Has the recession helped social work? The obvious answer might appear to be “no”; it prompted mass job losses, a public sector pay freeze and the current furore over pensions. But in other ways, it has had an unexpectedly positive impact on the profession, argues Moira Gibb, chair of the Social Work Reform Board.
Speaking to Community Care ahead of the board’s two-year anniversary, Gibb says the recession has led to less churn in the social work job market, particularly in England. “People aren’t moving around so much, so it feels calmer.” Despite the bleak economic climate, Gibb seems confident that the reform board’s programme of change has made a difference. “I do sense we have changed the tenor of the conversation about social work, both in terms of its public image and political attitudes.”
The reform board was set up in January 2010 to take forward the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force. Gibb says she will continue to lead the board until it winds down in mid-2012. In the meantime, it is busy finding homes for the different projects it has been working on, including the development of a national set of standards for social workers and their employers and a framework for continuing professional development.
The board expects three bodies to take on this work; the College of Social Work (“Assuming the College does come to pass, and that’s my expectation,” says Gibb), the Health Professions Council (HPC) and the office of the chief social worker. The College is due to formally launch in January, the HPC is expected to take over the regulation of social workers from the General Social Care Council in July and a chief social worker is yet to be appointed – so next year will mark another significant period of change for the profession.
Gibb has, of course, kept a close eye on the dispute between the interim board of the College of Social Work and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), which has been raging on and off for almost two years and blew up again recently during a select committee hearing. Like many other people in the sector, Gibb fully supports the College of Social Work, but hopes its interim board can find some way to work with BASW and avoid the setting up of two rival colleges.
“When the College announced it was unable to come together with BASW, I wrote to both saying ‘please don’t do anything in the meantime to damage possible future alignment’,” she explains. “We can’t afford to have two [colleges]; social work is not a strong enough profession.”
Finally, Gibb admits that, while the reform board has made progress, the kind of whole-systems change required is difficult. But she also points out that the board has been operating without a ministerial edit, meaning any changes or achievements made so far have been sector-led. She adds: “If we can pull this off, it will be so much more positive than something that was top-down.”
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails