Study warns of social services breakdown

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The Independent Online
STATE support for Britain's elderly poor and children at risk is heading for 'irretrievable breakdown' because of local government cuts and alienation among social workers, according to a study published today.

Growing demand for help amid dwindling resources is putting community care initiatives under severe strain and could bring social services to breaking point within two years without urgent remedial action. A year-long study of UK trends by a former senior adviser to the United States health department concludes that Britain's welfare systems are already showing symptoms of the long decline that has made their American counterparts unable to meet their obligations.

Professor Alvin Schorr says that Britain's social workers are developing a 'siege mentality', under frequent attack in the media over individual tragedies and unable to secure resources needed to help to prevent family breakdowns.

In the last four years, 60 per cent of social services directors have left their jobs and turnover of social workers is rising. 'The danger is not that personal social services will fail, but that in failing, they may become so badly disorganised that there is no road back,' Professor Schorr says. 'The time will come when no one knows how to restore these departments to sound functioning.'

About pounds 4bn is devoted to personal social services in the UK; including home helps, family centres and day care for children under five. The study of UK trends urges an extra pounds 1bn in spending over the next two years to avert a breakdown in services.

Professor Schorr also calls for an overhaul of state pensions, so that payments would increase at the age of 75, and again at 85. 'In the process, people would make their own arrangements about community care, without having to resort to personal social services,' he adds.

The Personal Social Services: An Outside View; Professor Alvin Schorr; Joseph Rowntree Foundation, The Homestead, 40 Water End, York YO3 6LP; pounds 7.50