The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Poor paying for profligacy of the rich

Fierce Writing

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It seems our MP voted against a House of Lords plan for an impact assessment into cuts to Employment and Support Allowance to the work related activity group.

To translate that into normal English: Julian Brazier has just voted to take £30 a week away from disabled people.

Yes, you heard that right. Some of the most vulnerable people in society are now being picked on by our government in order to cover up their mismanagement of the economy.

Employment and Support Allowance is money provided to disabled people on the recognition that their disability makes it harder for them to go about their daily business.

The government’s reasoning for the cut is that it will “incentivise” them to find work. That would be funny if it wasn’t also so tragic. It’s like saying that in order to incentivise homeless people to find a home we should…

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Was decision to expel social work student for Facebook posts draconian or deserved?

This was recently discussed by Community Care who summarise some of the key arguments surrounding Sheffield university’s controversial decision

Source: Was decision to expel social work student for Facebook posts draconian or deserved?

In a nutshell, Ngole, a Christian social work student posted on his facebook page something that indicated he did not approve of gay marriage and said that homosexuality was against Biblical teaching.  Another student complained to the university and Ngole was expelled from the course.  The university said that anyone could have Googled his name and discovered his beliefs and that might mean that person would not feel that they could go to him for support.  It doesn’t seem to have been considered that on discovering Ngole’s belief there might be someone who felt more able to go to him for support, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

There are a number of problems with the university’s decision.

As a society we have absorbed many of the beliefs of Eastern religions without even realising it.  Western psychology long ago adopted Mindfulness from Buddhism.  What in the West we call ‘alternative’ health and fitness practices, such as acupuncture and the martial arts, and their various derivatives, have become so mainstream we tend to forget their origins in Eastern faiths.  We live in a society awash with ‘spiritual’ messages, if only we open our eyes to recognise it. Many of these practices rooted in Eastern philosophies have found their way into the practice contact books of today’s social workers.  Yet we don’t condemn them for promoting spiritual beliefs – because the profession is not as ‘secular’ as we like to think it is.

The argument about only having to Google Ngole’s name to discover his beliefs is weak.  I only have to look at a traditionally dressed Muslim (male or female), Sikh (male or female) or Jew (male) to know the belief system they follow.  Sure, I don’t know to what extent they adhere to their specific teachings, but I don’t even have to Google their name to start making some assumptions.  We wouldn’t dream of discriminating against someone wanting to become a social worker because of belonging to one of these religions (and I know perfectly capable practicing social workers who do belong to these faith systems).

We live in a society with a wide range of beliefs, attitudes, expectations and opinions.  The reality is that we work with people from that wide range of belief systems.  That person who is Googling their social worker’s name might just be looking for reassurance that their social worker shares their own belief system.  Or they might be reassured that their social worker has not tried to influence them with a different opinion.

What if the service users asks us if we are a Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist or whatever?  What if they ask us if we are married or have children? Or where we live, or what kind of house we live in?  There are a myriad of personal questions that can come up.  How do we respond to them?  In the same way – we generally avoid giving a direct answer.

Social workers, like the eclectic mix of people and beliefs they work with, are not an homogeneous bunch.  Thinking of the diversity of the characters, lifestyles and beliefs of the people I have worked with over the years, it would be a great loss to the profession if we were to try and become homogeneous.  We are all different, as are the service users.  We all have deep rooted prejudices (try the online Implicit Association Test if you don’t think so).  We have all been influenced by the cultural norms of our societies and families.  Class, beliefs, values, experiences – good and bad – we bring them all into our professional role, and absorb new and changing experiences as we go through life into our beliefs and values.  Some hold to easily recognisable religious belief systems.  Others have a more eclectic mix of ‘spirituality’.  Few are truly a-spiritual.  The test should be: can we practice in a manner that adheres to the professional codes of conduct?  Can we accept that others are also able to practice in a manner that adheres to the same codes of conduct?  Can we accept diversity among ourselves?  Because it is that diversity that enriches our profession, enables us to debate issues and pushes at the doors of the dangers of professional and systemic ‘wilful blindness‘.

