HL Deb 11 May 1977 vol 383 cc335-57

7.20 p.m.

Baroness FAITHFULL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government by what method it is proposed to fund the training of social workers. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. This Unstarred Question has been set down, first because there is an immediate crisis over the lack of funding of those who are seeking to train as social workers on the one- and two-year courses at universities and polytechnics in the academic year starting October 1977. Secondly, there is a need for long-term planning, either with a method different from the present method of funding social work students or with a different attitude to the present method. Thirdly, only 40 per cent. of field social workers are qualified, and only 4 per cent. of residential workers are qualified. The present unsatisfactory condition is highlighted by inflation and the necessary cutbacks in local government expenditure.

In order to understand the present crisis and complex system, may I touch briefly on the immediate past history and the present structure. Prior to the reorganisation of the local authority social services departments in 1970, following the Seebohm Committee Report, there were three bodies responsible for the organisation of the training of social workers. First, there was the Central Training Council in Child Care, an independent body based on the Home Office. This council dealt with both the organisation and funding of those wishing to take the two year course leading to the certificate in child care or the residential certificate in child care. This work was funded centrally by the Home Office.

The Social Work Training Council, set up as a result of the Younghusband Report, was the second council for the training of social workers in the health and welfare departments of local authorities dealing with the needs of the elderly, the mentally ill and the physically and mentally handicapped. This course led to the certificate in social work and the certificate in residential social work and was funded by local authorities. The Home Office were responsible for the training of probation officers who were seconded on their salaries. No overall provision was made at that time for the training of those who were then termed education welfare officers—the old school attendance officers—who are now called, I believe, school social workers. Their salaries have been negotiated on social work salary scales. Many of the big voluntary organisations had their own training schemes.

After 1970, these various bodies were amalgamated to form the present Council for Education and Training in Social Work, with Sir Dermon Christophersen, the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, as chairman. The Council is an independent body whose offices are situated in Derbyshire House, St. Chad's Street, London. The different, varying qualifications have been amalgamated into the certificate of qualification in social work, a two year course at a polytechnic or university. Indeed, some courses provide not only for field workers but, rightly, for residential social workers.

In 1972 a committee was set up to consider the funding of social work students. The then exceptional and diverse arrangements were not in line with the funding of other types of training which were conducted by local education authorities. Eventually, in July 1973 a circular was issued outlining the following arrangements, which obtain today. I was present at these discussions, and at the time it was stated that if the arrangements proved to be unsatisfactory they would be reviewed.

Under the new system which appertains today. probation officers continue, as before, to be seconded on salary. Postgraduate social work students are funded through the Department of Health and Social Security. Non-graduate students on the one- and two-year courses either are given a discretionary grant by their local education authority or are seconded on salary from their social services departments. And therein lies the rub. As a result of the cutback in expenditure, local authority social services departments and their councils either must choose to curtail their services to those in need—the elderly, the handicapped, children in trouble and in need—or must cut back on grants to untrained staff, enabling them to be seconded to courses. It is a cruel dilemma which faces the social services departments, committees and directors. Education departments likewise must cut back and are economising in the making of discretionary grants to social work students.

The position of the social work service is different from that of education and medicine where 100 per cent. of the personnel are trained; indeed, they cannot be appointed without training. As I said earlier, only 40 per cent. of field social workers are qualified, while only 4 per cent. of social workers in residential establishments are qualified, yet they are offering a service to the most vulnerable in society, particularly to delinquents. The Department of Health and Social Security's Manpower and Training Board recommended that one member of staff with a certificate of qualification in social work should he available to each residential establishment.

There are 140 two-year social work courses in universities and polytechnics, with an available intake of 4,000 students per year. There has been a drop of 36 per cent. in intake, which means a loss of 600 places in the area of local authority social services departments secondments. However, the Association of Directors estimate a drop of 1,000 places, as 400 students in England and Wales may well not be given discretionary grants by their local education departments in the next academic year. A drop of 1,000 represents 25 per cent, of the total intake of students in an already low-trained service.

