Podcast Episode: The politics of social work
Category: Social work (general)
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
IF - Iain Ferguson
This is Iriss.fm, internet radio for Scotland Social Services. Ian Ferguson is Professor of Social Work and Social Policy at the University of the West of Scotland. He’s widely published and a founder member of SWAN, Social Work Action Network. In this lecture at Glasgow School of Social Work on 18th April 2013 he argues that an understanding of Social Work’s political dimension is essential and that failure to recognise this has been harmful both to the Social Work profession and to service users. Drawing on historical and international examples he makes the case for a new radicalism.
IF I’m feeling a bit guilty this week, over the past week because for probably about 30 years, and I’m just going to come out and say this, I’ve had a kind of negative view of Margaret Thatcher. I’ve said it, I’ve said it and it did seem to me that someone who takes tea with General Pinochet the brutal murderer and dictator in Chile, someone who calls Nelson Mandela a terrorist and supports apartheid and someone who’s very, very last vote in Parliament had to be wheeled in to vote for Clause 28 demonising gay people and promoting homophobia I thought must be a very nasty person. But having watched the news over the past week I realise how wrong I was. What a wonderful human being, actually a bit of a Mother Theresa, so there we go. And I start with that not just as a cheap political point but actually because I want to start by talking about Margaret Thatcher this afternoon, and specifically I want to talk about an event which many of you will be too young to remember but about something that happened in 1988 when Margaret Thatcher came to speak at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. She was the invited speaker. So her speech was known, it was in Edinburgh so it was known on the Sermon on the Mound. Her theme for the day was the Parable of the Good Samaritan and I suppose one can’t make assumptions anymore so I’ll just briefly run through the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
Essentially it tells the story of a Jewish man who was on his way down from Samaria to Jerusalem or something, I can’t quite remember. Anyway he gets mugged, he gets mugged and is left lying bleeding by the side of the road. So first of all I think it’s a Levite goes past and sees this guy lying there and says, “No it’s too dodgy, can’t do anything about it”. And then a Rabbi walks past and similarly says, “No, I’m not going to, this could be a set up I’m not going to do that”. And then a Samaritan walks past from Samaria and the story was that Jews, and it’s a bit like Rangers and Celtic supporters or whatever but Jews and Samaritans tended not to get on very, very well - but the Samaritan actually went over and helped the injured Jew and got him to safety and all the rest of it and Christ is told, has termed the parable in response to the question, “Who is my neighbour?”
So this is what Thatcher used as her starting point for her, for her Sermon on the Mound - and she went on to say that, she gave it a particularly … I should say that the parable is usually seen, I think Terry Eagleton describes it as an authentic conjunction of the individual, the universal. So it’s usually seen as a timeless example of helping or caring and so on. But Thatcher, perhaps ridiculously gave it a very kind of neo-Liberal spin and Thatcher’s comment was, “no-one would have remembered the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions. He had money as well”.
So that really was a whole new way of looking at the parable. Nobody had ever thought about it that way before but basically it led to kind of uproar in the Chamber and people were saying, “how could you introduce money into the story of helping?” It was also a time when Thatcher was kind of promoting anti-immigrant feelings so it sort of undermined the kind of anti-racist message of the parable.
I start with that because I think, despite my feelings about Thatcher, she had a point. She had a point and I think the point is that even in this apparently very, very timeless example of helping you can’t really understand the significance of it without understanding a wider context of political and economic and cultural relationships which actually give it its significance. And really what I want to argue today that understanding of context, particularly political context has to be the starting point for any understanding of social work. A context which often involves very competing interests and ideologies and as the writer Fred Powell argues in his book The Politics of Social Work, politics has been central to social work really since its infancy in the late 19th century. The whole organisation of social work as a system of organised helping, the way in which that help was delivered, the activities that social work is engaged in. The ideas that shaped their practice have all been very much shaped by the wider political ideas and ideologies all the time.