Did his university give Ngole the opportunity to prove he is capable of becoming that social worker, able to practice in accordance with professional codes of conduct?  How have the rest of his student group been enabled to come to terms with working with difference and diversity following the expulsion of one of their number for being different and diverse?  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but surely social work training is about training to become, not evidencing that we already are.  Has Ngole been denied that opportunity?  He has made mistakes: firstly in believing that his private facebook page was truly private but secondly he may have thought he could trust his peers or educators to be open minded when it comes to diversity and trust. Ngole is not the first student to find out the hard way that that is not, sadly, always the case. To get the most benefit out of social work training students need to be able to feel safe enough to open up their vulnerabilities in order to challenge them.  Fear of expulsion, such as cases like this can cause, do nothing to promote that important part of training.  If social work is not the right profession for Ngole he needed to be able to come to that understanding for himself.  Instead he is now to be embroiled in a legal challenge supported by the Christian Legal Centre, and his opportunity for personal reflection and development is at least on hold if not ended.

I have expressed here my opinion.  I have made it public, as is everything I post on this blog.  I am very conscious of what I post publicly here and on Facebook, and on comments on other people’s blogs.  I am happy to be open to challenge and debate.  I may change my mind.  I may not. You may not know who I am in real life because this blog title is anonymised but available to employers – and those who already know me personally will have no difficulty recognising me; that is not the case for service users.  Like many social workers, my facebook page is in a different name to my registered practice name.  That is as much for personal security reasons as it is because I want to be able to express my opinions without fear of it influencing my work.

I have friends who are Christian, and many more who are not.  I seem to have missed out on having any Muslim friends but I have, and have had, colleagues who are Muslim and Sikh. I have friends on different continents.  I have friends and colleagues who are in gay marriages.  I have friends and colleagues who are not. I have one friend who thinks Donald Trump is ‘on the button’ for his views on Muslims and immigration.  I have many more friends who are seriously worried by the prospect of President Trump.  I have friends who are members of the Labour Party and others who support the Tories.  Although I work cross culturally most, but not all, my friends are ‘White’, but that’s because my birth family are ‘White’ and I live in a predominantly ‘White’ area.  Should I be condemned for any of these things?  Do they make me any less able to be a social worker and adhere to professional codes of conduct?  I hope not.  Just as I don’t condemn you for your beliefs, background, experiences, culture or lifestyle choices.  We preach tolerance and diversity.  Let us better practice it amongst ourselves.  Otherwise we just become afraid of each other in an environment where we are unable to challenge ourselves in order to develop and grow.

Does the suit and tie matter?

Poor old David Cameron’s the butt of a few jokes at the moment, for his comment about Corbyn’s dress sense.  But he got it wrong.  He told a man to do up his tie when that man’s tie was perfectly neat and fastened at the time of the jibe. The comment showed Cameron’s prejudice and fear. And although not a standard suit, Corbyn’s jacket and trousers were a perfectly acceptable alternative.  In a world where few people have jobs that require the wearing of a suit and tie, the comment also made Cameron look a bit out of touch.

I feel a little sorry for Cameron (hear me out). He’s clearly not the brightest of his bunch – average yes but not the brightest. I also don’t think he’s as evil as some of his colleagues appear to be. He’s had a privileged upbringing and knows nothing of the experience of the majority, and he hasn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of having the genuine charisma that enables him to put a smile on the face of a woman who has just lost everything in a flood by putting his arm around her shoulders and singing happy birthday to her. He genuinely doesn’t understand why he’s not winning the popularity stakes. And I think he really believes he’s trying to do the best for the country and the people; he’s just seeing everything through his own privileged lens and is not able to see or understand the real impact of Tory policies. He doesn’t know how to handle Jeremy Corbyn and he’s out of his depth. He’s tried to imitate Corbyn’s personable videos and just looks wooden. He can’t speak off script, as Jeremy can, and this foolish comment about Corbyn’s attire proves it. The more I look at Cameron the more I think he’s just a puppet, a front man.

It’s the evil ones behind Cameron that are dangerous – and the reason we need to get this bunch of Tories out. The commentaries on Cameron’s slipped mask of geniality (in ridiculing Corbyn for his dress sense and showing up his privileged background and lack of understanding) are a lighthearted diversion but let’s not get distracted from what else is going on – Tory cuts to the poor, disadvantaged, sick, disabled and elderly; rising poverty, dependence on foodbanks and homelessness; privatisation of the NHS, education (aka academies) and increasingly Social Services. And now there is an EU referendum coming up.

