HC Deb 29 April 1986 vol 96 cc765-6
1. Ms. Harman

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what evidence he has about the incidence of attacks of violence against social workers by their clients.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Ray Whitney)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expresses his regret that he is unable to be with us this afternoon, as he is overseas on official business.

Detailed information about violent attacks against social workers is not collected centrally on a systematic basis, but the evidence that we have had, distressing though it certainly is, is sadly not inconsistent with the nature of a social worker's job, which inevitably brings him or her into contact with emotionally disturbed or mentally disordered clients. It must be for employing authorities to assess the level of risk to their staff and to take the necessary action.

Ms. Harman

Is the Minister aware of the nationwide research which has been carried out at Cambridge university which shows that social workers are likely to be attacked by their clients on average once a year? In view of the recent deaths of two social workers at the hands of their clients, why are the Government taking such a complacent attitude about the matter? Will the Minister co-ordinate the actions of local authorities, which are trying to reduce the risk to their social workers and encourage and enable them to do something constructive? Will he ensure that people coming out of institutions into the community get proper back-up support so that they do not become a danger to themselves or to the social workers who care for them?

Mr. Whitney

The Government are in no sense complacent about this very difficult issue, and we remain in close contact with the employing authorities. We will, of course, maintain such contact to discover whether further guidance can properly be given centrally. We are also in close contact with the parents of those involved in the specific case in which the hon. Lady has taken a close interest.

Mr. Dickens

Is it not true that there are recruited into the social services many odd-bods who are long-haired, unshaven and who wear political badges on their lapels, who provoke attacks upon themselves by their very attitude?

Mr. Whitney

I am not prepard to generalise about odd-bods in the social services. I believe that social workers have a very difficult job to do, and these cases raise difficult and sensitive issues.

Mr. Wigley

The House will be somewhat surprised that the Minister was not stronger in his condemnation of the question from the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens).

Does the Minister accept that the risks to social workers would be considerably lessened if there was proper assessment of the needs of people leaving long-stay hospitals with mental illness or other forms of mental disorders? Does he agree that, to enable that to happen, it would be greatly advantageous if the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Bill, now in another place, could have its commencement orders on these sections as soon as possible?

Mr. Whitney

Many of the issues involve clinical decisions, which, of course, the Government carefully monitor, but which are not directly in our control. The House will be well aware of the Government's helpful attitude to the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Bill, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.