From Newsletter #3 Spring 2011

Stephen Cowden reports on the first meeting of Coventry and Warwickshire SWAN

The meeting involved around 25 students and staff from Coventry and Warwick University, as well as Social Work practitioners from those areas.

The group was addressed by Maggie Lewis, Social Work Lecturer at Coventry University, and Rich Moth, member of the SWAN national steering committee.  Maggie raised a series of issues about the way the cuts agenda is impoverishing and limiting the capacity for Social Workers to act in accordance with Social work values.  A typical example of this is the way the vast number of people in Adult social care are now excluded from services due to the use of eligibility criteria.  In 2006 60% of those in receipt of services had moderate needs.  In 2010 80% have critical needs.  This illustrates the way people have lost access to services – at the self same time as we have a political agenda in which Managers and policy makers talk all the time of “choice” and “personal needs”.  Maggie noted the way this agenda has acted as a cover for Adult Social Care services to handed over to private capital, as they are being in places like Barnet and Woking.  The example of Southern Cross Health Care, a major owner of private residential homes, decided that these were not profitable enough, and then sought to hand all of those people back to the care of the Local Authority.  This illustrates the exact way in which private services have never sought to offer a comprehensive service, but only tried to cherry pick those aspects of service provision where they can make profits, leaving the difficult and more complicated cases to the public sector.

Rich spoke about the role of SWAN in creating an alternative future for Social Work “Another Social Work is Possible”.  It is crucial that we continue to look to the history of radical activism that led to the creation of Social Work and the Welfare State in the first place, the activism of the 70s and 80s, as well as looking forward to the kind of Social Work we would really want to see for the future, as an alternative to a Social Work of managerialism, marketization, performance indicators and targets.  SWAN can draw on “resources of hope” such as the emergence of service user movements, as well as broader social movements as seen in the recent student protests in the UK and revolutions in Egypt and the Middle East. Rich went on to stress that SWAN is an ‘action’ network citing SWAN’s involvement in the Solihull campaign against discriminatory cuts to services for unaccompanied migrant young people and SWAN’s role in the broader anti-cuts movement. Rich also encouraged people to attend the next SWAN national conference.

Extensive discussion then took place about how to take the group forward.  It was agreed that organisation is essential to giving isolated practitioners, students and academics a sense of our collective strength.  It is so easy for us to be dismissed – we have to overcome that by getting organised and through being organised educating ourselves politically.

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