The COVID-19 Effect On Flexible Working: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Dr Nayyara TabassumDr. Nayyara Tabassum is Evidence Officer in the Centre for Ageing Better. (828 words)

In the UK, as soon as the lockdown was announced by Boris Johnson in his televised address on 23 March 2020, one of the first things a lot of employers did was to announce that all staff would need to start working flexibly, with immediate effect. Overnight, companies that did not even have a flexible working policy, reviewed their policies and allowed employees to start working from home.

Research vs Pre-COVID Reality

While research has always shown the business benefits of flexible working on employee productivity and wellbeing, there was not enough buy-in from employers and there were lots of misconceptions and stigma attached to flexible working.

Now with the COVID-19 outbreak, employers have wholeheartedly adopted technology for staff to continue working remotely during lockdown. Job sectors, such as the insurance and banking sectors, which were previously quite averse to flexible working, also allowed staff to work flexibly during the lockdown. The results of this flexible working experiment thanks to the pandemic was that a lot of job sectors are now acknowledging that businesses can continue as usual even when staff work flexibly from home. Continue reading

Embracing New Technology and Social Media to Prevent Homelessness: How COVID-19 is impacting on support workers in the criminal justice system

In this post, Stan Burridge, Director of Expert Focus (a user-led consultancy), reports on how COVID-19 is impacting on workers who support people leaving prison to find accommodation and resettle in the community. He speaks to two workers from the Cumbria Offender Service run by Humankind, a medium-sized voluntary sector organisation based in the north of England. (1,388 words)

Thinking about your job before the lockdown, what is your normal role like?

There are a number of different roles I play supporting offenders who have either been released after serving a prison sentence or as part of a community-based sentence involving probation. All of my work fits into the wider picture of helping them to find a stable platform (securing accommodation and claiming benefits is part of that process) so they can engage with other services as part of their sentencing commitments but also as a way of moving forward and hopefully away from committing crime.

What are the difficulties in finding accommodation for people leaving prison, especially as housing is at a premium?

There is a real difficulty in getting people housed and in an ideal world everyone who was released from prison would have somewhere to go, but that is not the case. Often when accommodation is found it is in areas where there is a lot of crime and drug use, so it seems as though we are often perpetuating people’s problems. Options to place people in less deprived areas are limited and the harsh reality is if I couldn’t get someone housed in those sorts of areas, I probably wouldn’t be able to get them housed anywhere, so they would be homeless. Continue reading

COVID-19 pandemic – the view from Australia

Dr Bernadette Moorhead is Lecturer in Social Work and Human Services at the Wagga Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University in New South Wales, Australia. This is the first in a series of dispatches from the academic social work community across the world as services adapt to conditions under the COVID-19 pandemic. (309 words)

Hello from Australia,

To say that social workers have faced major challenges in recent months in Australia is perhaps an understatement. The community services sector was already under significant strain at the beginning of this year, as practitioners were on the frontline of support for families and communities devastated by unprecedented bushfires. Disaster recovery and ecosocial work have been growing areas of practice in Australia, and certainly will continue to be as many communities, especially in rural and regional areas, try to recover from the trauma of the bushfires, as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic that has decimated many local economies.

Despite these crises, we are seeing a great deal of innovative practice, as well as collective action, with Australian social workers making extensive use of online platforms to share resources, provide updates and deliver professional development opportunities. Face to face contact with client groups continues in many fields, especially child welfare (in line with social distancing provisions). We have also seen a major increase in the use of technology to stay connected with service participants. An important and much needed injection of government funds across the sector has been used by some organisations to purchase devices for client groups, such as iPads and phones, in order to enhance their access to support services.  However, there are still large gaps in infrastructure across the country, which makes accessing the internet a challenge for many, especially disadvantaged communities. The need for further advocacy and community development practice that improves infrastructure so that people can stay connected is at the forefront of our minds.

If you are interested in hearing more here is a 6 min podcast by the National President of the Australian Association of Social Work, Christine Craik.

Take care everyone and stay safe.

