an era where the certainties of the welfare state and the structures of the NHS are being eroded and fractured by government policies and a right-wing drift of attitudes and agendas as well as developing models of localism and post-modern fragmentation of the structures we had imagined were solid.

Some of the certainties we relied on are fast disappearing but in some areas new opportunities are growing. I have seen the shattering and deterioration of quality in adult social care in England as services have been carved up and contracted out. Not all private is bad and not all public is good but the focus on profit above quality is a theme that has driven the social care market predominantly in the last decade.

We have to shout out about this and there is a greater role for individual social workers to advocate for the services we provide and the services that are needed. We are well placed to take on this task and to feed back the impact of the cuts on those who desperately need services. We need to feed back the lack of opportunity for choice of those for whom the government drives forward in its agenda of choice at all costs.

We are able to grant ourselves a louder and more dynamic voice through different media and technology. We are able to build bridges more easily with user groups and carer groups and ally ourselves to those who are being victimised and targeted by the government and the press.

We can also build these communities of resistance internationally and promote that ideal of social justice that the government seems to have forgotten.

Messages

My final thought for World Social Work Day 2012, which falls as the NHS and Social Care Bill limps through Parliament, unloved, unwanted and ready to break the foundations of the principles of our National Health Service, are that we have to be ready to fight, to shout and to promote our profession, ourselves and those who knowingly or unknowingly may need good, strong competent social work support in the future.

Social Work is important. It is vital and it does promote positive changes. We just have to believe in it a bit more ourselves and help others believe it to.

Happy World Social Work Day!

Care Quality?

Another day, another report. This time, Which? has done some undercover work into the quality of homecare delivered to older adults as reported by the Guardian.

The team at Which? asked 30 families to make notes and diaries over a week in January and feed back the information, some of it is horrifying but the sad thing is that it doesn’t shock or even surprise me. That’s the real shame of the system.

One elderly woman was left alone in the dark for hours unable to find food or drink. Another was left without a walking frame, leaving her unable to get to the bathroom, while one man was not given vital diabetes medication, the watchdog said.

Which? has not named the agencies which I feel is wrong. I hope they are going straight to the Care Quality Commission (CQC)  with this information because for a consumer organisation which is supposed to be behind us as consumers of care services (oh, it’s coming in health care too – just wait) I’m surprised they feel they need to protect the names of those companies involved.

The reason they do is that those companies will not be removed from their positions of providing care to those who have been subject to institutional abuse such as that meted out in the examples given, because yes, this is institutional abuse.

These companies are probably tied into long term extensive contracts with local authorities than are bound in law and allow for a certain level of ‘default’ that makes them difficult to replace.

So what should and can be done?

1) However admirable Which? is, the fact that we have to rely on  Which? and Panorama to do the job of council quality assurance teams and more importantly the Care Quality Commission is not acceptable.

2) Embedding advocacy into the system far more fully. These people monitored were the ones who had families to complete the diaries. What about those people without families particularly those who may have cognitive impairments. We have to replicate the ‘checking’ role that involved families have to those who don’t have family support and for me I see that as happening through greater advocacy.

3) Commissioning (again, apologies to Guilty Commissioner who I know does things differently). The people who buy into and commission these block contracts aren’t the people who use them. They award on the basis of cost where quality has to have a greater impact on quality of life and quality of care provision.

4) Politicians. People go to their MPs about Forests but not about social care. The people who need the changes aren’t the people who are most likely to be politically active and that’s why this area has slipped so far down the political agenda. Politicians of worth need to advocate for electors who might not be clamouring at their surgery doors. They need to think of those who may be disenfranchised and take the advocacy and representation role more seriously to affect change.

Let’s hope we stop seeing these reports soon but i remain sceptical.

Is Adult Social Care Broken? And what can and will fix it.

FIX

Over the past few weeks, oh, who am I kidding, over the past few years, I’ve been pondering the way that adult social care is structured in this country from the position of having worked in this area over a number of years. I have seen many changes but anyone who has been involved in social care for more than a year could probably say the same. If there’s one thing that is sure about statutory social work/social care, it’s that the next reconfiguration or improvement is just around the corner.

In my renewed spirit of positivity though, I thought it would be worth reflecting personally on some of the changes I have worked through and look at some of the directions we are going with a thought to what I would do if I were in a policy-making position rather than the position of a front-line practitioner.