So that’s basically where I’m kind of starting from but I think having said that there’s a bit of a paradox because actually despite that fact there is quite a curious reticence to acknowledge that social work is also a political activity of any kind of link between social work and politics and very, very often the denial of its existence. I’ll just give you a couple of examples, launching the new social work qualification in England and Wales about a decade ago the then Health Secretary Jackie Smith argued, “Social work is a very practical job. It’s about protecting people and changing their lives. Not being able to give a fluent and theoretical explanation of why they got into difficulties in the first place”. But even within the profession Sheila Ramone in her book Social Work in a Political Context says, “There’s a reticence to touch initiative being political”. She says, “An attribute that is perceived as unprofessional, unscientific and biased and is a reflection of being too lefty or too radical”. So generally I think it has been the case with some exceptions that to talk about social work as a political activity is seen as a bit dodgy and really what I want to argue tonight is that social work is a political activity and actually the failure to recognise that has been harmful both to the social work profession and also the service users. That’s not to say, and just it’s to state the obvious in a way, that’s not to say that social work is only a political activity. It’s also an epical activity, it’s also skills based, it’s also knowledge and so and so forth, it’s all these things but I think particularly now when we’re facing the biggest assault on welfare that any of us have seen in our lifetimes, not to acknowledge the political dimension of social work I think is actually quite, quite dangerous.
I want to begin first of all by looking at three ways in which politics are denied within social work. Firstly through the dominance to what I’ve called whig approaches to social work which I’ll explain. Secondly through an ideology of professionalism and thirdly through a separation of ethics and politics. So that’s what I want to do in the kind of first half of the talk. I then want to move on from that to look at the two main sets of ideas. The two ideologies that historically have shaped social work. Firstly individualism which has been far and away the most dominant ideology but also particular forms of collectivism and I want to end by arguing both for a new individualism but above all to suggest that what we need right now is a new collectivism in social work and I’ll come back and say what I mean by that.
So firstly whig approaches. The term whig is what the Liberals, the Liberal Party used to be called the whigs in the 18th and 19th centuries so it was based on a kind of Liberal view of history and the term whig, the whig interpretation of history comes from a book that was written by a guy called Buttermore, Herbert, sorry Butterfield in 1932. And basically what he was doing in that book was attacking the idea which was very, very influential which saw history as about progress, okay, that would move from a kind of state of backwardness or barbarism or whatever and would become more scientific in knowledge and so history had really been like that. And obviously he was in quite, he wasn’t the first person to do it. Marx had actually done it before him, Fucrow has done it since but actually writing at the end of the First World War he was in a pretty powerful position to argue that history was not simply progress. And for Butterfield and for those who followed him whig approaches are defined by three features. First of all they are idealist in the sense they tend to see history as about just a kind of progression of good ideas. So first we had slavery and then somebody thought would feudalism be a better idea so then we had feudalism and then somebody said, “Well why don’t we get democracy?” And it’s just, so it’s like that and we’re now in the best of all possible worlds. So an ideal through history essential talked down. History is a history of, you know clever men usually, women don’t often come into it. It’s clever men who have thought up these great ideas, “Wasn’t that wonderful?” We were talking to a colleague earlier about the Museum of Slavery down in Liverpool and how its, you know it’s full of people like William Wilberforce and it’s like, you know, William thought, “What a great…” Slavery is a rotten idea. We must have better ideas. We must get rid of slavery. And what’s missing from that, as I’ll say is all the huge struggles from below that are actually really central to getting rid of slavery. And the third aspect of it as I’ve mentioned already is history as progress. The notion that the present, or that the past is essentially a road leading to the present. And the reason why I start by referring to whig approaches is because I think they’re actually very influential both in social policy and also in social work. Social policy, one of the most influential thinkers of the welfare state, TH Marshall for example essentially portrays the development of the welfare state is about a progressive capture of rights. We start off with civil rights, then political rights then social rights and it’s really all about one set of good ideas replacing another. He describes for… some of us might have thought wrongly that the French Revolution had something to do with the, a more democratic society. Marshall describes it as an interruption. It got in the way of people coming up with good ideas. So basically that’s that view. It’s a view which was challenging quite a famous debate in the 1950s. Was challenged by the Marxists Tony and John Saville who actually argued that really what was missing from that was any kind of sense of change from below. The reality is that many of the changes that have taken place are really the result of struggles from below. The fact for example that we now have disability rights legislation has an awful lot to do with the fact that there’s been a disability movement over the past 40 years or whatever. Even the very, very existence of the welfare state itself was really in large part a result of struggles from below. There’s a famous quote which some may have heard of from Quinton Hogg who was a friend of Margaret Thatcher’s but then an MP in the 40’s saying, “If we don’t give the people a welfare state they’ll give us a revolution.” So there’s a sense in other words that what’s missing from Marshall’s account is any sense of struggle from below but also any sense of the contradictions that there are different, different interests at stake. And I think moving onto social work I think very, very often we see a similar kind of willingness to embrace, often very, very uncritically, what may appear to be very progressive policies without really thinking what are the agendas behind them, might there be different interests or whatever?
