William Eichler 22 September 2016

Social work in Scotland at ‘watershed’ moment

Public service users must play a more active role in shaping the future of social work in Scotland, report says.

The local government spending watchdog, the Accounts Commission, estimates social work will need up to £667m a year extra to function - on top of the £3.1bn already spent on providing services to vulnerable people.

A new report for the Accounts Commission, prepared by Audit Scotland, found this could only be avoided if new ways of delivering services are implemented.

The study argued this would require a wider debate with local people on the level, nature and affordability of services, and it also proposed more work is needed to involve users in how services are designed, commissioned and run.

Since 2011/12 social work spending has increased by 3%, according to the report, while overall councils' spending has fallen by 11%.

On top of these funding pressures, demand has also increased. The number of looked after children, for example, has risen by 36% since 2000.

Councils have made savings by reducing services and cutting costs.

Douglas Sinclair, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: ‘A critical test for any civilised society is how it provides for the needs of its most vulnerable people. Councils have coped well in recent years but Scotland is now facing a watershed.

‘Increasing pressures on social work and rising expectations of what it should deliver can only intensify. Now is the time for some frank discussions and hard choices. It is vital that people who use and provide services - and the wider public - are actively involved in that debate on future provision.’

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