So I entered social work in the shadow of the changes pushed through by the NHS and Community Care Act (1990). We were moving from ‘social work’ into care management and this was going to be an improvement for those who used the services as local authorities were going to be contracting out/selling off their own centrally run and ‘inflexible’ services to new, private and voluntary sector providers who would be far more flexible about meeting the needs of individuals.

When I think back to those heady days, the ideas weren’t so different to the ways that the personalisation agenda was presented. Direct Payments were just about to start but the idea was that care would be planned by a care manager to put the service user at the heart of the process and more interesting, more exciting and more specialist services would be commissioned for the same ‘pot of money’.

We were also sold talk of community involvement rather than segregration – gyms instead of day centres –  but the day centres remained and the processes weren’t flexible enough to allow the choices that should have been there.

So Direct Payments were introduced, first as an option and then as a right. They led from the ILF (Independent Living Fund) model of giving mostly younger adults (because you had to be under 65 to qualify for ILF) with physical disabilities a pot of money and a choice of employing a PA directly.

Quite rightly, this model was seen as positive and there were attempts to spread this more widely to all user groups. The take up was much higher in some user groups than others, strangely (I’m being ironic – bear with me) related to access to greater ‘pots’ of money or more informal support.

There has also been a massive push and development of carer services. It might not seem it to those who devote themselves to caring for family members or friends but there are now statutory rights to assessments and increasingly service provisions directly for carers.

And so we moved through to the Putting People First agenda of pushing the right to a personal budget for care services to everyone who uses and is eligible to support.

It is the right direction absolutely. Increasingly choice and control for social care packages is and must remain at the heart of social care provision for adults in the UK but there are genuine practical problems.

Firstly that too often councils have just shifted people who have been more difficult to engage in the process of choosing in the way the LAs want them to choose onto ‘managed’ budgets where the LA implements the care for the user and essentially makes the choices for them leaving very little different.

Secondly, the provision of 24 hour residential and nursing care has been lost in the push towards choice. It feels a lot like an poorly regulated afterthought when actually provision of residential and nursing care can be the most important decision in someone’s life and affects life quality absolutely.

Thirdly and by no means lastly, funding issues.

There is not enough money to pay for good quality care services for all who need it so the decisions are made about who will pay and how they will pay. The Dilnot report offers some potential solutions, personally, I don’t think it goes far enough.

The fact is that people don’t want to pay for care. They don’t want to pay for care related to health needs. People believe it is a right to receive care free. But that isn’t the case. Care costs and it is means-tested.

The postcode lottery comes into its own here with charging policies varying massively. On the ‘ground level’ I know people I assess and review are increasingly refusing care I feel they desperately need purely on the basis of cost. This shifts costs from self and social care onto health in the future, but at least health costs are free to the individual.

The Future

Personal budgets are not going anywhere and must be embraced and embraced positively as they are supposed to be. We must look past some of the cynical ‘target fixing’ of the local authorities who want to prove they are doing better on ‘choice’ and really adopt a strong advocacy role in using them the way they were intended to do and keep pushing and pushing until they deliver the promised change in terms of outcomes for all users of adult social care rather than relying on a few old examples. They must work but they also must work better.

Charging policies must change and this is in the offing. While I don’t agree 100% with the Dilnot recommendations, it is better than what we have. We need transparent and equitable methods to fund social care that don’t regard the sector as an afterthought.

Promotion of advocacy to all user groups who don’t have informal networks and particularly to those who may have issues with capacity is essential to back up and check on progress of professionals and local authorities who have different budgetary agendas. We have to offer support to challenge on an equitable basis.

Our systems have to be more flexible, as professionals within local authorities we have to have access to different styles of commissioning that include micro-providers. We have to have access to different communication formats and promote more interactive feedback using more technology to those who find it more useful while backing up with face to face contact, discussion and feedback for those who don’t.

Our world is becoming more fragmented as we have more access to information sources and accept that people cannot be defined merely by needs identified in traditional style assessments. We have self assessments now but they are more similar to DLA forms based on ability to wash and dress rather than building holistic pictures of who and what someone is. That is what is needed. Yes, it will be labour intensive but we need to find more value in quality and more value in the individual.

Where will be money come from to do this and to make these changes? Well, I think that better quality and treating people as human beings has so many longer term benefits regarding outcomes that it will be a saving and not   just in value but in quality of life.