Just to give a couple of examples. If we look at the two major sets of changes that have taken place in social work over the past 30 years and over the past 20 years. The first they shift towards community care in the early 90’s. Now clearly there’s a very progressive element to that in terms of getting away from warehousing models, institutionalisation and so on and so forth but really what it was also about was about actually opening up a market in social work, maybe more so than the empowerment of users and carers which is what all the official publications said. And if we actually wanted to, what is the biggest change now if we look at residential care. If we look at homecare or whatever what is the biggest change now from 20 years ago? The biggest change is that 20 years ago 10% of social care was in private hands, now 90% social care is in private hands, okay. In the hands of companies like Southern Cross, right is that progress? So that’s one kind of example.
A second example I think in social work and it’s one I, I was listening to a previous seminar in this series, not this year but a couple of years back where the speaker was talking about personalisation and self-directed support a really interesting talk but the portrayal he was giving was essentially a classically whig view of self-directed support. In other words we used to have institutions and then we moved to homes in the community, and then we moved to community care and now we’ve moved to self-directed support and personalisation and it’s seen as a journey, a journey like that. Now I think again I’d want to be very clear in saying that clearly given the long history of warehousing and oppression and stigma against disabled adults clearly anything that actually gives people more control, more power over their own lives is something that, that should be welcomed. But I think we do have to be a little bit more critical, not least of some of the ways in which the personalisation agenda is being implemented. The fact that, I mean a national level. There’s some quite interesting research done by Peter Beresford and Colin Slosberg which shows, for example, that personalisation tends to work where people get enough money. Where they get more money than they had. Where they get less money it tends not to be so good and tends to result in less choice and control, not more. And I think certainly within the city the experience of large numbers of service users who attend Day Centres and their carers, at the moment many are finding that actually the implementation of personalisation is leading to them having less control and lower budgets, particularly as it’s being implemented within a context of 20% cuts in City Council’s budget. So in other words I think we actually have to look beyond the surface rhetoric and actually look at the different agendas and so on that are there rather than just seeing these as good things.
A second basis for denying the political nature of social work is something called professionalism. Now again before I’m misquoted or my position caricatured I think there are types of professionalism that seem to me to be a very good thing. I think basically poor people who use Social Work Services have a right to good services provided by caring and trained workers who actually do the job properly and are properly paid for it. And I think I should say that because actually now very often they’re attacking professionalism. In the 1970s the people who attacked professionalism were often on the left. Now it tends to be near Liberals who are saying, “Why do we need these professionals anyway? Why can’t anybody just do these jobs?” So there are types of professionalism I think we need to defend, but there’s another ideology of professionalism which I think has been very influential throughout the history of social work which really sees the priority as being about protecting the interests of the profession. Tends to concentrate very exclusively on methods, right. Tends to ignore the wider policy context or whatever. Is often very, very focused on methods. Often sees social workers as above other groups of workers who work for the welfare state and therefore is often very hostile to trade unionism and finally sees itself as being somehow above politics. And I think often underlying that kind of professionalism we can see it in all sorts of different contexts. It’s basically a craving for respectability, a craving for acceptance. And I’ve used a quote here from Bill Jordan where he says, “Social work is playing various roles and contrasting systems of social provision, has saved a number of political ends. Great virtue, it’s almost infinitely adaptable to circumstances, also makes it open to exploitation for any kind of policy objectives.” And I just want to give maybe some of the more, I think that’s absolutely true and I think it’s true in relation to current policies. It’s also true if we look at the history of social work within South Africa under apartheid and ideology professionalism meant the social worker didn’t have to engage in what was actually happening in the country. But the most extreme example I think is one of the darkest episodes I guess in the history of social work, is social work in the Nazi period and Walter Lorenz, European Academic writing about this period he notes how social workers were using their diagnostic skills to separate the deserving from the unworthy. And therefore would be involved in categorising those with mental illness or learning disabilities who would then be sterilised or worse. Just a quote from Lorenz when he says, “They’re sticking to their professional task with the air of value neutrality and scientific attachment, especially after the non-conforming political active social workers have been sacked or imprisoned. They did not feel responsible for the consequence of their assessments and may indeed not have been conscious of the full implications their work had in the national context.” And he goes on to argue that the key issue was actually not primarily the state coercion or lack of discretion but rather the kind of assumptions, the positive assumptions that underpinned their role. I’ve not put it up here but he goes on, he says, “The evils of our fascist approach to welfare had not emanated primarily from its collectivism and from the imposition of ideologically determined forms of practise which workers usually knew how to get round, but rather from the disjuncture of the political and the professional discourse that prevented ordinary welfare workers from fully facing up to the consequences of their actions.” So in other words workers could immerse themselves or see themselves as somehow neutral and disengaged from what was happening and the horrors that were happening all around them.