Current courses are on target. The crisis arises next October. The drop of between 600 to 1,000 social work students will mean, first, that more mature, older, untrained staff now working in departments or, indeed, not yet working in departments but wanting to take up social work, may not be able to obtain a discretionary grant or be seconded. Senior staff working in residential work may not be able to be seconded on a discretionary grant. Thirdly, governing bodies of polytechnics and universities will not be able to sustain the under-subscribed course. There are also difficulties in re-establishing courses once they have closed down, staff dispersed and accommodation is taken up by other activities. Representation has been made to the Minister in another place and it is reported that a grant of £500,000 has been made as an emergency measure to fund 300 graduate students, their grants being paid through the Department of Health and Social Security. This means, therefore, that there is still a short-fall of 300 to 700. Therefore a minimum of £500,000 is required for the funding of non-graduate students on the one- or two-year courses.

My own experience in local authority social services departments leads me to value the mix of graduate and non-graduate social workers. Social workers with knowledge and skill acquired through training and experience can offer a more effective service and can work as colleagues with teachers, doctors, nurses and other trained personnel. Furthermore, both adult and juvenile courts have a right to expect social work service from trained and, as far as possible, mature staff. Statutory duties are laid on the local authority social services departments by Parliament to offer a service to the disabled in need under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, to the elderly in need under the Public Health Act, to the mentally handicapped, and all in the community under the Mental Health Act and to children in trouble and in need and to their families under the various Children Acts and Children and Young Persons Acts. To offer a skilled service in the field of adoption is also part of their duties. Many non-statutory duties inevitably come the way of the departments. Both the probation and social service departments work in partnership with voluntary organisations and many departments use volunteers where that is appropriate. Furthermore, communities are encouraged to assist and help their own neighbours.

A word should be said about the social workers in schools. The staff that used to be called the education welfare officers are now entitled to apply for training as social workers and a few have already done so, but the figures that I have given have not included the school social workers.

I thank noble Lords who have agreed to take part in this debate on an Unstarred Question today, and I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, whether concern is experienced by Her Majesty's Government over the estimated future lack of funding for social work students and to speak on the cases which will arise in October 1977 when grants will not be available and what long-term plans are envisaged by his right honourable friend the Minister in another place concerning the long-term funding of social work students.

7.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, for raising this important question this evening of the way in which we are to find the money for the training of social workers. She has explained very thoroughly the background to the problem and the nature of the problem itself. In recent years there has been an unprecedented growth in the personal social services, a growth of about 10 per cent. per annum, but the Government have decreed that this rate of expansion cannot continue in present economic conditions. The Consultative Document Priorities for Health and Personal Social Services in England, which was published last year by the Government, spoke of a growth rate of 2 per cent. for the personal social services. I am not quite sure whether that still remains as the Government's target, or whether we are now faced with a nil growth rate. But the need to expand staff to cope with the demands made by the social service departments and local authorities established under the 1970 Act has resulted in a large proportion of today's staff being unqualified.

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has pointed out the figures: that 40 per cent. of those engaged in field work are qualified and the remainder are not, and that only 4 per cent. to 5 per cent. of those in the field of residential care are qualified. Clearly there is a crying need for trained staff, even with the proposed reduction in the rate of growth. The Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work have said that they believe that a growth rate in training of 5 per cent. could be achieved. Even so, they point out that it will be the mid-1980s before half the substantive grade staff hold either the CQSW or the CCSS qualification, and that is on the basis of a nil growth rate in the personal social services. The date will be the late 1980s if in fact we have the 2 per cent. expansion in the personal and social services which was mentioned in the Consultative Document.

That document said, at page 14: It would be a false economy to make any general cutback in training programmes It said on page 15: For social workers and other social services personnel an expansion of training is a particularly important priority as is recognised in the Report of the Working Party on Manpower and Training. At page 72 it said: We propose that a key element in the general strategy for personal social services should be to increase the level of training and to improve the use made of skilled manpower. The White Paper on Public Expenditure 1979–80 said that there should also be room for some expenditure on the training recommendations of the Working Party; that is, the Working Party on Manpower and Training.

So the need is recognised, the priority is established and financial assistance is committed. In view of that it is alarming to read the predictions—predictions which were referred to by the noble Baroness—that next year there could be up to 1,000 training places out of 4,000 unfilled; to learn also that training on secondment is said to be down by 36 per cent. Discretionary grants are cut, Home Office support is cut and tuition fees are up. The system for student finance appears to be breaking down as different providing bodies seek to restrict expenditure.

