The Conservatives have confirmed that no social workers will be standing for the party in the general election, despite claims made last year that “lots” of practitioners had applied.
In an interview with the Guardian in August, party chair Eric Pickles said many social workers, doctors and community nurses had applied to be candidates after the party tried to attract people from a range of backgrounds by reopening its list.
But a spokesperson for the Tories, who have pledged to heal “broken Britain” by tackling the causes of poverty, said that, of 650 candidates, no one with a social work background had been selected to stand in the 2010 election.
Labour has six former social workers, including four serving MPs – such as Olympics minister Tessa Jowell – standing in the election, while the Liberal Democrats have seven.
The Conservative spokesperson said eight of the party’s candidates did have professional links to social care, including Shaun Bailey, candidate for Hammersmith and Fulham in London and co-founder of the charity, My Generation.
Nevertheless, a leader of the Labour-supporting Unite union, Peter Allenson, said he was not surprised by the lack of qualified social workers standing for the Tories, given the party’s “uncaring nature”.
“I think [the original claim by Eric Pickles] was just spin, I can’t see any other reason for it,” said Allenson, national officer for local government.
“They were probably trying to capture the mood and show that they were listening to the caring professions, but now it’s come back to bite them.”
He added that the lack of any references in the Tories’ manifesto to social work, and particularly child protection, was “a glaring omission”.
However, Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said that even if more candidates had social work backgrounds, there was no guarantee they would “stand up for social work in parliament”.
It was important that all the parties signed up to BASW’s social work manifesto, he said. This calls for social work to be protected from cuts, alongside health and education.
The former social worker, a Labour MP between 1997 and 2005, added: “If people from any party help improve the status and standing of the profession, we’ll forgive them their lack of social work qualifications.”
Dawson added that he was “astounded” by the emphasis on empowerment in the Conservatives’ 2010 manifesto, and the pledges to involve communities and the public in running services.
“This is not the Tory party I spent decades fighting against.”
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