The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “managerialism”

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.

References:

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.

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Outrospection

Outrospection is the 21st Century response to the introspection of the self-help movement of the 20th Century.  Instead of making ourselves the focus of our world let’s focus on the world around us.  Go beyond the one-on-one emotional empathy we associate with therapy and psychology and develop our cognitive empathy to help whole communities.  Hey, wait a minute: doesn’t that sound a bit like the roots of social work that pre-dated the self-help movement of the last century, with pioneers such as Octavia Hill, Joseph Rowntree, the founders of the Charities Commission and the anti-slave trade campaigners?  Could this be social work’s antidote to the managerialism that has blighted our profession for the best part of twenty years?

Check out the infographic below from Roman Krznaric, explaining his take on Outrospection, and then challenge your thoughts on empathy with philosopher and professor Paul Bloom in his article “Against Empathy”.

RSA Animate – The Power of Outrospection from The RSA on Vimeo.

Claimants Tricked Out of Benefits, Says Jobcentre Whistleblower

There was a time when the JobCentre was there to help people find jobs. When I went into my local JobCentre in the summer of 2012 to inquire about work opportunities I was pointed towards a computer terminal and told to get on with it. It was made clear this was normal practice, no additional help normally available.

The blog from Beastrabban\’s Weblog below shows comments on a Guardian report from 2011 about the practices of JobCentres. My experience from 2012 and since suggests not a lot has changed.

In my recent voluntary work in the autumn of 2013 I worked with people who are terrified of being sanctioned because they have not met JobCentre demands to apply online for a specified number of jobs every day or every week. Some of these applications often have to be made online via a specific website the JobCentre can access to track claimants’ activity. The website is cumbersome to use and prone to faults. It doesn’t matter if the claimant has never used a computer before, or even if they know how to turn a computer on let alone access the internet, let alone cope with clunky inadequate jobsearch websites. It doesn’t matter that many online applications can take an hour to complete for even the most competent computer user. They still have to achieve the target of job applications using a system with which they are either unfamiliar or not confident. There is no support or sympathy from the JobCentre. Instead the claimants are expected to enlist the help of friends or family who are more familiar with computers and the internet if that’s possible, or find their way to public internet cafes (where these still exist and can become quite expensive); or the alternative option of using UK Online Centres which are usually most easily found in libraries where they are over-subscribed and time limited to an hour (not enough to fill in a job application with ASDA which takes an hour and a half for someone experienced at using the internet – I tried it) and with only the minimum of help and advice available. In larger towns the voluntary sector is filling in the gap with UK Online provisions but funding is poor and dependent on volunteers, many of whom themselves are there because they need the work experience to keep the JobCentre happy.

Meanwhile a whole industry has been created out of this situation. Private agencies who are publicly funded provide work related training, the better ones having offices where clients can access the internet for job searches.

But the greatest damage is in the stress caused by fear of sanctions. In some people their stress levels have become so high it has blocked their capacity to learn even the simplest of things.

Stress can do that. It can block the ability to learn. I’ve been there myself, in a particularly stressful work situation where I was conscious of the fact that while I could continue to function on a day to day basis I was completely incapable of learning from new experiences or even make the best use of ‘reflective’ learning.

I’ve also seen the effect in others when I worked with refugees from war torn countries: intelligent men (and sometimes women) whose terrible memories and experiences were so overpowering they struggled to learn new skills that would help them settle in their new environment (this effect was well known at the time but I will have to find the links to any further evidence and add it here later – in the meantime there is reference to the effect of stress on learning at http://www.trainingplace.com/source/stress.html).

Targets and sanctions are the tools of the neoliberal, capitalist, managerialist, society and work environment that has been created over the last couple of decades. But it’s not effective. The weakest and more vulnerable, the already disempowered, are the victims of this society we have created. And it’s time we spoke up about the effect this is having.

Beastrabban\'s Weblog

This is another video from the Guardian’s Youtube channel. It’s an expose of how the DWP has set targets to get people thrown off Jobseekers’ Allowance. These revelations are made by a whistleblower, whose face is naturally shadowed and voice disguised. He states that there is competition between departments and offices to have the most people thrown off benefits. According to the Jobcentre employee, the staff have two option available for getting someone off benefits: either find them a job, ‘which is really difficult’, or have them thrown off benefits ‘which is really easy’. He states that the DWP deliberately targets the young, because of their lack of maturity and experience, the under-educated, and those with problems reading and writing, such as sufferers from dyslexia. They will not try to remove the tough and experienced from the benefits system.

Mike over at Vox Political has described Atos and the Coalition…

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The use of systems

“Until systems become the tools for helping to improve social relations they will remain our masters and we shall be corrupted by them.”

George Ivan Smith in the introduction to For the Term of his Natural Life published by Penguin 2009

Does this ring a bell or am I just an old cynic?!

 

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