I welcome the fact that extra funds have been made available by the Government for students on post-graduate courses. These will provide some 300 places, but it is clearly not enough and it is for one year only. On that basis there will still be a shortfall of at least 700 places. Yet there is no shortage of people wanting to become qualified social workers, nor of social workers seeking qualification. What is missing is the money to enable them to do so.

So I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in asking how the Government propose to meet the shortfall. Will the Government consider making the local authority grants for training in social work mandatory instead of discretionary? The Working Party on Manpower and Training for the Social Services recommended a central fund drawn from both central and local sources to underwrite certain key aspects of training. Can the Government adopt this concept of a central fund to provide funds to he channelled partly through the local authorities in order to meet the shortfall—funds which would be used to provide grants, whether discretionary or mandatory, and to help the poorer authorities to afford secondments? After all, we are only asking the Government to act up to their own statement, when they said in the Consultative Document: The expansion of training is a particularly important priority".

7.40 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithful', for raising this evening this matter of the funding of the training of social workers. It is a matter which she has raised before in your Lordships' House during the Committee stage of the passage of the Education Act. On rereading what was said on that occasion, I think it is a great relief that none of us is going to have to argue for the need for training, and I think there will be a great deal of agreement among us on what the problem is.

One of the important reasons for having this debate this evening is that it is timely. There has been, I think, considerable concern among the social work profession, whose members often feel under threat today. A great deal has been asked of the social work profession, and very great public expectations have been raised about the fulfilment of social work departments. When something goes wrong, as inevitably it will in any human institution, social workers are blamed. It is in their interests that they should be trained to do a job which requires very great skills. They are asked to do highly responsible work, and it is grossly unfair to them to send them into it untrained to do it effectively.

The second reason why this debate is timely is that, in the present economic climate, it is far more difficult than it has been for a very long time to make out a case for any form of public expenditure. It is, therefore, all the more important that, as a case for expending money on training, it should not go by default. I was very grateful indeed to hear the evidence given by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, from the Government's own paper on priorities for the health and personal social services and their White Paper, that they, too, remain committed to find money for training.

Nothing, I believe, could be more damaging than that the present low proportion of qualified social workers should fall further still. The figures have already been given; only 40 per cent. of field workers are at present qualified, and, I believe, between 4 and 5 per cent. only of those in residential homes. Indeed, if there is to be nil growth of social service departments, or at any rate a very much slower rate of expansion, it seems to me all the more important that those social workers we do have should be qualified.

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has set out most clearly the different courses that are available for students, both for young students entering the profession, and, I believe even more important, for those mature students who enter the profession and wish to become qualified. She has also explained the complexity facing those who wish to qualify themselves. It seems to me important above all—and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will be able to say something about this when he replies—that those Government Departments that are responsible for social work training should get together for discussions, and I hope decisions, about the future of the funding of social work students. It would appear that the DHSS is involved, the Department of Education and Science is involved, the Home Office is involved and the local authorities are involved. The consequence seems to be that, because so many Government Departments are concerned about this, it is very difficult to ensure that adequate funding of training is available.

It seems to me a tragedy that the number of students seconded for training from local authorities is down, or will be down, by about 36 per cent. next year. Although this is understandable, because secondment is a very expensive form of training and local authorities are required to cut hack, it means, however, that there will be fewer qualified students. It is sad that discretionary grants have been cut and that Home Office grants have been cut, so that, as the noble Baroness said, perhaps up to 1,000 places out of the total of 4,000 available for training could remain unfilled. I cannot believe that it is impossible to work out some system of co-ordination between the different Departments. I am interested to see that the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, is to speak in this debate, because he will know far better than I the pressures that were put on local authorities about corporate planning. I sometimes think that the idea of corporate planning ought to apply much more to Government Departments, just as local authorities are constantly asked to apply this principle to themselves. I can think of no better time to start it than on the subject of the funding for social workers.

