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Public Knowledge of and Attitudes to Social Work in Scotland

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Chapter Three: Responsibility for Welfare

To help contextualise public views on social work and social workers, this opening chapter looks at attitudes to social welfare provision generally. In particular, it considers the desired role of the state, vis a vis that of families and individuals in providing different types of welfare and support.

In summary, the research indicates that people generally think that the state should assume a high level of responsibility for welfare provision and that in most cases provision should be universal. However, a significant minority of people appear to feel that those who can afford to pay for welfare services should do so. Moreover, the size of this minority varies depending on the specific form of welfare under consideration. Consistent with findings reported in later chapters, care for vulnerable groups such as older people and people with disabilities are deemed to be higher priorities for the state than other forms of provision. Views on the issue of welfare provision also seem to vary by class. Working class people tend to feel that individuals whose problems may be deemed 'self-inflicted' should take responsibility for their own welfare rather than relying on the state. More middle class groups, in contrast, tend to feel that the state has a duty to provide a 'safety net' for people experiencing difficulties, regardless of the nature of these. Middle class groups also tended to suggest that the ability of people to help themselves and others has been curtailed by the over-regulation of non-state sources of care and support.

Respondents in the survey were presented with 3 different scenarios, each depicting a person in need of care or support. The first described an elderly person showing signs of dementia; the second, a person with learning disabilities who experienced difficulties relating to others; and the third, a young mother with depression 5. For each scenario, respondents were asked to consider who should provide care for the person depicted - a friend or family member, or a care worker from outside the family- and who should pay for that care.

Responses varied considerably for each of the scenarios. Thus, whereas a clear majority felt that the elderly person should be looked after by a care worker from outside their family, opinion was more divided for the person with learning disabilities and the depressed mother. Around three in five said the person with learning disabilities would be best looked after by a care worker, while just over a third felt that a friend or family member would be a more appropriate source of support. The comparable figures for the depressed mother were more even, at 45% for a care worker and 50% for a family member.

Views on the question of who should pay for the care were more consistent across the three scenarios, with clear majorities in each case saying that responsibility lay with the state, as table 3.1 (below) illustrates. That said, the figure for the depressed mother was again a little lower than for the other two scenarios (61% compared with 79% for the elderly person and 75% for the person with learning disabilities). These differences are consistent with findings from the focus group research, detailed in later chapters, which show that people are more likely to prioritise social welfare provision for vulnerable groups, including older people, disabled people and childern, than for other segments of the population.

Table 3.1: Responsibility for welfare
Q Do you think it would be enough for (INSERT NAME) to be cared for by a friend or family member, or do you think they should have a care worker from outside the family?
Q Suppose that someone from outside the family has to provide care or assistance for (INSERT NAME). Do you think the state should pay for this help or do you think (INSERT NAME) should pay for it him/herself or should their family pay?

Base: All respondents, 1,015

Scenario 1 (Elderly)

Scenario 2 (Learning Disability)

Scenario 3 (Depression)

%

%

%

Responsibility for care

A friend/family member only

12

36

50

Need a care worker from outside the family

84

58

45

Don't know

4

6

6

Responsibility for paying for care

State should pay

79

75

61

Individual should pay themselves

2

4

12

Family should pay

2

5

7

Depends

14

12

15

Don't know

2

3

5

Source: MORI

People, who felt that the state should pay for the care in the scenarios were asked whether it should provide these types of care for everyone who needs it, or only for those people who cannot afford to pay for it themselves. In each case, around two-thirds of respondents said they felt the state should pay for everyone, as table 3.2 illustrates. There was some significant sub-group variation in the results however. In particular, people in higher managerial and professional occupations were significantly more likely than those in more routine occupations to feel that the state should always pay for help for people who can't afford to pay for it themselves. (table 3.3 below).

Table 3.2: Responsibility for welfare cont.
Q Should the state pay for this type of help for all people like (INSERT NAME) or should it only pay for those who can't afford to pay for themselves?
Q Do you think the state should pay for this type of help for people/families like (INSERT NAME) who can't afford to pay for themselves?

