The social care system is at breaking point, with 88% of social workers fearing that cuts are putting vulnerable children's lives at risk.
Nearly five years after the death of Baby P, Peter Connelly, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) issued a warning about the "dire" state of the profession as a survey showed high proportions of social workers are concerned about unmanageable caseloads.
Of 1,100 social workers surveyed by the association in two weeks in March, 88% said vulnerable lives could be put at risk by cuts to services, and 85% had seen notable cuts to services in the last 12 months. Some 77% were concerned about unmanageable caseloads; 65% were concerned about use of unqualified staff; and 46% said they were afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions.
The BASW said despite Government pledges to protect frontline services, cuts had increased caseloads and stopped social workers from spending time with vulnerable children and adults.
One social worker reported working at "dangerous caseload levels" while another described the situation in their team as "another serious case review waiting to happen".
Peter Connelly was 17 months old when he died in Tottenham, north London, at the hands of his mother Tracey, her violent partner Steven Barker and his brother Jason Owen on August 3, 2007. He suffered more than 50 injuries despite being on the at-risk register and receiving 60 visits from social workers, police and health professionals in an eight-month period.
The scandal prompted Government pledges to transform social services. But the BASW survey found social workers said cuts in back office staff meant they are spending even more time on administration than before, including having to clean toilets, buy their own stamps and clean their own offices instead of spending the time they need with children and adults at serious risk of harm.
BASW said it has written to Education Secretary Michael Gove to raise its concerns about the state of social work, and is also urging the All Party Parliamentary Committee on Social Work to hold an urgent inquiry into the risks to vulnerable children and adults of an overstretched social work service.
The association called on the Government and local authorities to take three steps, urging them to: take immediate measures to reallocate local authority administrative staff from less critical roles; place a moratorium on any further cuts to social work allowances or the introduction of any new charges; and to ensure that Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) prioritise the risks of high caseloads in inspections and try to uncover bullying.
Hilton Dawson, BASW chief executive, said: "The survey statistics are damning, and the hundreds of comments we have had from social workers are deeply alarming."