Let us look at the problems which confront us in the future. In the first place, there has been a substantial rise in the number of children in care. Mr. Roland Moyle, the Minister, gave the following statistics in another place: in 1973 there were 88,000 children in care; in 1974 it had risen to just over 91,000; in 1975 to 94,000 children, and in 1976 to nearly 96,000 children in care. These statistics show a steady increase in the numbers of children in care, and yet, as I say, the number of qualified social workers is not increasing. Then we can see for ourselves the very large rise in the figures for delinquency, of which we are all very well aware. Whatever happens the problem of delinquency is not just going to disappear. It will only be solved, I believe, if all the professions involved, the doctors, the teachers, the social workers, not least, of course, the parents, act together. But, so far as the professionals are concerned, it is very hard that those professions, the medical profession, the teachers, should all be qualified, but not the social workers; it makes it more difficult for them to talk on terms of equality.

If we go on to look at the figures given of the number of children in community homes, it is clear that they, too, are increasing. The figures given in reply to the same Parliamentary Question indicate that in 1973 approximately 25 per cent. of the children in care were in community homes, and this proportion has remained approximately the same. But it means that the total number has increased. Probably the most demanding and most important work is the care of these difficult and disturbed children. Yet in residential work, unfortunately, the proportion of qualified staff is only between four and five per cent.

There has been very considerable pressure, often coming from the Magistrates' Association, to make sure that there is more residential accommodation available for children brought before the courts and thought to be in need of this particular kind of treatment. But it is very difficult to see that such treatment would be likely to be effective if so few of the staff are qualified.

Lastly, of course, we have the increasing proportion of the elderly, and, as we are all well aware, the figure of future projected population indicate that those over 75 are the fastest growing group in the population. For all these reasons, the demand for social workers is unlikely to decline. Although it may be asked that more volunteers should be used—and I think quite rightly, because I am very much in favour of the use of volunteers—there must always be a core of professionals. I believe very strongly that volunteers need always to be underpinned by the professionals if they are to work effectively.

It seems to me a tragedy that when the other caring professions, doctors, nurses, health visitors, are all qualified, social workers alone are singled out as having so small a proportion of them qualified. The caring professions meet frequently to work together. The social workers frequently have to go to court and report on their cases. It seems to me that they are often asked to do highly responsible and very difficult work. The very least that we can do is to make sure that they are qualified. This evening I shall not argue for mandatory grants which may well be an economic impossibility, although I should like to sec them. However, the Government should get together with the Department of Health and Social Security and other Departments to see whether they cannot work out a scheme whereby a certain number of social workers are trained consistently each year, so that there is some stability and security in the system. To economise on this would be a very short-sighted policy and we might well find that because we have so few qualified staff we have far more, and far more expensive and tragic problems to deal with in the future.

7.51 p.m.


My Lords, all of us know that in the noble Lord who will reply to the debate we have someone who is on our side. I pay tribute both to him and his colleagues for the effort that they have made since 1970 to put the social worker in a position to do the immensely important work which we all so respect in the social workers whom we know. I say with pride that two of my children have qualified in that particular area.

None of us doubts that the Government meant what they said in their various White Papers, but of course they have been overtaken by the need for economy and various considerations which we all accept as valid. I salute, in particular, the success in getting 4,000 places made available this coming September for trainees in social work both from the universities, through the University Grants Committee, and through the local authority colleges, the polytechnics and the rest. It is an achievement already to have deployed places for 4,000 trainees in social work of one kind or another.

Furthermore, we should congratulate ourselves on knowing that there are 4,000 first-rate candidates for those places if they can be funded. They have been selected from some 8,000 applicants who, through the excellent pooling scheme, have been interviewed and are known to be the kind of people who would admirably serve the purpose of these training courses if they can be funded. That makes it all the more tragic—and one must use the word—that there is at least a possibility that up to, say, 1,000 of those 4,000 places may be removed. I very much hope that, through the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, and his colleagues and the little time that remains between now and September-October this year, possible tragedy can be averted. Let us be optimistic and say that, thanks to the excellent £500,000 that has recently been found by the Secretary of State, an additional 300 places will be taken care of. Therefore, we have to find funds only for the remaining 700. It would be an absolute tragedy if the tap, which has been so skilfully turned on in terms of universities and colleges which are ready to train social workers in September, had to be turned off because 500 or 600 places could not be filled.