Now fortunately you know it is at one level quite an extreme example although, as I say, there are other examples from other places whether it’s Chile or South Africa or whatever. Tempting to think that could never happen today although if we look at the rise of parties like Golden Dawn in Greece and so on and so forth maybe we can’t be too complacent. What I do want to suggest, and I’m not for a second again suggesting that there’s a link between Nazi-ism then and today’s practice, so please note that, but I think there’s a problem however. I think that again what we have had for the past 20 years or so is the promotion of forms of social work which claim to be scientific, which are objective, which are based on positive and methodologies and that really are above values that are concerned within the jargon, what works not what matters. And I think that kind of value free social worker where social workers are only concerned with, “Is this effective?” Rather than looking at the broader context and so on. I think there has been an erosion of social work value base that I think has been very damaging although clearly there are forms of evidence based practice that are fine and are not in any sense Nazi.
And the third point, if I can move on, the third way of denying the political nature of social work I think revolves on the separation of ethics and politics and the sense of actually seeing social work purely as an ethical activity in the sense that really all we need to be concerned about is what happens between workers, how they conduct themselves in relation to their clients. And again, you know not least in the light of my previous comments, I think particularly now it’s particularly important to emphasise that social work is an ethical activity. I think the organisation Planet that lists it among it’s ethical careers so clearly social work is an ethical activity but I think often increasingly we’re operating very, very narrow views of ethics often contained in codes of ethics which I think workers often feel linked to the imposition of managerial regimes and I think are often experienced by workers not as something liberating but as a means of controlling them. I think its Eileen Munro in her report last year talked about social works’ increasing number required to, they’re concerned about doing the thing right rather than doing the right thing and I think that’s been undermining of the ethical, ethical base. And I think as against that we need to reclaim a different kind of ethics. There’s writers like Sarah Banks have argued. I think we need to recognise there are different traditions in ethics in particular I think. And it is a tradition which is attracting increasing interest that the tradition of Aristotle Marx and people like Terry Egothin and Egothin argues basically and said that ethics in politics are not separate spheres. Different viewpoints on the same subject. The former investigating such matters as needs, desires, qualities and values. The latter examining the conventions, forms of power, institutions and social relations within which alone such things are intelligible. So in other words, we should not, social work is an ethical activity but that’s not something separate, separate from politics.