Is the system broken? In parts. But the people who work in the system aren’t and nor are the people who use and need it. We need to build it back up together. Co-production has to be the answer.

These are exciting times for adult social care – lets build a positive from too many negatives and make things better.

Photo by Amanky/Flickr

How can I change the world? Or Thoughts from #TedxObserver

tedx

I was fortunate enough to attend the Tedx event sponsored by the Observer last Saturday. Fortunate in the sense that I had both the time, money and wherewithal to remember to book far enough in advance to acquire tickets. All of which, especially the financing part, require an element of having a fortunate life with disposable income and time.

Having watched some of the videos from TED (and TEDx) events over the last few years, I half knew what to expect but I had some trepidation about my own ability to retain concentration through a whole day and have to say I half expected to leave before the final session. I didn’t. I stayed to the end and gladly did so with few lapses in concentration through the day. I had some reservations too about the ‘bite size’ reduction of arguments and ideas into accessible information but actually, I probably overestimated my own ability to engage as the timings worked well for me (and my levels of concentration).

I was also boosted by some of the conversations I had with other attendees and particularly was glad to catch up with Russell Webster (very interesting blog – highly recommended!).

I don’t want to go through the speakers one by one because I think my response is better dealt with as a composite. The theme revolved around inspiration and change, particularly regarding youth. The difference that one person can make in the world.

That’s quite a compelling view. We saw some truly inspiring people and I wondered how is it that one becomes ‘inspiring’. There were people who actively set out to change the world and others who may have stumbled into the process but the message of the day to me, was to never aim too low when the stars are within the grasp of all of us.

Linking it to my ‘day job’, was rather poignant for me. I went into social work with a strong sense of striving for social justice. I wanted to make a difference and to make the world better. While I dabbled with vague interests in politics, I never have (and still don’t) feel desperately loyal to a particular political party – certainly not enough to agree with everything they say or propose right or wrong. There are issues I strongly support but not an umbrella party as such.

As I worked, as I understood, as I began to feel ground down by the process of care management and care planning which hardly works from an ideal, I realised that the real change I can make is in bringing a humanity to these systems which often seem to be designed as processes and designed by numbers.

As I stand in someone’s house and tell them there is no money left for them to access the respite services they have been receiving for 5 years, I do wonder at my role in ‘changing the world for the better’. When I tell someone that I have made a decision to apply for their detention in hospital I am certainly changing their world and the world of their family and it’s only done when I believe absolutely it is necessary but it’s hard to balance with this desire to change the world for the better when confronted with such distress.

So back to the TEDx talks, music and dances. It drew me back on what I can do to ‘make things better’. I can’t rely on my job to offer that as while there are perceptions of ‘social workers’ as change agents and yes, there are ways we can smooth the process through the statutory systems, I’m not sure how much we can say we are positive forces for change.

Then I thought, the fact of putting humanity into a role which governments have contrived to strip down into a quantifiable process at periods of great distress can be positive. But I need to do more.

We all need to do more. Inspiration isn’t handed to you on a plate to feed from, it is something we all can and need to seize in any way we can. It might be teaching singing or dancing in areas where music has not yet reached due to lack of access or opportunity. It might be writing about the issues that can make a difference. We have more tools to hand through the means of social media – we can all bang a drum and some will be heard louder than others.

If we sit still and wait for our opportunities, they might never arrive or we may have lost some of those people we could potentially have influenced for the better.

So what did I learn from TEDx ?  – that we can all be more and do more to effect positive change in the world that we share. We don’t need to start companies or charities with heaps of money behind us, it can be the small actions that start the change. Sometimes we may need to push ourselves in directions we never expected to go.  It’s  good to feel positive amid all the bad news and being surrounded by positivity and progress helps inspire others. I’d love to see these kinds of talks available more widely.

In the meantime, my resounding thought remains, what can I do today that will leave a positive imprint on the world? I’m sure I’ll come back to this and some of the particular talks and experiences over the next few weeks. It allowed me to think in difficult tangents, and that’s remarkably rich.

Maybe we need to start building Big Society by creating the Not So Big Societies around ourselves first.

Catholicism and Gay Marriage

Today an organisation that presided over a global epidemic of institutional child sex abuse issued a condemnation of gay marriage. Because that might undermine family life.