Scenario 1 (Elderly)

Scenario 2 (Learning Disability)

Scenario 3 (Depression)

%

%

%

Base: All who think the state should pay

(797)

(766)

(619)

Responsibility to pay

Should pay for everyone

69

67

61

State should only pay for those who can't afford it

27

30

36

Depends

4

3

3

Base: All who think the person should pay themselves or their family should pay

(45)

(90)

(183)

Responsibility to pay

State should pay for them

91

69

55

No, state should not pay for them

9

25

39

Depends

-

7

5

Source: MORI

Table 3.3: Responsibility for welfare, by NS- SEC analytic classes
Should the state pay for this type of help for all people like (INSERT NAME) or should it only pay for those who can't afford to pay for themselves?

State should pay for everyone

Scenario 1 (Elderly)

Scenario 2 (Learning Disability)

Scenario 3 (Depression)

%

%

%

Base: All who think the state should pay

(797)

(766)

(619)

All

69

67

61

Higher managerial/professional occupations

73

84

79

Lower managerial/professional occupations

75

75

66

Intermediate occupations

65

65

65

Small employer

57

62

58

Lower supervisory /technical occupations

71

68

61

Semi-routine occupations

69

64

53

Routine occupations

66

59

59

Never worked/long term unemployed

-

-

-

Source: MORI

People who felt it was the responsibility of the individuals or their families, to pay for their care, were asked whether they felt the state should pay for the care of people who can't afford it. Responses varied for the three scenarios. Around nine in 10 respondents felt that the state should pay for care for elderly people who can't afford to pay, while 69% felt it should pay for care for people with learning disabilities and 55% for people suffering from depression (table 3.2, above).

The focus group research shed further light on attitudes towards social welfare provision. Each group was shown a comprehensive list of social work services and asked whether they felt the state has a duty to provide these. While participants were unanimously in favour of some level of state provision, perceptions varied to a degree by class. Among ABC1s there was a consensus that the state should provide all of the services on the list, not least because demand for these is potentially universal, and because people may lack alternative sources of support. In essence, they considered it important that there is a safety net or 'structure' in place for people who are experiencing difficulties, whatever these may be. C2DEs also attached considerable value to state provided welfare, however, they tended to feel strongly that their taxes should not contribute towards services for offenders, or people with drug or alcohol problems. These groups, they suggested, have essentially created their own problems and therefore should be left to help themselves.

At some point of our life, mental health, the figures as they stand seven out of maybe ten people at some point are going to be mentally unstable. It's handy to know that there's one body that will cover it. We'll all have these problems at some point, maybe not fostering, but most of them we'll have that problem. Everybody should be paying for it.
(Female, ABC1, 45-54, Aviemore)

I think it's comforting to know it's there. You know, it's there if you need it.
(Female, ABC1, 65+, West Linton)

Help offenders. If it was help the person that was offended aye, but help for an offender, why?
(Female, C2DE, 45-64, Stirling)

They young ones that go about sticking needles into their arm, they know what they're doing, they're old enough to know what they're doing. They know if they hand over £20 for this white stuff, they know what they're doing. Why the hell should we pay for it?
(Female, C2DE, 65+, Dundee)

Several participants, most of whom were older ABC1s, pointed out that in the past, the voluntary sector has played a valuable role in the provision of welfare, but that its ability to do so has diminished over time because of a stringent regulatory culture and a lack of funding for voluntary groups. The decline of the sector, it was felt, has resulted in the loss of important sources of expertise in specific areas of welfare provision, increasing the burden on the state generally and social work services in particular.

I like the idea of charities and things running things like that, like AA and the citizen's advice bureau. I like the idea of specialist units rather than one shop does all things.
(Female, ABC1, 45-54, Aviemore)

The government's really put a lot of that back onto social work … The Church of Scotland was the biggest social work department in the country and had homes which were all run to their level as Christian people. They can't afford to run them now. They're having to be sold off because they can't have all en suite rooms and they can't do this and they can't do that. They were getting strapped for money too so rather than take everything up to that standard and have the number of qualified staff they've just had to sell off most of these homes.
(Female, ABC1, 65+, West Linton)

I know from the Red Cross point of view, we don't want to join because we've got to do all these exams and things instead of going to find just ordinary volunteers as we used to have in the old days.
(Female, ABC1, 65+, West Linton)