Okay so far I’ve argued against what you might call three forms of politics denial in social work. There’s the whig approaches, idealism, professionalism and the separation of ethics and politics. I think the reality is that social work has always been a creature of social policy and in practice social work theory and practise have always been shaped by the dominant political ideologies of the day. And what I want to go on and look at now is probably the two ideologies that have been most influential and the first is the ideology of individualism. Now there are different types of individualism so I’ll talk about that, but certainly within social work the kind of earliest individualism. The individualism of the Charity Organisation Society. Really a particularly nasty type of individualism. There’s a wonderful quote from the Minutes where they say, “It was accept they would give a man a crust of bread as long as he ate it in the presence of the giver.” They, if you read the Minutes of COS they actually refuse far, far more people help than they actually gave it to. This is an organisation which in the late Nineteenth Century/early Twentieth Century campaigned against free school meals. Campaigned against old age pensions on the basis that they would undermine personal responsibility. So an organisation close to the heart of George Osborne and an organisation which I think rightly became increasingly marginal particularly with the rise of Fabianism and the development of an early welfare state in Britain then. But they were very clear and again if you read the writings of the Charity Organisation Society this is their phrase, “They sought individualism as an antidote to Bolshevism.” One of the leading members has read casework as, “The antithesis of mass or socialistic measures.” So they were quite explicit about seeing social work as political but political in terms of being against any kind of progressive policies quite frankly. Later forms of individualism of social work have been less explicitly political but still pretty influential. The Client Speaks is a book which was, used to appear on every social work student’s reading list and it’s actually still well worth a read. It came out in 1970 and it was the first every study of service users’ views, first ever. It’s subtitled Working Class Impressions of Casework. And it’s a joy to read because basically what you get is interviews with clients and so people will have gone in to see a social worker and, this is the period where social work was very much shaped by psychosocial ideas and psychoanalytic ideas. So people went in to see their social worker and they’d be interviewed and they’d come out and they’d say, “How did you get on?” So, “I don’t really know because I went in with an electricity bill and they asked me how I got on, on my first day at school.” Or, “I went with my housing bill and they said, what was your early relationship like with your mother?” So it’s a great book but it’s just full of these incredibly confused accounts which basically, and it was part of the reaction against that was the development of a more critical and radical approach in the ’70s which I actually thought maybe we do have to talk about poverty.
More recently I think we’ve seen different forms of individualism which I think in many ways, in many ways progressive. I don’t think we should dispute that but if we look at, for example, recovery approaches mental health. If we look at strength approaches, we look at personalisation, I think what makes these approaches very, very attractive to workers is the fact that they emphasise personal agency, people would change their lives. And I think that’s sort of a very, very inspiring message, particularly where we’re talking about groups of people who until then have had no opportunity to change their lives. So there’s a progressive dimension to that. I think we have to be a little bit careful because I think it’s quite easy for the notion, for example, that someone can recover from mental health to turn into they have a duty to recover from mental health, right, but actually, and if they can do it why can’t you? And there’s another kind of individualism that’s actually frankly a bit more dominant than this which is a really much less benign individualism which is precisely expressed by people like Ian Duncan Smith and George Osborne for which the greatest sin, the greatest sin is dependency, dependency in any form. It is a sin to be dependent regardless of whether you have dementia or schizophrenia or whatever you should stand on your own two feet and I think it’s a particularly brutal form of individualism and increasingly is the basis for slashing benefits and slashing services. I think in that context it’s quite helpful that this is the definition of independent living from Independent Living Scotland and I think, “Independent living means all disabled people have the same freedom, choice, dignity as others”. But I think the second part becomes increasingly important where they say, “This does not necessarily mean living yourself or fending for yourself. It means right to practical assistance and support to participate and live an ordinary life.” And I think the current context it’s that support bit that we really need to underline and emphasise.