We all know that universities are very slow to respond even to the most powerful challenge. Polytechnics are better, but even they will not deploy resources if they have no candidates to use those resources. In other words, the tap will be turned off. It is extraordinarily difficult to move back into the action position the following year or the year after that. We are not so concerned tonight with the longer-term question. The excellent Christopherson Council is at work with all the Government Departments concerned. I am quite sure that, for the longer term, ways will be found to solve the problem of the new funding since 1970, whether in graduate or in non-graduate courses.

However, for the moment there is the simple problem of filling the places that will be available in September. That involves finding money for them. That can be done in two ways. It can be done through the local authorities seconding unqualified persons on their staff to take these courses. That is expensive, but obviously in the interests of the social services. There is also the possibility that the educational side of the same local authority can deal with this. We cannot blame the 1972 Act in this regard. Under the 1972 Act there is one authority which acts both for social services and for education and, therefore, there is no excuse for those two Departments and the directors and the chairmen of the committees thereof not putting their heads together and regarding this as one problem in each local authority area. They must ensure that these discretionary grants are found for those persons who will be trained, if the places for the courses can be funded by September.

Therefore, I endorse the remarks made by all noble Lords who have spoken so far and say how grateful I am for the chance of having this brief discussion this evening. Central and local government must get together. There is no doubt that the Government have that in mind, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has it in mind. The various Departments in Whitehall face the challenge of putting their heads together so that there is no slip between cup and lip. They must also put their heads together not only with the Christopherson Council but with the local authorities and their associations. I have no doubt that that is also in hand. The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, would be the first to encourage that partnership—that combined operation—which is at stake here between central and local government.

I hope that, whatever is done in the longer run, we shall somehow beat the clock and ensure that the full 1,000 places, which until now are at risk, are taken up in the 100 or so courses that have been arranged by the polytechnics and the universities. We must press forward—and I know that the Government want this as much as anyone—with what I regard as one of the finest things that has happened in my lifetime, namely, the coming of the social worker, the recognition of the professional social worker and all the volunteers, and the fact that at least 40 per cent. of them are at present qualified, compared with 100 per cent. of the teachers and the medical profession. However, I hope that the 5 per cent. who are doing the most difficult job in residential work will receive some kind of special priority, even if that means the Government finding further funds—whether from the local government training board, or perhaps the £500,000 that Mr. Ennals managed to get could be increased. By one means or another, we must not renege on these social workers who are already doing the work at great risk to their own reputations and to those of everyone else because they are not qualified—they are anxious to be qualified. There are universities and polytechnics willing to provide the courses to help them qualify.

7.59 p.m.

The Countess of LOUDOUN

My Lords, as I am the last speaker in this debate, most of what I have to say has already been said, but I think it will stand repetition and I hope that your Lordships will bear with me for a few moments. At the moment, the arrangements for funding social work students are unsatisfactory and vary from area to area. Although qualified social workers are desperately needed, there is no shortage of candidates coming forward for training. But my own area of Hastings had to go to America recently to get two qualified social workers.

The basic and qualifying course for social work provides the certificate of qualification in social work, and the new clearing house for these courses has been dealing with applications for the first time this year. So far nearly 8,000 applicants have registered for some 3,500 places. In 1976, out of approximately 3,500 social work students, 212 were unable to take up places through lack of funds. The Minister of State has agreed recently that the Department of Health and Social Security will make available £500,000 which will fund 300 graduate student social workers. This is welcome and may help to keep going several university based CQSW courses which might otherwise have been terminated.

At present, there are four sources of funding available and the source to which students apply depends very much on the course they propose to take. First, under- graduates taking a four-year course leading to a degree and certificate of qualification of social work are entitled to a mandatory grant from the local education authority. Secondly, graduates taking one- or two-year post-graduate CQSW courses apply to the Department of Health and Social Security and receive a grant; and until this year all those who obtained a place have received a grant. But a shortfall is anticipated in 1977. The British Association of Social Workers are already receiving many letters from students having difficulties in finding sources of finance.

