Still a good story – applies to workers and service users – change is inevitable
UK Prime Minister David Cameron thinks not. As reported by MSN news: In a speech at the Olympic Park in London, Mr Cameron will summon up the spirit of patriotism of the 2012 Games as he argues that the whole country will lose if Scotland votes to leave the UK ….. Independence would be bad for Scotland but would also leave the United Kingdom “deeply diminished” and would “rip the rug from under our own reputation” in the world, Mr Cameron will say … At a location carefully chosen to symbolise the successes of the whole United Kingdom working together as “Team GB”, Mr Cameron will say that the Olympic medals were won under the banner of a Union flag that was not only red and white but also blue. And he will say: “It’s Team GB I want to talk about today – our United Kingdom.” … He will stress that the decision on independence is “squarely and solely for those in Scotland to make”, saying: “It is their choice, their vote”. But he will add: “My argument today is that though only four million people can vote in this referendum, all 63 million of us are profoundly affected. “There are 63 million of us who could wake up on September 19 in a different country, with a different future ahead of it.”
The British Government has been strangely silent on the subject of the Scottish Independence vote. I’m glad Mr Cameron is at last speaking out and I agree largely with the sentiments he is expressing here.
But what has Scottish independence got to do with social work you might wonder?
In particular, picking up on the last part of the quote, the identity of 63 million individuals may be affected overnight. In fact, it may be even more that figure, as others from places within the Commonwealth Realm, Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories may also feel they have a legitimate opinion on the matter (see CGP Grey’s video graphic for more about the differences between the British Isles, Great Britain and the United Kingdom etc).
The English have long been poor at having their own identity, images of dancing Morris Men and maypoles not having quite the same lure as the deeply patriotic celebrations of the Irish and Scots, the English preferring instead to consider themselves ‘British’ first. But things are changing. Anyone interested in football and rugby at least will already have noticed some of these changes. The Union Jack, once the dominant flag at English football matches has been increasingly replaced by the flag of St George in recent years. And maybe that’s a good thing. (See below for a little more information and a link to the history of the Union Jack.)
I will be sad if Scotland votes for independence in September. As David Cameron states, it will affect the identity of 63 million people, although some may feel it more than others. For myself, with an English mother and a Welsh father, as a child growing up I always identified as British, and I was proud of my Celtic heritage. Over the years I became aware of anti English sentiments among some quarters in Wales, and being of ‘mixed heritage’ (part Welsh) doesn’t make me any more welcome. With the setting up of the Welsh Parliament, or National Assembly for Wales, I have found myself increasingly replying that I am English first, British second (and European third). My Celtic heritage is being denied. My identity is changing. It has felt like a loss.
Which brings me back to the relevance of social work. Our identities change throughout our lives: from child to teenager to young adult, middle aged and older adult; from single to in a relationship, partnership or married, to divorced or widowed; to become parents or not, or step-parents; moving through education, work and retirement. These are all identity changes that affect people from all cultures in some way or another, developing over time as we are aware of growing older, plan getting married or having children, move through being a pre-schooler to student to graduate to worker. Together they form a raft of changes, that make us a part of the society we live in, and they are happening also to the people around us. They are changes that are expected. Sometimes we face them with trepidation or excitement, such as the first day in a new school or at work, a wedding or the birth of a baby, others we barely notice with the passage of time, until suddenly we realise we are not as young or fit as we were.
We may know of people, including ourselves, who have changed their religious beliefs and identity. But, with the exception of a few people who emigrate and take on the citizenship and identity of another country, it’s not often we experience changes in our national, cultural or ethnic identity. British history is riddled with such changes, as we have ‘conquered’ and ‘granted independence’ to what seems like half the world in the last several hundred years (again covered in the video link below). But that is not so close to home as the Scottish Independence issue.
All the opportunities to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds, races or religions, to ourselves, all the training in understanding diversity, cannot give us the experience of what it feels like to struggle with your own ethnic identity. So, whether you consider yourself English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, British or European, even regardless of whether you are white or BME, now is a great time to ask the question: how does it feel to have someone else in control of my racial and ethnic identity? Four million Scottish people have that call over 63 million people in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Maybe answering that question will add a chink of understanding and empathy to the subject of diversity.
