NIPSA, the trade union which represents the vast majority of social workers in Northern Ireland has been in dispute with the Belfast Trust for over one year because of the Trust’s decision to save millions of pounds from family and childcare services to meet financial targets linked to what is known as the governments “efficiency savings” – in other words cuts.
Well-known tragedies such as the Baby P case in Britain have exposed the chronic underfunding of social care. In the event of a tragedy the responsibility does not lie with social workers struggling to meet additional demand but rather the responsibility lies with the Minister for Health and the Chief Executive and Chair of the Trust who have corporate parenting responsibility within the law.
This is the first industrial action by any group of workers so far since the package of cuts were introduced by the Northern Ireland Executive. This stance taken by social workers in Belfast should be applauded and supported by both the community and all other trade unions across Ireland and Britain. This action by social workers is even more commendable because it is not based on any personal gain by individual workers but on the need to provide the necessary resources to service children in Belfast most at risk. For this battle and for that matter all other battles against cuts in public services to be successful, NIPSA needs to put all its energy and resources at its disposal behind this fight.
Should there be no resolution to this dispute by the time of the Assembly elections, a question may need to be posed – should social workers in the forefront of this battle against cuts allow the politicians responsible for these cuts a free run in the election? That question must be given serious consideration in order to maximise the pressure to secure appropriate funding for family and childcare services in Belfast.