Bernadette Moorhead, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia.

Dr Moorhead recently co-authored an article with Jill Manthorpe and Mary Baginsky: An Examination of Support and Development Mechanisms for Newly Qualified Social Workers Across the UK: Implications for Australian Social Work, Practice, 32:2, 145-159.

Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia

This is the first in a series of dispatches from the academic social work community across the world as services adapt to conditions under the COVID-19 pandemic. The series is co-ordinated by Dr Mary Baginsky, Senior Research Fellow at the NIHR Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce, King’s College London. See a listing of this Unit’s COVID-19 related work.

Child and family welfare services: where do we go next?

Dr Carl Purcell, NIHR Health and Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London. His book, The Politics of Children’s Services Reform: Re-examining Two Decades of Policy Change, is just out. (849 words)

As we emerge from the current crisis, we must rethink how we resource and deliver child and family welfare services. The incredible contribution made by everybody working in the NHS is now widely appreciated. But we must remember that there are many others working to protect the most vulnerable in our society who also deserve our recognition. Furthermore, as we move, tentatively, towards easing the lockdown the skills, knowledge and dedication of teachers, childcare workers and social workers, to name just a few, will be vital to ensuring that we are able to identify and support the most vulnerable children and families.

However, as we place greater demands on schools, local authorities and a vast array of voluntary sector agencies we must recognise that before the current crisis our child and family welfare system was already under significant strain. In my new book I reflect upon recent national policy developments to help explain how we arrived in this position. As we chart a way forward, three aspects of the contemporary system need to be addressed.

First, we need to reconsider the extent to which, and how, we provide financial assistance to those who need it most. Since 2010 welfare payments and tax breaks offered to the poorest families have been reduced or withdrawn. Progress made in reducing child poverty over the preceding decade has been reversed, with over 4 million children now living in poverty, many of them in working households (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2018). Moreover, the current crisis has demonstrated how precarious and insecure many people’s jobs are, and we have seen record increases in benefit claims. Many more families have been pushed beneath the poverty line.

Second, more resources are needed to fund the child and family welfare services we need to help us identify and support the most vulnerable children and families. In response to rising demand and declining budgets, local authorities have been forced to prioritise spending on specialist children’s social care services over the last decade to ensure that they can respond to the most serious cases of child abuse and neglect. But this has meant that funding for universal ‘early intervention’ services such as children’s centres and youth services has been almost cut in half (Action for Children et al 2019). Our capacity to identify and respond to families most in need of support, and before more draconian interventions are necessary, is greatly diminished at a time when it is needed most.

Third, it is imperative that the design and delivery of services must involve those who lead welfare agencies, those working on the frontline, and children and families themselves. They are best placed to understand what is needed and to advise on how we can make best use of the resources available. Recent reforms to children’s services have been too top-down and have tended to view organisational restructuring as a magic bullet. Labour’s Every Child Matters programme required the break-up of social services departments and the creation of new children’s services departments in every local authority. More recently, Conservative ministers have promoted the outsourcing of children’s social care services in response to apparent ‘failings’ at the local level. In both cases concerns raised by those working in the sector were largely ignored, and valuable resources have been diverted. Yet bold promises made by ministers to fix the system are never delivered.

If we look further back to the development of the Children Act 1989, which continues to provide the legal cornerstone for child and family welfare services even after three decades of subsequent reform, valuable lessons can be learned. This legislation, developed under a Conservative Government, involved extensive research involving those working to support children and families, supported but not micro-manged by central government. Going forward, we must pool our resources and ensure that government policymakers, researchers and those working directly with children and families all pull in the same direction.

Carl Purcell (2020) The Politics of Children’s Services Reform: Re-examining Two Decades of Policy Change (Bristol, Policy Press) is published on 29 April 2020.