Whatever your view of Britain’s EU membership, be aware that Brexit is also a backdoor vote for the devolution of Scotland and the break up of the UK – if the UK votes for Brexit then Scotland will demand another referendum and almost certainly opt for independence so they can rejoin the EU. The OUTers talk of making new trading partners but who is out there to welcome li’l ole England to trade, and don’t think the EU will not beat us with the biggest stick it can find if we vote out of the club.

The official Labour line is to vote to stay IN albeit for different reasons to the Tory party – worker’s rights, human rights and employment protection for starters. What they don’t add is that the EU is also one of our few protections against our own (current) despotic government. While the EU is a cumbersome, often fragmented, and sometimes laughable institution, on balance I believe we are better off staying in than leaving. At 15 I was too young to vote in the 1970’s referendum but I would have voted to have stayed out if I had had the chance. And until fairly recently I remained an ardent Eurosceptic. Forty years on and we live in a very different world: a globalised society unimaginable to us in the 1970’s and one that’s changing faster every day.  As we think about what to vote, let’s ask the question the old indigenous tribal leaders used to ask: what best serves the interests of this and tomorrow’s generations?

So, let’s enjoy for a moment the discomfiture of a Prime Minister who doesn’t get it and has made a foolish comment as a result, but let’s not lose sight of the bigger issues at hand.

Europe: why I’m voting IN

As a lifelong Euro-sceptic it pains me to say this, but come June 23rd I’ll be voting to stay IN the EU.  I was just two years too young to vote in the referendum in 1975, and I recall my dismay at both being unable to vote and the result.  And now I have to make a decision on how to vote, not on what I knew was right then, but on what is right for our country now. And there are many factors to consider.

The economics

I have always known that exiting the EU would lead to a period of economic turmoil as new trade agreements were negotiated and bedded in.  It’s not within the gift of the OUT campaigners to reassure me otherwise, and generally they try to dodge this question.  They point to Norway and Switzerland who have both remained outside the EU but negotiated trade agreements: the IN campaigners point out that those trade agreements are not exactly favourable and Norway at least has said we would be better staying in.  Few people talk of our Commonwealth partners any more. Either way, nobody can really know how easy or difficult it will be, or how long it will really take, to negotiate and build new trading relationships around the world.  But I was always willing to take that risk on the basis that things would eventually settle down. What I know this time around is that I do not trust our current government to have the economic understanding, nor the ability, desire or willingness to understand the needs of the common people, to undertake those negotiations in the best interests of the majority of the population. Austerity, privatisation and selling off the family silver in an ideologically driven laissez faire of economics has left many in a perilous state without any social safety net.  And based on how long it has just taken David Cameron to negotiate a watered down version of what he wanted as a condition for staying in the EU, I don’t hold out much hope for more complex negotiations.  And all of this in a world economic climate where another financial crash is imminently predicted.

Impact on society

Our country is in a highly weakened state.  Our NHS is falling apart at the seams, burdened by insufficient funding to meet the debt repayments of PFI’s (Private Finance Initiatives), the consequence of which is that even more of it is being piecemeal privatised under the provision of the Health & Social Care Act 2012. This is not in the interest of the welfare of the majority of the population.

The mortality rate is rising, particularly among our most vulnerable members of society – the old, the sick, the disabled – as they are finding that health and social care services are no longer available (care packages for vulnerable elderly leaving hospital after a major operation are no longer available in the area where I live – they either have to stay in hospital or pay for private care).  Our social housing is being privatised, with, for the first time since the 1960’s (and the incentive for the now classic film Cathy Come Home), some 50% of people in rented accommodation living in insecure private sector tenancies, while new rules will mean council tenants will be losing their right to lifelong tenancies. The so-called bedroom tax and caps to housing benefits are driving working families out of our cities, breaking up communities and families in the process. The rise in home ownership has stalled and is also dropping for the first time in 60 years.  Today’s young generation will, once again, be ‘generation rent’.

Private companies, such as Virgin Care, are taking over more and more parts of our children’s services.  Independent fostering agencies struggle with keeping costs down but provide an essential proportion of our foster care services.  Elderly care and children’s residential care services have long gone to the private sector.

The problem with privatisation is that it costs more to run services as profits have to be made to cover extra layers of costs in the roles of different companies and their shareholders, and fragmentation of hierarchies means it is impossible to readily identify and correct problems before they have catastrophic implications (as highlighted by Margaret Heffernan in her book Wilful Blindness).  I have seen this personally in the privatisation of social housing and fostering services.  The poor and the taxpayer pay the cost.

