Letter: Real social work goes to the wall

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Sir: Joyce Brand's article on social work (9 April) risks a knee- jerk reaction in terms of old guard and new brooms - but that would not do justice to the issues it raises.

At stake is the loss of a skilled, established (albeit imperfect) means of addressing social need, with nothing of comparable effectiveness to put in its place. When I retired last year from mental health social work, my role was already being referred to as "care manager, also known as social worker". The scope for working face-to-face over a useful period of time with a client was rapidly giving way to the role of assessor/budget- holder, with its in-built conflict over perception of need against rationing of scarce resources.

This process of change has been pushed ahead in haste. It is naive of the Hackney councillor (letter, 11 April) to maintain that a new age of community care is dawning, courtesy of the private and voluntary sector. Yes, voluntary agencies have played an honourable and respected role for many years, but what we are now seeing is the proliferation of new, inexperienced and market-orientated agencies scrambling to take over the roles shed by local authorities, their success hanging largely on being able to offer services that are pared to the bone financially.

In this situation, "choice" for the user (the loudly hyped raison d'etre) is virtually non-existent, whilst monitoring of standards, and accountability, become increasingly difficult to guarantee. Meanwhile, the task of counselling those in distress is either squeezed in between crisis work and administrative tasks, or is simply going to the wall.

These are issues that impact on many, many people. With the general election pending, they deserve a high profile with the political parties and the electorate.

ALISON TERRINGTON

South Ruislip, Middlesex

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