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Social workers reveal their views on government exclusion policy
work values and skills are under-used in the battle against social exclusion.
Rachel Downey reports on a new Community Care survey.
workers are being excluded from the government’s attempt to improve the lives
of many disadvantaged people in Britain. And their exclusion is hampering
attempts to promote social inclusion.
findings of two surveys conducted for Community Care reveal that the
government’s social inclusion schemes are failing to have a significant impact
on the people at whom they are targeted.
is general consensus among social workers that many disadvantaged people have
been overlooked by the social inclusion strategy initiated when New Labour took
power in 1997.
sample of 20 social workers who work directly with clients found that none
believe the strategy has been very successful in improving the lives of the
most disadvantaged in society. The rest are divided between "fairly
successful" and "not at all successful" or "not very
successful". Those who believe it has been successful pointed to extra
resources in their area.
believe more money is needed. There is recognition that funding has been
allocated for deprived areas but, as one worker put it: "It’s just a drop
in the ocean." Another commented: "Things are getting better for some
people but there’s a long way to go."
most have seen no signs of improvement in their field of work. "People
with disabilities are very excluded," said one worker. Another remarked:
"In mental health, I have noticed no difference."
most worrying for the government is the fact that some of the social workers
interviewed did not even know it was attempting to tackle social exclusion. One
said they were aware of "more money sloshing around" but they had not
seen where it went. Another pointed out that the people the strategy is
supposed to be helping have "no voice to actually speak for
believe the government has overlooked groups of disadvantaged people. One
commented: "It still excludes those people with the most problems."
Specifically they named children, including those with severe physical
disabilities; children from ethnic minorities; young people living in rural
areas; young male adults; 16 to 18-year-olds; people with disabilities; asylum
seekers; homeless people; and people with severe addiction problems.
don’t know which ones but they have probably overlooked some minority ones,
they always do," said one, adding: "The research needs to be not just
from the professionals in the area but also from the people who are actually
government is not putting enough investment into tackling social exclusion, according
to the sample. They believe that Labour has to overcome disinvestment by
previous Conservative administrations and that the problem is so vast, it will
require far greater resources.
can never be enough resources," said one. Another said: "I don’t
think there is enough money to help people’s needs, there are such a lot of
people in the community who are struggling."
workers noted the need for jobs and accessible services in disadvantaged areas
and the fact that a fiscal policy is essential to combat social exclusion.
However, when it came to the government’s pledge to halve child poverty in 10
years, many pointed out that poverty was not just about money. One worker
summed up: "It’s more than just about finance – it’s culture, environment,
local values and co-operating in the local community."
want to see an increase in the funding of core social services, arguing that
new investment in specific areas leads to cutbacks in others. More money would
"increase the output of social services in terms of meeting the needs of
socially excluded people", said one.
work values and skills are under-used in combating social exclusion, according
to the staff sample. The government does not support or professionally
recognise them. One commented that in the run up to the general election, too
much emphasis was placed on education and the health service "yet social
work is just as important, particularly child welfare, child poverty, and
consultation and communication were also highlighted. "The government
needs to consult with social workers like ourselves who deliver the services,
as well as including services users’ views." Another said: "They need
to listen to the workers."
sample of social workers was clear about their role in helping socially
excluded people. Their role was seen as "very important" because they
meet vulnerable people. Empowerment was key. "To improve their quality of
life, support them instead of doing it for them," was one view. More
hands-on work and increasing the range of services and the numbers who can
access them were mentioned.
workers warned that social work values were under threat because social
services departments were disappearing and adult social care services moving to
the health service. They want the government to raise the profile of social
work and encourage recognition of its values. The government must embrace
social work values in the structural changes and ensure that they are shared by
other agencies such as health and education.
consultation was also key. "I’m unaware of consultation at social workers’
level. Talking to ground staff is crucial," said one worker.
message to government is clear – use social work values, expertise, training
and insight to help combat social exclusion. But social workers need their own
three Rs – recognition, resources and respect. Only then can they work with
vulnerable people, including those who have been omitted from the government’s
social inclusion targets, to improve their lives.
Absence of services
Three-quarters of the sample of people living in the 10 most deprived areas of
England had never received any social services. Of the quarter that had, the
majority had received emergency funding, home help, or occupational therapy.
All of those who had received personal care said it had improved their lives.
And all those who received home help said it had improved their quality of
life, with three-quarters reporting a great improvement. The percentages were
exactly the same for those receiving occupational therapy.
