My career as a bog-walker

I have finally retired after 44 years as a social worker. When I
think back to how things were it seems incredible that so much has

In the old days when I went to a party and said I was a social
worker it seemed to be a turn-on for girls. That was long before
the Seebohm reforms, at a time when people thought that our sort of
psychotherapy would abolish every sort of social pathology, even
unhappiness. I don’t think it’s just my grey hairs but nowadays
people at parties seem to regard social work as an expensive
irrelevance, if not actually part of the problem.

But in my opinion there are few things more useful to do than to
become a social worker. Helping to relieve and prevent social
distress remains a fine aim but these days it is difficult to do
real social work because of all the stupid regulations.

For example, you’d expect a home care worker to be able to take a
client to the supermarket in a wheelchair to help them choose their
food. But this is forbidden because there might be a hole in the
pavement, somebody might fall in and the council could be

The building in which I worked had a lift, which as far as I could
tell worked fine. Yet for months health and safety displayed a
notice forbidding social services clients using it. Ironically, one
day I found a client collapsed and gasping for breath on the

I regret to say that I failed to attend the compulsory half-day
course on how to sit down in a client’s home. You would have
thought I would have picked up this skill during my career but,
alas, a colleague sat on a dodgy chair, damaged their back and
sued. Since then, all workers have to go on a half-day training

In the good old days there was just one form, the SS1, to be filled
in. Now we have more than 8,000, mostly in triplicate and needing
to be countersigned by a manager. Doing the job nowadays is like
walking in a bog – every step is a struggle to raise one’s boot for
the next step. And the endless reorganisations never do more than
create new chaos.

Perhaps I have become tediously negative. If I could have my time
over again would I choose to be a social worker? Debatable.

Peter Baird is a retired social worker

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