I had a brief rant about it on Facebook which led to some angry responses from Catholics on my friends list, who claimed that the Church’s authority was not being listened to, and this was responsible for a decline in morals.

It would be tempting to simply respond to such suggestions with a raised middle finger, but it did set off a few thoughts in my mind, partly with regard to my own experiences as a former Catholic. So I’m going to engage in a bit of reflection on religious belief and church authority.

Scroll back in time a couple of decades, and I was a good Catholic boy – served on the altar, attended a Catholic school, Mass every Sunday. But something was troubling me, and it wasn’t just the usual conflicts between religious strictures and teenage hormones. During the Sunday Mass, I kept getting plagued by the thought that I just wasn’t getting it. No matter how hard I tried, how dutifully I served, I wasn’t feeling any sense of a relationship with the Divine. At least, not in the rituals of the Mass. It was as though God wasn’t there in the Church with me.

At the time, I was plagued with guilt over it. Surely I must be doing something wrong? Not to feel the presence of God in the Sacraments? Was I a bad person, not to be able to sense how holy all this was?

A couple of months ago, I was reminded of this confusion when I set foot in a Catholic church for the first time in years to attend a requiem. The sense of spiritual ossification was palpable. A priest recited the scriptures in a dreary monotone to a small, mostly elderly, frequently bored-looking congregation, there to be reminded of their place by the Mother Church. Without any adolescent angst to befuddle me, it really didn’t seem so surprising that I’d previously felt utterly uninspired. The church was the yearning for a higher spiritual truth, shrivelled and then beaten down into a set of rules to obey and a hierarchical authority to take instruction from. Any personal relationship with the Divine was simply secondary to this.

A friend of mine was told in Sunday School that the Mass was God’s penance. We really must be punishing Him, to make him listen to so many prattling priests.

Nowadays, I practise no religion, though questions of spirituality still intrigue me. For a period I became a neo-pagan. For all the (many) intellectual flaws of that particular movement, it does tend to attract disillusioned Catholics looking for a refocusing of spirituality away from the authority of the priesthood and inward to the individual psyche. Personally I suspect that the high prevalence of Ex-Catholic Syndrome among contemporary pagans accounts for a lot of “No more the Burning Times” rhetoric they tend to indulge in, usually to the dismay of historians.

Some Catholics switch to Evangelicalism. The “happy clappies” we used to disparagingly call them. At least they look like they’re enjoying their religion.

And of course, there are those Catholics who renounce religious belief altogether. It’s sometimes said that Catholics make for the most erudite atheists, because they were educated by Jesuits.

If Catholicism is about the acceptance of authority and subordination of the individual, then there is a rock against which that authority breaks with a resounding crash. And that rock is the sexual abuse scandals. The church is supposed to be the bedrock of Absolute Truth and spiritual leadership, with an infallable Pope at its head. Yet this supposed bedrock turned out to have ignored and even protected the child abusers in their midst. Why? Because defending the priestly hierarchy turned out to be more important to them than common human decency.

By the time the scandals were starting to emerge across the world in earnest, I’d already drifted away from the authority of the priests. As the true scale of the cover-ups unfolded, this scoured away any remaining respect I had left for Mother Church. This Massacre of Innocence is the Church’s brand new Original Sin for the 21st Century. An unspeakable crime for which its institutions will never be clean again.

The Catholic Church sees itself as the ultimate arbiter of moral authority and truth. If their objection to gay marriage is that it allows new moralities and new truths to emerge in a way they can’t control, then so be it.

International Women’s Day and Feminism

Mind the gap: how women have to work until today to earn what men did last year

Today is International Women’s Day. Does there need to be a day specifically for women? Maybe, maybe not. It would seem churlish not to mark it in some way though.

I remember growing up with a sense that ‘feminism’ was of the aggressive variety and with the perception that it was about radical women who wanted to be men.  No one I knew identified themselves as ‘feminist’.

I realised over time how wrong I was and how wrong my perceptions had been. Feminism was being defined by those who  felt threatened by it. It was presented (when I was growing up in the time and area I lived)  as something to be embarrassed about. As a girl, I fed into the groupthink that feminism was about ‘man bashing’ or somehow undignified. I went to school and studied alongside boys, there was no reason for me to feel different. We had a female Prime Minister. The ‘battle’ had been won so there was no fighting left to be done. Women and girls were positioned to feel embarrassed about being ‘feminists’ as if striving for equality was some kind of struggle for equivalence.