As an aside, the quotes from David Cameron indicate a confusion in the terms GB and UK – “It’s Team GB I want to talk about today – our United Kingdom.”
UK or GB who knows the difference?
Well one man does, thankfully. But perhaps not David Cameron. In trying to draw on solidarity from the Olympic Games, in his speech he will mix the terms: “It’s Team GB I want to talk about today – our United Kingdom.”
In his rapid-fire video graphic on YouTube CGP Grey explains the difference (apologies: all attempts to embed the video here failed, please follow the link to YouTube instead – the image at the top of this blog comes from this video).
The Union Jack
The history of the Union Jack can be found on Wikipedia, however summarised it is the “Cross of Saint Andrew counterchanged with the Cross of Saint Patrick, over all the Cross of Saint George”, in other words, a composite of the flags of Scotland, England and Ireland. The origins of the flag date back to 1603, developing through various political changes into the version shown here that was adopted in 1801. As Wales was already part of England when the form of the flag began in 1603 the Welsh flag is not included. Discussions have begun in some quarters as to changing the Union Jack should Scotland vote for independence.
Other countries still sufficiently identify with their history linked to the United Kingdom to include the current Union Jack within their own flags: Australia, Hawaii, Niue, New Zealand, Tuvalu, Fiji, Cook Islands, Bermuda, British Columbia, British Indian Ocean Territory and various States within the US and provinces with Canada.
One of my earliest experiences of working with children & families in social work was visiting a young mother who was excited because the “Provie Man” (Provident Loan company) had lent her £200 so she could buy Christmas presents for her children. I didn’t want to destroy her temporary sense of happiness and excitement, and it was too late to change the fact of the loan, but I knew that with crippling interest rates she would struggle to pay way over the odds in interest over the coming year, and no doubt repeat the cycle again the next year. All so she could buy a pile of cheap toys that would break in no time. She was just one of many in the same situation.
Travelling in Ecuador at Christmas I stayed with a family whose children received only one present: a bag of mixed biscuits and sweets. All the children in the village received the same present. Few received anything else. The parents simply explained that they couldn’t afford to buy the children any more presents. Yet none complained.
The children didn’t go without. They received everything they needed it when they needed it: clothes, books for learning. There were few toys but plenty of opportunity to play with natural materials, using their imagination in play with friends of all ages. Play was not always supervised and sometimes might have been thought unsafe, but they learned to help and look after each other. There was also masses of love and attention from their parents, their aunties and uncles, cousins, siblings, friends and neighbours, as they learnt the ways of their community.
From the opening lines from Michael Meegan’s book, All will be well – “We were not designed to live the lifestyle that has become predominant today. The nature of our Western economy is to feed an insatiable value system based on having more. It is based on people not being happy. If people began thinking that they were content with what they possessed already, the economy could no longer sell you the latest style or the latest ‘must-have’ stuff ….. We settle for trifles such as wealth, fame and comfort … self help books, at best, do three things … remind people they are locked into cycles and patterns of negative thinking; point out practical ways of changing behaviour or developing self-awareness and they can help people to climb out of emotional straightjackets; but these are merely by-products for a way of life that we were never meant to live. … It is often easier to read about happiness than to become happy, easier to aspire than to do, easier to plan than to break the entrenched patterns of our daily routine.”
Meegan sums up well the cause of so many of the social problems social workers spend their working lives dealing with, picking up the pieces from the fallout of the “insatiable value system of having more”; including the consequence that leads young women and others to take out Christmas loans they cannot afford to buy things their children don’t really need so they can feel they are meeting their children’s needs and so their children can begin early compete among their peers to climb the ladder of always “having more”.
Society demands social workers deal with society’s problems, recently in England this including taking the form of the Troubled Families Programme. Allegedly social workers are applying the values of society: do not steal or murder, etc, etc. But are these the real values of modern society? And how do the real values of society compare to the values of social work?