Reviews

“Erudite and relevant to all immersed in helping children and families. It gives a riveting account of developments and debates and describes the journey which has created the context for today’s children’s services. An impressive book that will have currency well into the future.” Ray Jones, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London

“This book is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in recent child welfare policy. Drawing on an impressive range of high level interviewees, Purcell provides a readable and coherent account of child welfare policy making with valuable insights that illuminate the contemporary situation.” Nick Frost, Leeds Beckett University

References

Action for Children, National Children’s Bureau, NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), The Children’s Society and Barnardo’s (2019) ‘Children and young people’s services: funding and spending 2010/ 11 to 2017/ 18’.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2018) ‘UK poverty 2018’.

From desk to doorstep

Living well with dementia is important, though there may come a time when initiating social contact becomes a challenge. For some people living with dementia there may be increased isolation. For those living with a partner or family and friends, as dementia progresses their daily care needs may be hard to manage or support.

Attending a day service which offers stimulating activities, whilst at the same time providing respite for family carers, benefits not only the person with dementia, but also helps families continue their support.

The COVID-19 lockdown brought an end to this overnight.

Foreseeing the psychological or emotional consequences of the loss of day centre support, one day centre has switched to offering daily support via phone calls to its former attenders and their carers. Additionally, as day centre staff have great experience in providing ‘customer care’ to relatives, they quickly became part of the COVID-19 Emergency Shielding Residents Response. Continue reading

Impact of social distancing when you’re already socially excluded

Stan Burridge is an ex-rough sleeper and an HSCWRU Peer-researcher. He is Director of Expert Focus, a user-led organisation that supports the involvement of people with lived experience in homelessness research and policy. Here, Stan talks to four ex-rough sleepers about their experiences of living through the Coronavirus pandemic. Names of participants have been changed. (1,825 words)

Like everyone one else, I have watched in fear as the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic has sent shockwaves around the world. In the middle of March, I saw the first glimpse of what appeared to be some good news. Hidden in a small paragraph, in the pages of a tabloid newspaper, a caption read, ‘Homeless people to be moved into hotels’. I questioned if this really could be true. Would every homeless person be given a bed, somewhere warm and a place to hide from the pandemic sweeping the nation? Unbelievably, it wasn’t fiction. When the action began it was swift. There were armies of voluntary sector workers lined up, ready for the task which lay ahead to ‘Test, Triage, Cohort and Treat’. Within days, most were moved from the street. But what is happening to people now they are gone from view? Is life all rosy or are there hidden problems which we are not thinking about, not taking care of? I spoke via telephone to four people with ‘lived experience’ of homelessness about their experiences of the impact of Coronavirus and social distancing. This is what they said.

Jane (living in temporary accommodation) Social distancing means that I am basically on my own all the time now. If I do go out it’s only once a week, maybe twice at a push, to get shopping and my medication. Even then, I am staying as far away from people as I possibly can. I am not talking to anyone when I am out unless I have to. The chemist asked me if I minded him signing my prescription because of the risk of catching the virus, all of the staff have face masks and gloves and there is a plastic screen by the counter. Getting stuff from the shops is getting better this week, but at one point because the supermarket didn’t have any toilet rolls I had to walk to another shop, this was a struggle as I am disabled. It was a worthless walk as they wanted £8.99 for two toilet rolls. How am I supposed to be able to pay those prices for ‘bog roll’ when all I get is benefits? I go out really early, about 6 or 7 in the morning so there is no-one else around. I live in a building with lots of bedsits, and I have to use the lift to get out of my building. If there is someone in the lift, I will wait, I won’t get in the lift with them. Luckily, I am on ‘happy pills’ from my doctor which help a bit, but it is draining, and yesterday I couldn’t even muster up the energy go out and get milk because I am getting more depressed each day. I am far away from anyone I know, feeling totally isolated and if I run out of credit on my phone I don’t know what I would do. I’ve got a key worker who is now on limited hours and when he comes to see me we talk through the closed door; he is on the outside in the corridor. I really trust him, but I can’t talk to him about how I am feeling at the moment because other people can hear, it’s not private. It is simple things like this which people forget. Even though I hate what is happening to me and being alone is really getting me down, it is better than sleeping on the streets again. I have seen a beggar – he had a sign asking people not to give him money but to buy him food. How are homeless people going to get fed if they haven’t got any money? I wonder what will happen to everyone who is now in a hotel; will they just get chucked out again, back to the street? Continue reading

