Should social workers be political?
There was a time when that question didn’t need to be asked. Social workers entered the profession knowing that the people they would be working with would, largely, be the poor and dispossessed, forgotten and unloved by society and so by governments. Standing up for the rights of services users came with the job. However, coinciding with the encroach of managerialism in the 1990’s so the political desire and muscle of social work has steadily weakened – at least on the front line: academics have, by and large, continued to bang the political drum.
Can it continue this way? We live in a society where the ruling political class appears to be as far removed as possible from the reality of daily experience of large swathes of society. It’s not just the traditionally disadvantaged, dispossessed and disaffected who are being impacted on by the austerity measures of UK governments since the global financial crisis of 2008/09. The number of working poor has risen, dependent on tax credits, while there has been an exponential rise in the use of food banks. David Cameron’s government squirmed under demands for evidence on the catastrophic impact of benefit sanctions policies, amid mounting anecdotal evidence of real hardship leading to deaths of people with chronic physical and mental health conditions. Jeremy Corbyn swept into the leadership role of the Labour Party on an anti-austerity ticket, despite complete derision of him and his policies in the popular media. Labour Party membership has since eclipsed membership of other political parties. Corbyn has gone on to impress with his calmness, authenticity, and his doggedness at revealing the hypocrisy of government policies. Regardless of whether you support him or his policies, there is no doubt he is having an impact.
With another financial crash forecast (and the evidence is compelling) the situation can only get worse. The poor, disadvantaged, dispossed, and disaffected need champions more than ever. Whether we work among children & families, adult services, with people affected by physical or learning disabilities, or mental health problems, we see the impact of poverty and austerity. It’s not easy to fight the political fight when you too have been affected by years of managerialism, budget cuts, austerity, and frequently working way more hours than you are paid for, but maybe in the renewed interest in politics there will the re-politicalisation of social work long advocated by the academics.
Tax Credits – there are too many news reports to cite here – however among the most recent has been the vote in the House of Lords which has delayed, for now, the implementation of cuts to tax credits before the implementation of a new national living wage. George Osborne, responding to the decision in the House of Lords, made it clear that they will be continuing to pursue their policies and will be looking at taking action against the House of Lords to prevent such votes in future.
Labour membership – despite the claims that Jeremy Corbyn was a train crash waiting to happen for the Labour Party, party membership has continued to rise, something that began following their defeat in the May 2015 general election. This has been reported in several places, including here in the International Business Times.
Benefit Sanctions – among the plethora of online news reports is this article in The Guardian. It has got so bad that the UN is intending to investigate the UK government over benefit sanctions, as reported here in The Mirror.
Next financial crash – again reported in several places, this article in The Guardian brings the story up to date.