Then, thirdly, the Home Office sponsors students on one year post-graduate courses, but this year, because of an anticipated reduction in the wastage rates for the Probation Service in the future, it has cut the number of students which it intends to sponsor in 1977, although there does seem to be some expectation that the numbers will return to their former level in 1978. One appreciates that the Home Office may not wish to use its resources to fund students who may then not be employed as probation officers but who may be employed in or change to another setting, such as a local authority social services department. But surely it is in the interests of the personal social services that funds made available from the public purse should allow for, if not encourage, the transferability of knowledge and skill as between the different branches of the Service.

Lastly, there are discretionary awards from local education authorities and secondment from social services departments. The policy varies quite considerably throughout the country both in the availability of discretionary awards and in the elements which are covered in the award as well as the amount. Where a student has been employed in a social work agency, but usually in a social services department, his employer may be willing to second him on salary during the period of training, but in the present climate most social services departments are fighting hard to retain their trainee schemes or secondment budget, not always successfully.

However, all this does nothing to help the mature would-be students who are not graduates. Many of these are already employed as unqualified social workers whom their local authorities cannot afford to second to CQSW training because of pressure on the authorities' finances. Others will be older people in other forms of employment who wish to train as social workers; for example, housewives whose children are growing up and who wish to acquire a professional training and competence. Many of these are considered by some to be more appropriately qualified, by reason of their experience and maturity, to be social workers than are young graduates.

In the short run, the in-service training is the only way in which unqualified social workers now in post can be helped to improve their practice. But social workers' education should not stop at the qualifying level. Additional training is essential for those students who wish to work with special groups; with the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped, for example. Here, in-service and further training would be a relatively inexpensive method of providing better equipped social workers who would, in their turn, help to provide a better service for this seriously neglected group and their families. It would also help to close the alarming gap between hospital and community services, which exists at the moment. My Lords, let us endeavour to ensure that ail available funds are used to optimum effect and that no long-term damage is caused by any short-term economies. If we can do this, we shall provide a social service second to none.

8.6 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself in a difficult situation tonight because I cannot disagree with a single word that has been said by any of the speakers this evening. This is perhaps a good thing because the subject which the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has put down for the debate tonight is a matter of supreme importance. Do not let us disguise the fact that it is a matter of supreme importance and one which must exercise the minds of everybody who is even remotely concerned with the needs of the community. It is a frightening thing—let me be quite frank about it—to those of us who are more intimately concerned with the field of professional social work. It does not make my task any easier when every speaker who has participated in the debate tonight speaks from a width and depth of knowledge, and has done so in such a delightful, mature way without being aggressive. It always makes life rather more difficult when people do things like that.

I wanted to say something about the present system for funding the training of social work because I wanted those Members of your Lordships' House who have expressed considerable concern to me personally and who cannot be here tonight to read it, as many of them told me they would do, in Hansard tomorrow. But it is quite pointless because the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, dealt with it piece by piece and set it out so clearly that if people are going to read Hansard they will find that information by reading her speech; and so I want to pass over that.

I want to come to some of the problems which face the Government at the present moment. They are problems which are known to most people—certainly those who have spoken this evening. Reference has been made to the Working Party on Manpower and Training for the Social Services, and they noted that fewer than 40 per cent. of field social workers in England and Wales were qualified, and that very few in the residential field held any qualification at all. The Working Party, which issued its report last year, recommended a substantial increase in the number of social workers to he trained with the aim that about half of all the social workers should be qualified by the late 1980s.

I think we have to face the fact that that may not be possible. Let us also face the fact that this is not by any stretch of imagination a new situation. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, years ago said that only 37 per cent. of professional social workers are properly trained. Unfortunately, this situation has been with us—


My Lords, I agree with what the Minister is saying, but may I say that there was beginning to be a growth towards implementation of training which has now suddenly stopped, and I think that this is what is worrying us.


I will come to that shortly, my Lords. But let us get the matter into perspective. This situation has gone on almost unchanged for many years, and I think it was Lady Young who pointed to the figure of 4 per cent. as being those properly trained in residential care. This has been the figure for a long time, and while I take no comfort from the fact that the position is no worse and has remained the same, we must keep the matter in perspective.

It was unfortunate that the issue of the Working Party's report coincided with hard economic times so that authorities have not been in a position to embark on a major expansion of training. Indeed, far from being able to expand training, I have to admit that the present inadequate level is threatened. I acknowledge that secondment is expensive, and ninny social services authorities are having to reduce the number of employees whom they send for training. I was not present, but I know that Lady Faithfull drew attention to this on 8th October last when she participated in the Education Bill debate. I have made a note of the figures, and she rightly pointed out that it costs local authorities about £2,300 a year to allow one person to go for training.