I was wrong. I was very wrong.

In some ways, when we feel embarrassed by the labels, we are allowing feminism to be defined and marginalised. The word and the label is one to be proud of and not ashamed of. It isn’t about the ‘wanting to be men’ or ‘hating men’, it is about being proud, open and respected as women.

The world is not equal. There are discriminations and prejudices faced by women as there are for many who are marginalised for other reasons but we mustn’t be afraid or embarrassed of wanting to fight and project the need to be proud of who we are and respected as what we are.

I will never be embarrassed about calling myself a feminist. I don’t have to defend my position or pride in being a woman to anyone else. For those who feel that women have reached ‘equal status’ with men, we need only look through an average newspaper on an average day and understand the differences in reporting and tone to know that we still have a long way to go.

‘Women’s issues’ are marginalised and specialist. ‘Women’s jobs’ are lower paid and less respected. There will be exceptions but generally they will be exceptions which prove the rule.

My wish for International Womens’ Day is that we can promote feminism as a positive and inclusive which is about acceptance and understanding of different perspectives rather than using the word as a tool to oppress those who might feel differently.

We must embrace feminism and we must define it ourselves. Some feminists are feminine, some feminists aren’t, some feminists enjoy dressing up and some enjoy dressing down. We can’t  define who can and can’t be a feminist by what they do or say or are. We can all support and be feminists and should be allowed to feel proud of that.

Oppression is when people attempt to define or change  how we define ourselves.

Happy International Women’s Day.

photo: European Parliament/Flickr

Care Lobby 2012

Londra - The House of Parliament e il Big Ben
Today there will be a lobby and representation made to Parliament by the Care and Support Alliance – which is an umbrella organisation of a number of charities and representative groups for people with disabilities, illnesses and their carers.

The Care and Support Alliance is campaigning to change the current system of care which exists, claiming there is a ‘care crisis’ which needs fixing and is pushing the government to act on Dilnot’s proposals to change the system of funding for social care.

There is much that needs to be changed – not least the funding of care which at the moment is very dependent on location. It is a postcode lottery of funding in every sense of the word with different local authorities having very different systems which creates a very extrinsic ‘unfairness’.

But there is  more that needs to be changed than just creating a more equitable national system of payments for care. There is much about the way care is delivered, commissioned and organised that needs changing too.

There needs to be an improvement not just of the quality of care that is delivered but the quality of support that is offered to families of people who have care needs. While the government can have as many meetings about improving dignity in care as they like, these reports will all sound the same unless they do more to change the fundamental way that services are financed and delivered. Currently pushing costs between health and social care is detrimental to those who need support from both and until there is both better integration of budgets and greater attention to the fundamental needs of

I am very much in support of the Lobby today. For those who are not able to take part in person (like me, as I’ll be at work), there are ways to take part and show support online both on Facebook and Twitter.

Everyone needs to push on this point. We have to actively engage with the government to show them how much this matters and how much it matters that social care is important as a political issue. Health and Social Care are intrinsically connected and money pushed between one and the other without proper systems will cost more to both but not much in money, in quality and length of life, in stress and distress to those who need care and those who provide it.

The government has to act. Please join the Lobby or the #Twobby to make our voices heard together.

photo: Gengish/Flickr

Will Adult Social Care Reform Stall?

younger hand and older hand

The Health and Social Care Bill currently limping through Parliament is a mess. Even though I try to take an active interest in its progress, even as someone who is desperately concerned and involved (working, as I do, in an NHS team), I lose heart at trudging my way through some of the details which have been changed, adjusted and repackaged beyond the level of human (oh, ok, maybe it’s just me!) comprehension.

I was baffled though by this piece which turned up on the Guardian website yesterday.

Announcing that Lansley, having been stung and having lost credibility as his health reforms (hopefully) hit the buffers, is going to be delaying his announcement of reform in social care.
Continue reading

Paper Tigers and Toothless Lions

There is no doubt that health and social care has gone through a vast amount of changes over the last 10 or 20 years and most of us would agree that some change is necessary. But when our leader of politics becomes so dogmatic about such changes one cannot help wondering who the changes are actually going to benefit.

Most of us would also agree that we would like a more efficient and effective health and social care service, delivered in our own locality when we need it. Some exemptions are reasonable like having to travel a bit further for the very specialised services that can only be based centrally.