Of those who had received emergency funding, three-quarters said it had
improved their lives to some extent and the rest said it had made a great
The survey of 102 people was taken in the 10 most deprived areas in England,
according to the government’s indices of deprivation.
All described themselves as being either a single parent, receiving income
support, being physically disabled or having a mental illness, or having been
classified as homeless in the past year.
Two-thirds of the sample were female; one-third male.
20 social workers who work directly with clients were interviewed for the staff
surveys were conducted by NSM Research.
The views of social workers
don’t think that social work is significant in the government’s thinking, all
the money goes into health rather than social services. We need more of a
directive of where we are going and where we will be working – where I’m
sitting I can’t see that."
[the government] needs to understand what we do. It needs to value social work
and people in general."
they seem to be articulating concerns around social exclusion, there aren’t
enough resources and there doesn’t seem to be a strategic policy as far as
ground workers are concerned."
government don’t give social workers the credit that we deserve."
services are not valued, they’re an integral part of helping the disadvantaged.
The government still has a problem with class, predominantly social services
clients are overlooked and dismissed but are meant to be grateful."
inclusion means that everyone can have a job, have a normal lifestyle, that
people feel valued – these policies should be an on-going process, investment
needs to continue to see long-term benefits."
all money and slogans. They say they’re addressing the problem but nothing
happens – all mouth and no action."
workers inundated with calls for help
Alex Dobson reports on the massive worload of
US social workers in the aftermath of 11 September.
Twelve-hour days are now the norm for Mila
Tecala. The National Association of Social Workers’ social worker of the year
and head of the Centre for Loss and Grief in Washington DC is one of hundreds
of practitioners working night and day, trying to pick up the pieces for
families ripped apart by the New York and Pentagon attacks of 11 September 2001.
Two weeks on from the attacks now known to have
killed more than 6,000 people, Tecala and her colleagues are being swamped by
calls for help from families, friends and workmates of those who are missing,
and from many others struggling with the trauma of escape.
There are other people too who are turning to
social workers. Hundreds of children have lost a parent, and many have been
orphaned. Social workers who are specialists in bereavement counselling say
they are being inundated with requests for help and advice.
Many families are turning to social workers for
help with dealing with the funerals and other affairs of relatives whose bodies
may never be found. Countless survivors need counselling that has to be
arranged. Social workers are also staffing emergency resource and mental health
centres in New York and Washington DC, and dealing with the thousands of people
looking for lost relatives. Many practitioners have volunteered to provide
mental health and other services, while some have been working with the Red
Cross and other agencies.
“Since the tragedy happened it has been so very
busy, with not enough hours in the day to help everyone who needs it,” Tecala
“I have been working with the employees of
American Airlines. The plane that crashed into the Pentagon came from a local
airport and many of the employees of the airline have been having the greatest
difficulty coming to terms with the loss of their colleagues. It has impacted
on all the employees from ticket sales staff to the pilots and the stewards.
“We have worked with groups, debriefing them.
We talk to them about the feelings that people often experience when they are
faced with a disaster and help them to understand what the normal reactions are
and what to look out for in the future, and how to be aware when they are not
able to come to terms with their feelings.”
Michael Cronin, a social worker from New York,
is working as part of a disaster mental health team put into place to help
co-ordinate and support the volunteers who came to help.
He reflects: “Teams of trained volunteers began
to arrive in droves from across the country to assist the new volunteers who
were doing the most incredible job without having disaster training and
“For most of that first day, I led a team of
mental health workers at the site. The air was full of dust and smoke, and
several times we had to run for safety when the last of the buildings
Social workers such as Cronin and Tecala are at
the heart of the recovery process as the American public attempts to come to
terms with the devastating acts of terrorism that struck at the heart of their
“Social workers are already part of numerous
professional teams dealing with the after effects of this tragedy,” says NASW’s
executive director Elizabeth Clark.
“Our members are committed to helping citizens
in schools, hospitals, community mental health
centres, and emergency resource centres.”
Mental health experts are warning too that the psychological
effects of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon are only just being felt and the need for support from trained
practitioners will increase in the coming weeks.
But support will be needed for practitioners
too. Tecala says that it is vital that social workers themselves guard against
the symptoms of stress and anxiety as they help others.
Otherwise, there is a danger that
the scale of the tragedy may overwhelm the very people providing the support.