The news media is full of stories of the worsening plight of the disabled as they are being pushed into ‘proving’ they cannot work, sometimes even in the face of a diagnosis of a lifelong degenerative condition such as Parkinson’s, and even those quite literally on their deathbeds.  And yet still the present government wants to cut benefits for the working poor and disabled.  As long ago as January 2014 the British government was criticised by Europe for providing too low a rate of Welfare Benefits – things have only got worse since.

Access to legal aid and justice in the courts has been curtailed for the poor by the removal of financial assistance to seek justice.  Court costs to be paid upfront in tribunal cases discourages or even bars many working people from seeking justice in employment law.  The introduction of JobCentre advisers into foodbanks is an indicator of just how mainstream this charity service has become.

I don’t need to read the reports of an unprecedented rise in foodbanks to know how vital these services have become – in my own area, with a population of c.150,000 there are six foodbanks operating that I personally know of; there may be more.  Foodbanks are legally only allowed to provide tinned and packet goods and long term dependency on them does not leave much scope for healthy eating (in conflict with government targets to get us to eat more healthily).

This is all the result of the policies of our current Conservative government.  There are only two possible brakes that can be put on their continuing with these and even harsher policies – the House of Lords (who are limited by the powers of the House of Commons itself and the threat of being inundated with government sympathisers) and the EU (who have become increasingly alarmed at the impact of Conservative policies).

Scottish Independence

It was clear during the relatively recent Scottish independence referendum that Scotland wanted to remain in the EU.  A split UK vote, with Scottish voters voting to stay in the EU and English voters voting to leave would undoubtedly prompt calls for another Scottish Independence referendum.  The complexities of negotiating their own membership separate from the UK was probably a significant factor in voting choices for a number of Scottish voters.  If the UK has voted to exit the EU then a further Scottish referendum could well produce a different result.  This will cause further chaos as English, Welsh and Northern Irish links with Scotland are untangled alongside the even more complex untangling of UK legislation from EU legislation.

Wars and international relations

No-one can truly predict the future, but one of the OUT arguments is that with Turkey wanting to join the EU and Turkey and Russia on opposing sides in the complex Syrian / ISIS conflict, we, as members of the EU would be drawn into a ware with Russia.  That could happen anyway through NATO.  The OUT campaign talk zenophobically of closing our borders to refugees and asylum seekers, which will not put us on good terms with our European neighbours and does little to accept the reality of the fact that Western interference is what has caused the current crisis (killing despotic leaders thus creating a vacuum to be filled by even more despotic terrorists).  Becoming Little Englanders will not make these problems go away.

Tomorrow’s generation

Finally, what do today’s young people want?  Anyone under 40 has grown up only knowing Britain as part of the EU.  Younger generations are more likely to identify as European.  This is a part of their identity.  Typically, those in their late teens and twenties are the least likely to vote, yet they will be the most affected by this decision.  It’s an old (American) Indian position for the elders to make decisions based on the needs of future generations.

Conclusion

There will be talk of fear and safety versus forging a new brave way ahead.  The latter will feed into the sense of Britishness that has been our history.  But now is not the time to do it.

 

Conservative welfare “reforms” – the sound of one hand clapping

Politics – should social workers be involved in politics? Well, when your government is making policies that make your job even more necessary than ever before, then I think the answer has to be yes. Once again Kitty states the obvious:

“The Conservatives are systematically dismantling the UK’s social security system, not because there is an empirically justifiable reason or economic need to do so, but because the government has purely ideological, anticollectivist prescriptions.”

And the situation is just getting worse. “

Politics and Insights

1022654909“Labour MPs sat perplexed … By cutting housing benefit for the poor, the Government was helping the poor. By causing people to leave their homes, the Government was helping people put a roof over their heads. By appealing the ruling that it discriminated against the vulnerable, the Government was supporting the vulnerable.

Yes, this was a tricky one.” – From an unusually insightful article in the Telegraph about the incoherence of Conservative welfare rhetoric:  How bedroom tax protects the vulnerable.

“Ministers keep using the mantra that their proposals are to protect the most vulnerable when, quite obviously, they are the exact opposite. If implemented their measures would, far from protecting the most vulnerable, directly harm them. Whatever they do in the end, Her Majesty’s Government should stop this 1984 Orwellian-type misuse of language.”  – Lord Bach, discussing the Legal Aid Bill. Source: Hansard, Column 1557, 19 May, 2011.

Conservative…

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