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Issue:- 18/19  November 2009


UNISON, the UK’s largest public sector union, has accused councils of fuelling suspicion and undermining public confidence in social workers, by barring them from speaking out in the media.

On the anniversary of the verdict of those involved in the tragic death of Baby Peter, the union is calling on councils to get the public to back social workers, by shining a light on their day-to-day work.  To restore confidence in social workers, the public needs to be given the facts. Social workers deal with around 568,000 child referrals in the UK every year. Setting up a child protection plan requires intensive investigation and work with the child, the family and other agencies, including police and the health service.  Since the Baby Peter case, UNISON branches report a 25% to 50% increase in the number of calls from the public and agencies, reporting suspicions about child abuse or neglect. This creates severe pressures on understaffed departments.

Helga Pile, UNISON National Officer for Social Workers, said:- "Social workers have nothing to hide. Of course they observe client confidentiality, but they should be allowed to play their part in helping the public understand wheat they do and the pressures they work under. But they are gagged from doing so by many councils. That drives a wedge of suspicion between them and the public. They work with some of the most vulnerable and troubled people in our society - people who don't have a voice, and it's sad that the professionals who work with them are prevented from having one too.  Councils could make a real difference by letting the public see what front-line social workers achieve every day. “

Commenting on the impact of the Baby P case, Social worker A –a Unison steward and children’s social worker, said:- "Despite the difficulties the profession faces I continue to call myself a social worker with great pride. Why? – because I can see the positive impact of my work on the lives of the people I work with, many of whom are some of the most vulnerable members of society. I also witness the commitment and skilfulness of my colleagues as they go about their work implementing interventions that change people’s lives for the better.  For me the biggest impact of the baby P case was the very public devaluing of social work generally as a profession. This left many social workers, including myself, feeling dispirited, vulnerable and annoyed at the way the work of so many dedicated and skilled practitioners was rendered invisible. This has created a less than positive atmosphere to work in and has led to more children being taken into care.”

Social worker B, UNISON social work convenor in a county council and a social worker said:- "Child protection and family support social workers were condemned nationally at the time, but had no direct way to respond other than to remain committed and dedicated to their jobs. There has been a significant increase in referrals, the general public are more aware of their responsibilities and partner agencies are sharing information at an earlier stage. This in turn has an impact on caseloads, personal stress and professional anxiety.  As a workforce, social workers cannot publicise their successes but as a profession they have remained dedicated and committed in the face of the rising tide of referrals of an increasingly serious and complex nature. As a workforce we need to be proud of what we do achieve, recognise how much good work we are doing and how important it is to work with other agencies to support and protect vulnerable children."


THE first major new negotiating body to be set up in the public sector for around 30 years, has been given the royal assent.  Around 700,0000 teaching assistants, nursery staff, administrators, secretaries, policy officers, technicians, cleaners, special needs staff, caretakers and school meals workers are covered by the new body, which provides national guidelines for their pay and conditions.

Christina McAnea, Head of Education for UNISON, which represents more than 250,000 school workers, welcomed the new body saying:- “Today is, in a very real sense, an historic day. It is the first time in almost 30 years that a major new national negotiating body has been established and I am delighted school support staff are being given a voice of their own.  For too long the vital contribution they make in sustaining children throughout their school years has gone unrecognised and undervalued.  The body will oversee and ensure fair and equal pay alongside a robust training and career structure to apply in all schools.”


CHILDREN from St Vincent de Paul Primary School have restored their vandalised allotment gardens thanks to Merseyside Police’s city centre neighbourhood team and Tesco, Brownlow Hill.

Following an environmental clean up in the Canning area, Sergeant Stacey Pope had the idea of recycling abandoned tyres by giving them to the school to use as planters.

Merseyside Police had the tyres and the compost delivered to the school, while Tesco, Brownlow Hill purchased seasonal seeds and bulbs. Sergeant Pope, Constable Ian Middleton and Hannah Pilling, manager of the Tesco store then went to the school and helped the pupils from Class 2 plant the winter seeds, ready for a bright spring.

Mr Stewart, Headteacher of St Vincent de Paul Primary School comments:- “After the school’s allotment was vandalised, the children were really upset. We're really pleased that with the help of Merseyside Police and Tesco, we've been able to replant it. The children from Class 2 had lots of fun on the day and really enjoyed working with the police officers. Now the whole school is looking forward to seeing the new plants bloom in the spring.”