International Women’s Day, 8th March 2020: Remembering the achievements for health and social care of some great women in South London

Caroline Green, who is NIHR ARC South London Post-Doctoral Fellow, reflects on the lives of prominent women figures in the health and social care context in South London. (838 words)

International Women’s Day is an annual celebration of the achievements of women and a day to put special emphasis on raising awareness of gender bias and taking action for gender equality. Women contribute significantly to England’s health and adult social care. The adult social care workforce is dominated by women, with 83% of the workforce being female. In 2017, 77% of NHS health workers were women. However, beyond “holding up” England’s health and social care system, women have revolutionized it at many points in time. This blog post looks back at some significant female figures in South London, who have shaped health and social care either directly or indirectly. This list is of course not exhaustive. Countless women with a diversity of backgrounds are driving today’s health and social care provision in South London and have done so for many years. Yet, the stories of the women below offer an indication of the rich female history of health and social care in this part of London:

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Florence Nightingale is widely considered the founder of modern nursing and a social reformer of health and social care. She first gained prominence as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War, looking after wounded soldiers. In 1860, she established the nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, the first secular nursing school in the world, and now part of King’s College London. Many say that Nightingale here laid the foundation of professional nursing, with the International Nurses Day celebrated annually on her birthday. Nightingale’s social justice work extended to the abolition of prostitution laws, advocating for hunger relief in India and expanding acceptable forms of female participation in the workforce. Continue reading

Is the answer to the NHS workforce crisis right in front of its eyes?

Richard Griffin MBE,Visiting Senior Research Fellow, King’s Business School, today begins a series of guest posts on the healthcare workforce. He argues that, in the face of the widely acknowledged problem of shortages in this workforce, we should turn to current NHS support staff for part of the solution. (477 words)

Workforce is the biggest challenge facing the NHS. Not only is it short of 50,000 nurses, it also needs more podiatrists, midwives, radiographers and a host of other occupations. Total vacancies are approaching 110,000.

Whilst the government is committed to addressing this shortfall, a key question is – where will all those extra nurses, podiatrists, midwives and radiographers come from? Continue reading

At the Society for the Study of Addiction Annual Conference

Stephanie Bramley is a Research Associate at the NIHR Health & Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London. (690 words)

Unit researcher Stephanie Bramley attended the Society for the Study of Addiction Annual Conference on  7th and 8th November 2019 in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.  During the conference Stephanie presented Unit research – Improving understanding of migrant gambling in the UK: Insights from three studies.

Day one of the conference covered a range of topics including the use of medical cannabis in the U.K.; the marketisation of addiction treatment provision; addiction and vulnerable populations; and for the first time a session about gambling addiction. Continue reading

Social Austerity – Child Protection and Human Rights

Dr Mary Baginsky

Dr Mary Baginsky

Senior Research Fellow at HSCWRU, Dr Mary Baginsky, reports from a conference that took place in Komotini, Greece,1-3 November. (456 words)

I spent last week in the small Greek city of Komotini which nestles in the foothills of the Rhodope Mountains near to the borders of Turkey and Bulgaria. It has a minority Muslim population, many of whom came from Turkey originally and formed a protected population under the Treaty of Lausanne. They have mostly chosen to stay in Greece through to recent times.

The Democritus University of Thrace was established in July 1973 and is based in Komotini, Greece, with other campuses in Xanthi, Alexandroupoli and Orestiada. The Social Work Department was established in the 1990s. I was invited to contribute to a conference on Social Austerity – Child Protection and Human Rights. Most of the contributions were in Greek with intermittent simultaneous translation. In addition to finding it difficult to concentrate on the translation when animated presenters were more of a draw, the fact that the written programme was all in Greek meant that the subject of each presentation was a surprise. Continue reading