Okay so individualism has been the kind of dominant ideology but the other one that has run through the history of social work has been collectivism and it’s taken a number of forms but particularly, and I mention Fabianism in the early Twentieth Century which is kind of very closely Labour Party and rooted in the notion of change from above with the central role played by the state. And I think, you know there are very, very progressive aspects to that, people, if you haven’t seen it yet you should have a look at Ken Loach’s latest movie The Spirit of 45 which is about the creation of the welfare state and it’s in many ways a very inspiring movie. And it’s interesting also I mean again because I’m going to go on and make some critical comments about it, but the fact for example one of the books that was written at the time of the welfare state was called, In Place of Fear written by Nye Bevan In Place of Fear because that’s what the welfare state meant to many large numbers of people and I think at a time when fear is back big style it’s worth to remember the centrality of that. I think also that kind of collectivism very much underpinned what we might see as the high point of social work which is the period in the ’60s and early ’70s. The period when Barbara Castle who was the then Minister actually went to the first British Association of Social Work Conference and said, “We will give you the bricks if you will build us the new Jerusalem”. People tend not to say things like that to social workers anymore but there you go. But it was also the high point of social work. The Kilbrandon Report the famous Section 12 the promotion of social welfare. It was also a period, not least in the West of Scotland where community work was very, very high on the Agenda. We had the social strategy of the ’80s. Very, very large numbers of community workers throughout this area so very, very positive aspects to that. But also some of the limitations that that type of collectivism, very much talked down. Particularly at the time, the creation of the welfare state often very linked to a medical model, right, so it’ll be quite interesting to see how much people, with for example, mental health problems or learning disabilities thought the new welfare state was wonderful because things didn’t change a lot. And I suppose most importantly it was very much in the Fabian tradition in terms of being expert led. Right, it was really any notions of democracy of control of services or whatever really pretty foreign to them which I think is part of the reason that the groups of people with disability and elsewhere in the ’80s and ’90s. It was always very gendered, quite racist etc, etc, etc hence the revolt against it and demands for much greater user involvement and demands for different kinds of services at the end in the ’80s and ’90s. What’s alternative to these is a different kind of politics of social work possible?
And basically what I want to do in pulling some of this together is to say that really we need two things. On the one hand I think we do need a new individualism, a different kind of individualism. I think it’s one that retains the best qualities of the perspectives which emphasise agency. I think we’re rejecting the kind of notion of the client as customer, right I think it’s a very demeaning notion that underpins quite a lot of current consumerist approaches, but also it’s an individualism which actually recognises that there is such a thing as society. The people depend on each other. Dependence is something we all have at different times so I think we need to develop a different model of individualism. But I think actually, at least as importantly, I think we need to look at developing a new collectivism. And I think that first of all what that means is for social workers I think it first means rediscovering their own collective strength and wisdom if you like. The individualism that I’ve talked about in terms of services I think has also very much been part of the fragmentation, atomisation of the social work profession. Over the past 20 years workers have become much more isolated and individualised, not just in terms of the forms of practice but also in terms of any chance of organising collectively. But I think the reality now is that in many workplaces there is a climate of fear where it’s very, very difficult for workers to raise their heads to challenge etc, etc. So I think that the starting point of any new collectivism is how we actually develop our own collective organisations. For many people and I still think fundamentally important is Trade Union organisation. It’s the only way we can defend services. For others there may also petitioners’ forums and I know that, you know, these have been very useful in a number of areas. For other of us Kirsten mentioned the Social Work Action Network but we need to create spaces where people can, their workers can actually come together and can feel safe spaces where people can actually feel able to talk about what’s actually going on. What the reality of practice is and how we can begin to change things.
Secondly I think it means rediscovering the community social work and community development traditions of social work and again I think there’s a number of dimensions to that. I think social work, I think the history of social work is enormously rich whether you look back to the settlement movement in the early part of the Twentieth Century or whether you talk about community work approaches I’ve mentioned, whether you talk about group work approaches. I think over the past 20 years under the influence of mere Liberalism Care Management social work has shrunk. Social workers have lost a lot of confidence in their ability to do things. Everything is now outsourced and actually I think we need to reclaim a lot of the things that we used to do very, very well but also develop new things. We’re having a seminar at UWS late in May with Mark Baldron who’s just written a new book on community social work because I actually think we have to look at what does community social work mean today? It’s not the big society but how do we actually begin to develop new forms of social work, new forms of practice. And another aspect of that is I think part of it is recognising that British social work is not in the best place and I think it also means learning from other countries, whether it’s Latin America, whether it’s South Africa, whatever, where social work is much more closely linked in with social movements. And I will put in a plug for this. This is the new journal which is just out on Critical and Radical Social Work. Basically what that is about is actually trying to create an International network that actually can share. So we’ve got articles in this one from people in Brazil and from Greece and from South Africa and so on and we actually look at the experience elsewhere.
I want to talk about the whole question of where do we go from here, how do we resist some of the things that are going on. I’ve mentioned the Social Work Action Network set up at a meeting in Glasgow called, eight years ago called “I didn’t come into Social Work for this”. Which is basically, I think, giving some kind of voice to large numbers of workers, students, service users, academics. We’re actually trying to develop different forms of social work and there are now SWAN groups in Ireland, in Hong Kong and Japan, South Africa, different places. We have formal links with UNISON. So I think actually again a space where workers can begin to develop different forms of practice.
