FROM DECEMBER 2009

We are two social work students at London South Bank University. Towards the end of our first year of study, having been troubled by reports of front-line practice, we felt that we needed to debate the future of social work as students. We have a proposition for student social workers across the UK.

Last week, those involved with social work in the UK had a keen focus on the Social Work Taskforce’s final report. The report’s recommendations may be progressive and ameliorate some of the problems affecting social work. As students looking ahead to our future careers, however, it seems likely that some of the deficiencies underlying and threats to the profession of social work in the UK will persist. These issues include those addressed by the Taskforce; social work’s public image, tightly constricted resources, problems with retention of staff and the time consumed by bureaucracy, to pick a few.

There are also issues, however, which the report does not address such as the policy underlying performance indicators and rigorous means-testing which may lead social workers away from practice consistent with their values. Furthermore, there are issues outside the report’s remit which will affect social work in future such as the changing population profile, public spending cuts and the impact of climate change.

We feel that students need to not only critically appraise the profession we will enter against the social work values common to us all, but to prepare ourselves to change practice for the better. We need to consider the challenges of the future today if we are to contribute to social justice and serve humanity tomorrow; the reasons so many of us enter the course.

We know that students lack experience of the role we seek to influence, though many, particularly those on employment based routes, may have spent many years working in social care. Many are or have been service-users or carers themselves. As future practitioners our opinion must have an influence. We also know that it would be counter-productive to exclude service users, carers, academics and current practitioners from our debate, and we welcome their input. At the same time, we recognise that a student-orientated forum developing a coherent student voice has value.

To this end, on 17th February next year we have devised and arranged a student conference entitled ‘Neo-liberalism vs. Social Justice’ Can I practise the social work I believe in within the statutory sector?’,to address these issues. At this point, because of limited space, the conference is restricted to those students based in London.

Nonetheless, we call on social work students across the UK to consider the social work they want to practice now, while there is opportunity to reflect, organise and campaign. Our firm wish is that students open up this debate for themselves and start imagining a social work of which they wish to be part, not simply one they do not favour or reject. If we do not have a destination, we cannot plan to reach it.

As a start, we propose that we distribute the outcomes of our conference to any students who are interested in campaigning for a better social work future. There are many ways in which we could do this, conferences, seminars or student campaign groups, but the goal is planning what to do when we enter practice.

Please contact us for more information on what we are doing and spread the debate among all social work students.

Dan Morton and Natalie Angel

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