Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Claims against Social Workers

I appeared as a guest on Radio 5 Live last Thursday in response to a story that had appeared on the BBC News Website about claims against Local Authorities for failing to look after children in care, resulting in them being allowed to remain in abusive environments, instead of being taken into care, to a place of safety. The gist of the online story was that, in times of cutbacks, tax payers should not be burdened with claims for compensation, and that claims instead should be made against the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (they are a government body who compensate the victims of crimes of violence). Naturally the tenet of the story got me a little enraged.

I was joined on the news item by Sarah Erwin from solicitors who act on the other side for insurers, and an independent social worker. Almost to my  disbelief, the expert opened by saying he did serious case reviews, and came across cases where the social worker wanted to take the child into care, but was overruled by his/her manager who refused to act on financial grounds. In other words it was too costly to take a child into care. The argument was extended to say that, as resources become more stretched and budget constraints get  worse, the problem will increase.

I explained that the question of individuals not being allowed to make claims against social services where there had been a clear breach of duty of care, was something which had been looked at by not only the House of Lords, but also the European Court, due the state of English Law at the time, which afforded social workers immunity from civil suit.  Human rights law dictated that individuals be free to make claims where appropriate, unhampered by any argument, that it is contrary to public policy that certain types of professional be immune from litigation.

It was suggested that if litigation made it unattractive to do social work, there  must be a recruitment  crisis fuelled by compensation claims. I suggested that the government should invest sufficient resources into protecting children from harm, and anything less was unacceptable.

In reality the high cost of claims such as those under discussion are entirely under the control, not of Councils, but their insurers, whose only concern is the saving of money, not the welfare of individuals whose condition will undoubtedly be made worse by an antagonistic, contentious attitude to litigation.

Sad though it may be, the future in the world of cutbacks, does not bode well for the care of children by the welfare state. I am in no doubt that the mistakes being made right now will escalate, and the welfare of children will take more of a backseat to the saving of money caused by government cutbacks. One way of stopping this, it appears to be argued, is to stop people making claims. That is the world of Stalin, not even the severe world of Conservatism.

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