Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/673/12135
The Socialist 1 June 2011 |
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Shoesmith sacking - social work under growing pressure
Sharon Shoesmith, former Director of Children's Services in Haringey, north London, was removed by Ed Balls when he was children's minister after the Baby P scandal. She recently won her appeal over the sacking. Shoesmith was sacked without a chance to defend herself but Balls wanted a scapegoat.
Predictably the yellow press - Sun, Express and Mail - howled about the compensation she would be due, including back pay from the time of her sacking in December 2008.
Where should socialists stand? The death of a child is a scandal, on any level. In this case there were foul-ups with every agency - social services, police and health. All these agencies we know to be under-resourced and hard-pressed.
Shoesmith pointed out that it could take three to four months even to get the police to allocate an officer to a case. But will these problems go away if cuts deepen, jobs disappear and privatisation is extended - all of which the Sun, Express and Mail support?
I'm very glad that I never worked as a social worker in Haringey. I can't imagine what it is like to be covering for colleagues off with stress, seeing your caseload swell as colleagues leave and are not replaced, answering the phone at 3am when you're on call, wondering if it's one of 'your' registered children who's in hospital or worse.
Of course these pressures are infinitely worse on frontline workers than on senior managers, and harder to bear when you're on £26,000 a year than when you are (as Shoesmith reportedly was) on £133,000. It's also true that most workers on the receiving end of an arbitrary sacking can't afford to take their employer to the High Court.
But natural justice and trade union principles dictate that we support the right to a proper defence procedure for anyone sacked from their post summarily.
For once, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis (who has done a bit of witch-hunting of his own in his time) was right to welcome the verdict.