D A V I D W H I T I N G
In 1971, I was elected to Southwark Council (London) for what I had been confident was an unwinnable ward. At the time I worked in the marketing department of IPC Business Press. My local government experience led me to identify a gap in the market for a serious professional review to be sustained by recruitment advertising revenue – of which there was likely to be a lot due to the expansion of social work at the time. This work led to the launch of Community Care, which succeeded because we managed to convince IPC that well targeted editorial investment would distinguish it from other recruitment media.
Local authority children’s and welfare services were reorganised into a generic service through the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970, which was based on the proposals of the Seebohm Report of 1968. When selected as a Council candidate, I was handed a copy of the Labour Party Local Government Handbook for England & Wales. Mine was the 1969 edition. I still have my copy, and reading it is to travel to a far distant country. Twelve pages out of 256 cover all of health, children’s services and welfare (adult social services were administered under the National Assistance Act 1947).
The structure of services was very much the same as existed in 1947 – for example, there was no integrated command for the health service which was divided between hospitals owned by the Department of Health; general practitioner, dental services and the like which were organised around local executive bodies; and local authorities who were responsible for maternity, ambulance, health visiting and public health (the last now returned to local authorities after 40 years with the NHS). The term ‘social worker’ is not used anywhere in this document.
I chose this Budget (London Borough of Southwark Financial Review 1975-76) because …
… The Social Services Committee Budget for 1975-76 reflects the transition to the new world. I suppose a modern reader will be most surprised that social services for a population of close to a quarter of a million in Southwark were provided for only £9.6 million (£70-75 million in today’s money). Southwark now spends two and a half times that. So much for Seebohm’s assertion ‘that these changes have no financial implications’.
Looking at the composition of the budget, there is a mix of the old and the new. The first line of the budget announces that £1.3million was spent on (generic) fieldwork – the new Seebohm ‘big idea’. Further down, sums listed for the traditional welfare services. More is spent on each of homes for children and homes for the elderly than on fieldwork. Domiciliary services in total also take a fair chunk of the money. Sheltered employment, day and training centres still loom large. It is notable that fieldwork comes in under-budget – there were not enough social workers to go round which is one reason there was so much recruitment advertising revenue available to the alert publisher.
Here are a few musings on this document:
- Reorganisations. The reorganisations of health and social services in the early 1970s represent the beginning of an accelerating trend to over-frequent reorganisations of public services in the UK. Politicians have few means to improve service delivery and have increasingly resorted to reorganisation out of frustration at their inability to make much of a difference.
- How to provide democratic oversight? How were local authority members meant to provide democratic oversight of this new service whose ethos and role must have seemed strange to many of them? Southwark Council members were mostly 60 years old and more. The older male councillors sat on the Highways and Works Committee, the older women on the Social Services Committee. Committee members were expected to make visits to residential homes and day centres and from time to time would set off together by coach to make their inspections, ending usually with a lunch at Cobs Corner restaurant. This may or may not have been effective. It is however hard to see how such an approach could be applied to a busy area office. There was little regard to how local authorities could make a contribution to the development of this new (and to many elected members mysterious) service.
- A young, committed but inexperienced workforce. The Seebohm reorganisation was implemented with little regard to workforce planning and the financial implications. A result was a very young workforce as authorities scrabbled to fill posts with newly qualified staff. Most field social workers were in their mid-20s, and team leaders were typically around 30. The workface was committed and energetic, but did not, on the whole, really understand the relationship between the services they provided and the local authorities which administered them.
- A golden era? Despite this, it was in some ways the best of times for English and Welsh social work. There was a real hope that social work might be effective in dealing with isolation and exclusion. Budgets were expanding, and there was a range of back-up services not now available. In 1975-76, for example, there were around 2,000 community children’s homes in Great Britain. These are now largely gone as a result of the ill-considered strategy of closing homes and replacing them in all but the most difficult cases with foster care – a ‘sudden irradiation of intelligence’ to quote Dr Johnson which does not seem to have been informed by a realistic assessment of how far foster care could stretch, Finally, the uncritical and poorly implemented privatisations of later decades had not really got under way, and, although new and inexperienced, the workforce was largely directly employed in established, permanent posts. Consultants and agency staff were not much in evidence.