Research commissioned by the Social Work Services Strategic Forum on 'What the public think about Scottish social services and why', has been published. The research was authored by Dr Trish McCulloch (University of Dundee), Professor Stephen Webb (Glasgow Caledonian University) and David Clark.
Overall, the research findings suggest a good level of support for social services in Scotland and a reasonable level of literacy among respondents about what social services do.
Key findings are outlined below:
- Public view of social services
Half the sample had a positive view of social services and the provision of social services in Scotland, compared to 34% negative, and 17% don’t know. The public view of social services is not strongly negative.
- Positive perceptions of social services
The most positive overall finding in the survey was to the two statements: -
- "Social services play an important role in supporting most vulnerable people in communities": 73% agreed; 13% disagreed; 14% did not know.
- "Social services provide a valuable service to the people of Scotland”:71% agreed: 13% disagreed: 16% did not know.
- Issues of trust and blame
People are generally trusting of social services and believe they are unfairly blamed when things go wrong. Qualitative data showed a strong tendency to trust the individual social service worker over the service or ‘system’ they worked for.
- Social licence to operate
Social services in Scotland do have a social licence to operate (SLO). When we talk about SLO we are really talking about social acceptance and public trust. While the data makes it difficult to quantify the levels of support and trust in exact terms it does suggest the social licence is at the level of acceptance.
- The Scottish public are not illiterate about social services
The data suggests that public understanding of social services needs improvement, but the problem is not one of “illiteracy”. The findings show the Scottish public has a reasonable amount of knowledge and understanding about social services generally.
However, the public’s understanding of the issues related to social services is relatively weak. This is unsurprising given that only 35% of respondents report involvement with social services.
The public’s understanding of home or day care support for older people shows the highest level of literacy.
- The public has a more positive view of social services than social workers perceive
The largely sceptical position of how social services are perceived is held by the profession and institutions themselves and is not shared by the public.
- The media is not as influential in shaping perception as people might think
The data suggests that personal and contextual factors most influenced the ways in which the public understand social services, rather than media coverage or controversy surrounding critical incidents. Fearful tabloid press generated representations of social services appear not to impact decisively on public perception. This means that public understanding is less volatile in relation to media attention than typically believed by leadership and practitioners in the profession.
- Personal exposure to social services influences perceptions
Public perceptions are strongly influenced by repeated exposure to consistently expressed personal experiences or issues arising from local (or lack of) contact with social services.
- “Invisible” and hard to access social services are significant factors
A consistent finding revealed in the qualitative data concerned the “invisibility” of social services and the hard to access nature of social services resources. This finding is well supported by existing research.
- There are few significant correlations with demographic factor data
In terms of concerns about or support for social services in Scotland a significant finding from the survey is that there are few correlations at all between demographic factors of age, socio-economic status and level of education, and concern about or support for social services.
Outputs include the full research and a visual summary of findings.