Change is the life blood of social work. Supporting people to adopt changes which might improve lives is fundamental to social work. Change is also fundamental in government, although , in my experience over the the last 5 years it does not always deliver improvement in a way which is helpful to social work, or those who require services.
Far too often, it feels to me, governments drive for change is ideological and rooted in making changes which ignore issues related to failure in government, especially in respect of their unshakable belief in neo-liberal ideology as the foundation of everything.
As an ideology, neoliberalism perpetuates the belief that the market cannot only solve all problems but also serves as a model for structuring all social relations. It is steeped in the language of self-help and individual responsibility, purposely ignoring the effects of inequalities in power, wealth and income and how these shape individuals and families lives. As such, it supports a society which cruelly ‘others’ those who require support, and is scornful of a critical and politicised social work profession founded on compassion and notions of equality and respect.
It appears to me our current government would prefer potential social workers to be ignorant of the political and structural forces which impact on individuals lives. Back in 2013 Michael Gove, then education secretary, claimed too many social workers had been filled with “idealistic” dogma that viewed people as victims of social injustice. Gove vowed to “strip this sort of thinking out of the profession”.
For example Gove and Co would seemingly prefer the consequences of government policy on those who require social work services in areas such as housing, benefits sanctions and zero hours contracts were ignored , ensuring the increasing levels of poverty and insecurity individuals experience is accompanied by a culture of blame, leading social workers to deliver individualised solutions to what are structural issues.
The Children and Social Work Bill is the latest ‘change’ causing many in the profession concern. Whilst some, such as Andy Elvin from Frontline, see the Bill as a positive step forward, many others within the profession highlight real issues, yet government appears set on ignoring these concerns. As a social work educator I have serious concerns, yes, around the potential privatisation of children’s services, but also around who will provide social work education and what a future curriculum might look like.
It appears to me Government would like to ‘strip’ ‘idealistic dogma’ out of higher education as well. Instead preferring a depoliticised social work curriculum, a painting by numbers programme of training, rather than an education that prepares potential social workers to support, and challenge, change at an individual and structural level.
I believe a depoliticised education and social work profession, along with an ideologically driven clauses within the Bill would be a disaster for the children it seeks to protect.
A strong social work profession needs an educational system underpinned by critique and analysis, challenge rather than acceptance of the political status quo. As Henry Giroux eloquently states
“At a time of increased repression, it is all the more crucial for educators to reject the notion that public and higher education are simply sites for training students for the workforce, and that the culture of education is synonymous with the culture of business. At issue here is the need for educators to recognize the power of education in creating the formative cultures necessary to challenge the various threats being mobilized against the ideas of justice and democracy, while also fighting for those public spheres, ideals, values, and policies that offer alternative modes of identity, thinking, social relations, and politics.
Pedagogy is always about power, because it cannot be separated from how subjectivities are formed or desires mobilized, how some experiences are legitimated and others are not, or how some knowledge is considered acceptable while other forms are excluded from the curriculum.”
Will the proposed changes improve life outcomes for children? No one knows. I just hope the next reading of the Bill on the 18th October is not reduced to ideological dogma because none of us who debate the Bill will have to live with the direct consequences of the decisions made, nor any potentially negative consequences that might flow from this Bill if passed in its current form. ….
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
(Turn and face the strange)
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
(Turn and face the strange)
Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
(Changes, David Bowie)