Local education authorities are also under great pressure and are reducing the number of discretionary grants they make to those accepted for non-graduate courses. Many graduates who had hoped for secondment are now looking to my Department for a grant instead, and despite a 60 per cent. increase over the last two years in the number of grants we give, we are under even greater pressure this year.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is very concerned about the situation. He has a number of people round him who have been worrying him on the matter and who will continue to worry him. Estimates made by the Central Council for Education and Training and Social Work and the local authority associations have indicated that a substantial number of the 4,000 places on courses starting in September this year might be left unfilled. The figure of about 1,000 has been given. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, pointed out that the grant which the Secretary of State made quite recently will reduce that to 700, but I am not persuaded that the deficiency will be as large as 700. I take no comfort from that; it is bad if it is 600 or 500. Nevertheless, we must face the fact that the £500,000 which has been given has at least made a tremendous improvement, although we recognise the seriousness of the situation, as the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, said, not only for the present but for the future; it is bad for this year, but of course it is also bad for the future.

I have seen it argued that social workers need no training—that all that is needed is a heart in the right place and plenty of enthusiasm, and, as noble Lords will be aware, there has been a long correspondence in the Press recently on the subject—but I do not accept that, and I have said so on more than one occasion. It may have been so in the 19th century, but it is certainly not true today in our complex society. Many of those in need—those who cannot cope with the pressures of society—require expert social help, and that expertise—I know I am preaching to the converted—can come not only as a result of thorough training, but there must be going on the whole of the time in-service and further training. I am not decrying the essential part played by other local authority staff or by the volunteer, but the volunteer needs to work under the supervision of a trained social worker, a point which Lord Redcliffe-Maud made. There is a wide and varied area in which the volunteer can play a vital role and, as Lady Young said, we need more of them, but they must work under the supervision of qualified social workers.

There are those who say that if Government place such emphasis on training they should make additional resources available, and on the face of it that does not seem an unreasonable argument. Training is, however, basically the responsibility of the employer, in this case the local authority. The help that Government can give to local authorities through the rate support grant is, we all recognise, strictly limited. Within that help it is for each authority to determine its own priorities, and I was interested to read the following in a recent bulletin issued by the Personal Social Services Council: Faced with the stark choice of committing all their resources to meeting increasing demands for service or of deliberately setting aside funds for planned improvement in training, statutory and voluntary agencies should make conscious decisions about the type and quality of the services they aim to provide". I say in no sense of criticism that that must be done in some measure by local authorities. In the present economic climate it may not be possible for the social services departments of local authorities to embark on certain schemes at the expense of the sort of work that social workers do in the face-to-face relationship. Thai may, in the last analysis, be much more important than embarking on certain schemes for perhaps a more limited section of the community.

Always assuming that the Government could make additional money available, the Government are in the situation that there would be many competing demands; if one did it for one, one must do it for everybody else, and there immediately comes to mind, say, education, the police, industry and the Armed Forces. I wonder whether we could in all honesty argue in this period that social work training, however important, must have precedence over every other responsibility of central and local government. I do not think we could. In a sense it hurts me to say that because, unashamedly, I have a bias, but one must look at it from the point of view of the Government. The Government must preserve a balance and if they make a grant in this direction, what about the other competing demands? I am surprised that they have got away with £500,000 without anybody questioning that it should have gone in some other direction.


My Lords, as to nobody having queried the £500,000, that shows how much they thought it was the right thing to do, although we feel that perhaps it was not quite enough. When the noble Lord refers to other competing fields, I would point out that in education, health and other caring professions all are trained and are working towards being a trained profession. I know that in teaching and medicine they have had a long struggle. It is therefore natural that the social worker should continue to struggle to be skilled in the ways needed to give a good service.


My Lords, the noble Baroness has no need to convince me of that. That is perfectly true, but the Government are always in an invidious position and, when they give money in one direction, how are they to answer the demands from other directions?

