For years social workers have been saying: “If only we could get on a peak time soap, then people would really understand who we are and what we do.” Now it looks as though that terrible thing – getting what you want – may almost have come true. Social work is on Big Brother – not once but twice! Out go seventies stereotypes of sandals, kaftans and hippies. In come Sam and Amanda, social work student twins from Manchester Metropolitan University at the end of the first year of their professional degree course.
Social workers, the General Social Care Council and those about to do serious PhDs about images and stereotypes of social work had better do some serious readjusting fast. If these two young women aren’t evicted early on, there’s a good chance they will become the most famous social workers – the most visible expression of social work identity – in the land.
What is this likely to mean? Should we be trembling or cheering? We have already had some early pointers. Sam and Amanda think that “girls should never have to pay for their own drinks” and find “politics confusing”.
The people of all ages I’ve straw polled about the twins have generally responded with some variant of “they do your head in”. But surely we need to look beyond this? Service users place an enormous emphasis on valued human qualities making for good social work: warmth, empathy, respect and listening. Who’s to know how well Sam and Amanda will do – if they stay their course?
Two modern worlds really are colliding here: the tabloid world of “lesbo sex”, “grabbing boobs”, “romps” and sexual manipulation and social work’s serious efforts to challenge abuse and disadvantage and advance “anti-oppressive practice”. The GSCC has told me it is making no comment at this stage. I think it should. Sam and Amanda may need some help and so may social work’s “protected title”.
I just hope that the rapacious folk at Big Brother, programme makers Endemol and broadcaster Channel 4, do them no harm. These young women highlight the one nauseating skill that BB majors in: it sets unimportant people against each other and the rest of us, as payback for a quickly forgotten moment of fame.
Peter Beresford is professor of social policy at Brunel University
See his accompanying blog entry on Big Brother