But what I really want to, what I’m going to end on actually is that one of the criticisms we’ve made of radical social work in the ’70s. It was very British. It was very confined to Western countries and so on. I think one of the exciting things that’s happening just now is that I think as well, talking about a new collectivism, it does seem to me there is a kind of new radicalism developing within social work. I think one of the things that is quite interesting, it certainly took me by surprise, but when the Occupying Movement, who’ll remember the Occupying Movement’s slogan the 1% against the 99% and so on. What was really fascinating was the way that social workers around the world engaged with the Occupying Movement. This is Slovenia where there was big demonstrations in support of the Occupying Movement and the Faculty of Social Work at Ljubljana University it was very, very centrally involved in this. They produced a manifesto for what they called A Direct Social Work and I think they’ve probably been a wee bit ill served by their translators here. But I mean, but some of the things they would talk about, most of us do not want to work indirectly to, it’s a wonderful phrase, Be a buffer to the strokes of raging capitalism. Bet you never thought you were that. Be a supervisor of the poor. We want to be with the people, be a witness. Basically some of the themes you can actually recognise. Resist the economisation of everyday life. Combating loneliness. The medicalization, commercialisation, distress, the bureaucratisation of human relations in social work. So this was a web, a kind of manifesto they produced and which appeared on their website. This is quite interesting because some of us were in Hong Kong. There was a Conference called Reclaiming Progressive Social Work. A Conference for 200 people who were developing many, whose critic, and I suppose and this is what’s really hit home, that you know near Liberalism, the marketization, it’s a global ideology. So basically there are social workers in Japan, in China, South Africa, everywhere the same kind of issues are being thrown up. So this was a group of workers in Hong Kong who have formed this Progressive Welfare Alliance. This is them again, occupy Hong Kong. The occupy organisation and there you can see the banner of the social work students and the people who were at the Conference and very, very involved in activities and demonstrations that are going on.
But I want to end on a different note, I’ve never met this guy. A guy called Norbert Forench and about two years ago the Hungarian Government, an extremely right wing government in Hungary, brought in new legislation which (a) criminalised homelessness, but also criminalised something called dumpster diving. I had never heard of dumpster diving but you can imagine people who are going into you know bins outside supermarkets to get food or whatever. So the Hungarian Government made this a crime and Norburt who is a social worker and his friends thought, “We can’t just let this happen. We have to do something.” So they organised a demonstration in central Budapest which you can see on YouTube and were arrested and Norburt in particular was charged with an offence which could have meant him spending several years in prison. Now the good news is that there was a big international campaign. SWAN was involved in it. So was the European Association of Social Workers, International Federation of Social Workers which meant, I mean he still got some sort of community penalty, but which meant he didn’t go to prison. But I, I mean I have to confess that I knew and still know very, very little about Hungarian social work. But actually it was interesting. When we actually went to check this out we then found out a little bit more. That Norburt was not on his own. And so we found out that Norburt was part of an organisation called New Approach. Now this is their language. We, you know, in this country we debated long and hard should we use the term radical social work. Will we be seen as old 70s lefties? They didn’t have any qualms. They use the term radical social work and they set up this organisation. Basically what they’re saying, it’s a new approach to community work and radical social work. It’s based on the idea of combining workshops and action groups and also the renewal of Social Work Code of Ethics. Two goals, (1) Workshops, they wanted space for discussing issues considering the social sphere and development of action strategies. (2) as an action group we’re committed to the profession and the public’s attention is drawn to the situation of those excluded. We seek, and I think it’s a wonderful statement, we seek to be a professional community that is not afraid to stand up for those in need. So this is essentially just to kind of pull it together, what we’re saying in Hong Kong, in Slovenia, in Hungary, in Britain, right it’s people actually saying that social work can be more than this. That actually we need a different kind of social work. A different kind of politics in social work. And I think basically my hope is that given the level, the scale of the attacks just now, the social workers will cease to be the quiet profession something they’ve been in the past and begin to play a more central role.
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