Category Archives: Jeremy Corbyn

Social Work education; is there a future under neoliberalism?

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, choice 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 social justice, equality and respect.

Back in 2013 Michael Gove, then education secretary, claimed too many social workers had been filled with idealistic dogma and theories of society that viewed people as victims of social injustice. Gove vowed to “strip this sort of thinking out of the profession”.

More recently Ray Jones argues politicians are stealthily trying to take control of social work, possibly because social workers expose the failings of their ideologically driven policies?

Maybe this is why Government would like to diminish the role of Universities in social work education, to depoliticise the profession and create a beige curriculum.  A painting by numbers programme of training, rather than a vibrant colourful education that prepares social workers to support, and challenge those in power. The extension of neoliberal ideology and discourse into higher education already provides a framework to socialise academia into working in a manner akin to managerialism i.e targets/NSS, where knowledge is viewed as a commodity for customers (students) to purchase and consume.  Packaged as one dimensional capabilities rather than multifaceted knowledge and skills .

(see Grant and Radcliffe, 2015, whose paper on higher education in mental health nursing has many synergies with social work).

Arguably an effective social work profession is a political profession as well, able to critique and analyse, to challenge, rather than accept the 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.”

Whilst we have a plethora of educational routes into social work, Frontline;Think Ahead;Step-up;Apprencticeships and HEI’s no one appears to be asking any political leader of any persuasion one very important question as far as I can see.

Given our politicians feel their governments policies and leadership over the last 3 decades has led to continuous improvements, why is society in such need for ever increasing numbers of social workers?

If we can move beyond the divisive  narratives of  ‘broken families’, ‘recruitment and retention’, ‘the demographic time bomb’, ‘austerity’ and ‘we can’t afford X’,  and consider addressing the structural issues that impact on individuals lives, such as housing, benefit reforms, energy prices, the environment, job insecurity, food insecurity, low wages, affordable higher education etc, we might then be able to formulate a different ideology, a different discourse, one that unites us for the good of all.

 

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Fear & insecurity enslaves many today, time to challenge the political status quo …..

The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. (Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind)

For those of us who have seen lives and cities decimated by the ideological mantra of neoliberalism  –  ‘free markets’ and ‘privatization’ good/ public sector bad – the reality of this ideological stance is personal.

As a society we have under estimated the power of this ideology. Yet it has under pinned successive governments’ since Margaret Thatcher with a blueprint of how society should be structured and has determined what, and whom, counts in society, differentiating between the deserving and underserving. This ideology has provided governments with a framework to structure the role the state, the free markets, families and individuals in meeting need in society. It still is driving government policy and tells society who will receive what, how much it will cost, who will pay for it and  how it will be provided. A particularly disturbing aspect of the current ideological crisis is the displacement of responsibility for ‘austerity’ and a failing public sector onto seemingly everyone, except those who have created it;  uncaring leaders, an under regulated financial sector and sheer corporate greed.

However, the exercise of neoliberal ideology is not just about political power and the domination and oppression of those most marginalized in society. It also requires the consent and compliance of wider society to operate without challenge.

For real change to occur society needs to withdraw its consent and compliance if we want to see a shift away from the current approach.

At last we are hearing an alternative discourse. Many will decry Corbyns’ vision, but it is for us, the people who will elect the next government to be brave, to open our hearts and minds to imagine a world not driven by neo-liberalism, free markets and the profit motive.

Arguably our biggest problem has been the lack of vision our politicians seem to have had over the last 40 years. Regardless of political persuasion, few have been able to conceive of a world not centred around neo-liberalism and a free market, and those who have, have been pilloried in our increasingly biased media machine.

Now we have an opportunity to forge a future based  on compassion not consumerism, valuing people not things and respect for ourselves, each other and our environment.

Rejecting neoliberalism  at the ballot box will do more long term good than sticking with the status quo. Neoliberalism is an ideology of fear and insecurity that enslaves us all. Maybe the time is coming for us, the people,  to be brave and imaginative and believe the unimaginable is possible for all our futures  ……