by Malcolm Jones, December 2009
The Social Work Task Force final report published last week acknowledges the difficulties social workers face, it will therefore be welcomed by some. However in practice it offers nothing to front line social workers.
Changes and recommendations the Task Force want are based on the current status quo in welfare. This includes targeting of limited resources, blaming individuals for their own distress and poverty, the creation of a deserving and undeserving poor with the use of eligibility criteria for access to services.
The Government’s current push for personalisation in social care is seen by many as a way of cost cutting and privatising services.
The Secretary of State’s response to the Task Force talks of the need to “use social work skills and knowledge to take forward personalisation in adult social care”. What this will mean in practice will be to use the report in order to manage the system more efficiently. The Task Force discusses good and bad practice, wants to create more hierarcichal structures for social workers that is based on strong supervision, national standards with locally strong leaders. This is likely to lead to the creation of “super” social workers whose main role will telling others what to do - similar to supervisors on the assembly line.
The report wants employers to have more of a say over university social work courses. This could lead to a dampening down of the idealistic expectations of students.
The Task Force argues that front line social workers need to be listened to but this can only be a tokenistic gesture as employers do what a neo-liberal government says and manage what they are given in a budget, that usually means cuts.
We cannot rely on any Royal College of Social Work as recommended by the Task Force, or indeed a Task Force that describes itself as “an expert group” which includes Dierdre Sanders, agony aunt of the Sun newspaper. This is the same newspaper which, the day after the Task Force report was published, bragged that Sun readers had changed social work.
Social work has always been about care on the one hand and control on the other. The focus on the care and support has only ever come when social workers, service users and others have fought together for better resources. That fight has been patchy over recent years but, as all parties are looking for massive cuts in welfare, we will be forced to fight. The Task Force report is a missed opportunity. Social workers can instead build the Social Work Action Network, make links with activists in the service user led campaigning groups and organise to have social worker trade union stewards in every workplace. Then we will have real opportunity to create a better kind of social work.