The Class have now been put forward for a Blue Peter Green Badge for being environmentally friendly and creative in the use of discarded items which blight the community they live in.

Picture shows the staff, pupils, Sergeant Pope and Hannah Pilling after planting seeds in the vandalised allotment garden.


UNISON, the UK’s leading public sector trade union, is calling for a million affordable homes to be built in the lifetime of the next parliament, to help house the million plus families* who are on social housing waiting lists.  The call comes as UNISON launches research**, at the House of Commons showing that councils are well placed to be providers of affordable, eco-friendly homes that meet local needs and boost local economies.

The report, written by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), reflects on the lack of new council house building***, and shines a light on the changes needed to make council house building a reality in the current economic climate.  The report welcomes recent government funding for new building programmes, but finds that the future for publicly provided council housing is still uncertain.

As an important step in the right direction, the union is calling on the government to place a duty on local authorities to start a public building programme for a new generation of council houses. If remaining legal, technical and financial barriers are brought down, says the union, longer term building programmes could shoot up.

Speaking at the launch, Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary, will say:- “Housing is one of the key components of our Million Voices for public services campaign. Decent homes are a pre-requisite for decent health, decent education and a decent quality of life.  One of the reasons we have record waiting lists is because there are now one million fewer homes for social rent than there were in 1979. The private sector is not building homes, so there has to be a clear duty on the public sector to step in.

We want to see a million affordable homes built in the lifetime of the next Parliament with local authorities having a far bigger role in delivering those new homes.   The APSE report shows that with the political will, council housing can deliver a significant number of the homes we need.  Council housing is good value for money. There are huge benefits to the wider economy and to local economies by employing building workers. It can also help prevent another housing and debt bubble by providing more affordable homes”.

Paul O’Brien, chief executive of APSE, will say:- “We have been campaigning for years for councils to fulfil their house-building potential and are pleased to see that politicians are finally listening. While new funding opportunities offer a promising start and a chance for councils to show what they can deliver, we would like to see a more substantial programme to enable a whole new generation of sustainable council housing in the future.”

The research found that:-

Need. There is a clear need for affordable housing, with one million fewer homes available for rent from councils and housing associations than in 1979. Councils are well placed to deliver homes in a way that meets local needs.

Opportunity. There has been progress of late on addressing barriers to council building. Recent opportunities for council building in the form of the Homes and Communities Agency Local Authority New Build programme and the Scottish government’s programme are providing welcome resources for the fist time in decades. But councils are well placed to be building in much more significant volume. They are democratically accountable, have land available, are familiar with planning policies, are credit worthy and can deliver new homes in a way that meets a range of holistic community needs and aspirations.

Vision. It is important to have political commitment and a vision of what council building can deliver in terms of community leadership and cohesion, sustainability and boosting local economies, as well as providing much-needed affordable housing. Programmes that are getting under way are high-quality, eco-friendly developments in sustainable communities rather than high-volume, low quality estates of the past.

Skills. Lack of skills and capacity is not an insurmountable barrier as local authorities have vast experience of generic skills that can be applied to house-building; such as project management, sustainable development and partnership working.

The report recommends:-

1. The government should place a duty on councils to provide homes in their local communities, in partnership with other bodies where appropriate.

2. Remaining legal and financial barriers to council house building should be tackled.

3. Government policy should be reversed to put local authorities back into position as significant housing providers, allowing council housing to grow to become a quality affordable option for all, not just a safety net for some.

4. Councils need clear guidance and support in developing their house-building capacity after decades during which they were denied resources and opportunities to build.

5. A sustainable long-term approach to a new generation of council housing is required, with adequate ongoing funding rather than a ‘quick fix’ approach.

6. The economic benefits of a new generation of council housing, such as using Community Benefits Clauses to maximise economic benefits and training opportunities, should be fully explored.

Background Information:-

*There are currently 4 million people, 1.6million households on social housing waiting lists in the UK, up from 1 million in 2001.

**The report, ‘A New Generation of Council Housing: An Analysis of Need, Opportunity, Vision and Skills’, was produced by the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) for UNISON.

***Broxtowe Borough Council built 12 new council houses in 2006, making it responsible for 10% of new council houses in England that year.

The report was published on Wednesday, 11 November 2009 in the House of Commons, committee room 6 House of Commons. Speakers are:-

Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON
John Healey, Housing Minister
Paul O’Brien, Chief Executive, APSE

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