After consulting the local authority associations and the Central Council for Education and Training for Social Work, my right honourable friend has done everything to safeguard training for this year. He has, with some difficulty—and I know this to be the case—prized out £500,000 from existing services in order to increase the number of grants given by my Department to graduate students. As I said, this will provide an additional 300 grants this year, which could well completely safeguard the position of graduate CQSW courses. The increase of grants to 300 people means that the proportion of post-graduate CQSW places in England and Wales which will be grant-aided by the DHSS and the Welsh Office has increased the number for graduates from about 37 per cent. to about 56 per cent. That is a substantial increase.

This injection of money will also help in other ways, in that some authorities may consider seconding non-graduates in the place of graduates whom they intend to second and who can now obtain a grant, so this may provide an opening for non-graduates. We are also considering whether some support would he possible to enable certain Certificates for Social Service schemes to get started, and my right honourable friend has urged local authorities to do their best to maintain their support for non-graduates.

So much for this year. What is the situation in the future? Our ultimate aim must be to ensure that, within the requirements of the social services, anyone needing support for training will get it. But, for the present, we are constrained by the resources available. We cannot expect additional resources specifically for training. But we can look at how we can use those that we have to see whether we can employ them to greater effect. To that end, my right honourable friend has already had discussions with the local authority associations, the Association of Metropolitan Areas and the Association of County Councils, and there will be further meetings in the foreseeable future to see whether anything further can be done to ease the present situation.

There is one way in which much better use might be made of training resources. The manpower Working Party noted that the practice of seconding staff was generous and suggested that staff under the age of 25 might receive grants instead. This in itself would increase the number of students who could be supported for a given sum of money. It would require the transfer of some funds earmarked by social services authorities for secondment to local education authorities for disbursement as grants, and we hope that the local authorities will consider this. It is part of the present discussions.

There are several ways in which the present system of support for training might be reorganised, and this matter has been touched on by a number of speakers this evening. Again, if I remember correctly, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, raised the matter of mandatory grants last October. There has been pressure for the grants provided by local education authorities to be mandatory. When the noble Baroness raised the matter, I thought that she was given a reasonable, fair and adequate answer. My right honourable friend has discussed this since then with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The introduction of mandatory grants would require primary legislation, but I do not think that that is at all important. One could deal with that, other things being equal. However, this could not be regarded as a short term solution. Mandatory grants for non-graduate CQSW courses present some difficulties, not the least being that, in practice, it would be very difficult to resist demands to extend the scope of mandatory awards to virtually all students on advanced or special courses, so that we should be back again where we started. Give mandatory grants to a certain group of social workers and immediately one will have a demand that mandatory grants should be given to students for advanced courses in other fields and other disciplines, or some sort of special courses in other disciplines. This, again, is a problem that we cannot at the moment overcome, although it is a matter that will be allowed to lie on the table.

We have also considered the possibility of my Department taking over the provision of grants for non-graduates as it does for graduates. Apart from the administrative problems—and, again I do not attach a great deal of importance to those—it would do nothing to resolve the problem of finding the money now, and it is money now that we are concerned with. The formation by local authorities of a central pool of training funds has been suggested and there are a number of ways in which this could be done. However, I think it is a very remote possibility that it could be done in time for next October. On the other hand, it may well be that, as a result of the present crisis, we can come up with something that will take effect in 1978.

I cannot say which of these measures will he found feasible, or whether we can improve upon the present system. I realise that this cannot be much of a comfort to those Members of your Lordships' House who are as deeply concerned about the present position as I am, but this is also a matter which my right honourable friend will be discussing with the various bodies concerned. We recognise that concern and, although I have not been particularly helpful this evening, I do not want your Lordships to go away feeling we are not really concerned about the adequate training of social workers or that we are quite content to leave the situation as it is.

There is a good deal going on behind the scenes at present, and I know that my right honourable friend hopes that something can be done to improve the position beyond what it is at the present moment. For my part, I hope that something can be done, and I know that there are many people who will be constantly pressing my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to do something. I feel that—and this is where I came in—this discussion tonight, by informed people who clearly have not only conviction but a really deep concern for what is happening at present, can only serve a useful purpose and show my right honourable friend the Secretary of State that this is a matter of deep concern to people who are fully informed of the situation and who have some experience in this rather remarkable field of professional social work.