As professionals however, we are bombarded with a constant information overload of new laws, guidelines and evidence base for our practice almost every day, much of which we neither have the time to read or digest. Is it any wonder therefore that underneath this mountain of documents and new policies that professionals must too sometimes question what it is that they are supposed to be actually doing?

As a witness to such changes in practice over the last 20 years I would suggest that many of the new policies, guidelines and even laws, are paper tigers i.e. not very effective at what they are supposed to achieve. Furthermore many of the staff out there in practice including managers, are simply toothless lions who do not have the resources (teeth) to implement the changes. They will be forced to do it of course under the political guise of devising a new law to make them. However in reality this will mean robbing Peter to pay Paul, particularly under the austerity measures that have already been inflicted upon them.

So while political leaders can put on a brave face and agree to ‘take the hit’ that they get over trying to force such changes through they should consider the ethical implications of their actions. Do they really want to improve health and social care for the everyday person on the street or are they simply demonstrating their power in the ability to make changes? If I were a political leader I would be questioning my political and ethical stance right now and considering whether I was really wanting to improve health and social care or simply contributing to creating another paper tiger for the toothless lions to choke on.

Please, I want to subsidise miscreants! – reflections on the regulation consultation

Community Care today reports in digestible form on a Law Commission consultation opening today on the regulation of Health and Social Care. As someone who represents before both health and social care regulators, there was much to make my hackles rise in here, But I want to pick up on just one thing, as reported by Community Care:

One… proposal is that ministers will be able to give regulators the power to… make them pay the costs of their conduct hearings. While the commission says this could prove controversial, the current system of covering the costs through registration fees raises the question of “why good professionals should be expected to subsidise the miscreant” [page 196 of the report].

Well, it should be controversial, although when I reflect on some of the censorious comments that get made about the latest misconduct cases to be reported, I have my doubts – maybe this sentiment about subsidising the miscreants is widely held?

It is, however, misguided for at least two important reasons.

We will all pay for the miscreants, come what may

Let’s not beat about the bush, regulatory proceedings are expensive:

For example, information released by the GSCC under the 2000 Freedom of Information Act reveals that, in one case, they spent £34,551.62 plus VAT on legal representation—a cost way beyond the finances of the vast majority of social workers… [Ken McLaughlin British Journal of Social Work [2010] volume 40(1) pp311-327]

Have you got an annual salary or more to spare just in case? Thought not! Take careful note – the regulator’s costs tend to be vastly greater than the registrant’s costs, and this proposal is for you to take on the unquantifiable bottomless pit risk of the regulator’s costs, not just your own. A risk you can’t avoid once caught up. Under the current GSCC regime, once the ball has started rolling, you can’t simply agree to drop off the register, nor even agree to negotiate a sanction – the process – and risk – rolls on remorselessly regardless.

As a result, if professional registration carries with it a risk of liability of this magnitude, professionals of any sense will protect themselves against potential liability by membership schemes or insurance – as many health professionals already do. And, of course, the underpinning principle of insurance, even if weighted, is precisely that risk is spread amongst the populaton that carries the risk so as to make it affordable.

To put it another way, “good professionals will subsidise miscreants”, out of pure self-interest, but now with an element of profit for the insurance companies thown in, which is not there when we subsidise “miscreants” only through our registration fees.

Personally, I’d opt to share the risk, but without the profit motive – wouldn’t you?

There but for the grace of God

The other point is that my long experience is that most people in front of misconduct committees don’t deserve the epithet “miscreants”.

So often, my clients are bemused about how they came to be here. That character flaw. That momentary lapse of judgement. That backlog caused by an excessive caseload. That case where the media was crying for a scapegoat. That step I didn’t take which, with hindsight, I can see would have helped. That personality clash with my line manager. That decision I took when no supervisor was available. That was professional misconduct?

Sometimes, of course, it isn’t: statistics for mid 2010 (when there was a rather larger number of cases being decided than now) showed that less than half of registrants coming to full hearings were unfit to practice (suspended or removed) and more than 10% had not committed misconduct. Half were admonished. Would you want this kind of costs risk for a ticking off – one that you may even accept you deserve?

Which is why I say, there but for the grace of God. And why I happily offer to share the risk with you, and ask you to share it with me.

You can respond to the consultation here: http://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/consultations/1755.htm