Social workers have a proud history of being part of the awkward squad. Asking awkward questions, telling senior managers what they don’t want to hear and presenting the inconvenient truth to politicians about their proposals and policies.
Social workers can make those removing services from vulnerable people feel uncomfortable with their graphic case examples of exactly what this will mean to a frail elderly person left cold, hungry and frightened in a urine soaked bed.
Social workers have a set of professional values that it’s hard to disagree with and even harder to square with budget cuts, zero based contracts and 15 minute “pop-in” calls.
So it’s not surprising that a government set on cost-cutting, “modernising” and shrinking the public sector should view social workers as obstacles to progress.
Social workers are in good company; teachers, nurses and now junior doctors are considered part of this awkward squad.
Whenever a profession is being awkward they are accused of resisting change, undermining efficiency initiatives and holding back the modernisation process.
Any claims to have the interests of patients/pupils/clients or service users at heart are dismissed and instead presented as self-interest.
Their professional experience and insight are not valued and their professional values are considered secondary to party political values of choice, competition and cost.
Duty to speak up
Professionals have a duty to speak up on behalf of their patients/clients yet a range of strategies adopted by employers and the government can make many afraid to do so.
These include using threats of dismissal or conduct investigation, inspection regimes and investigations that are about naming and shaming and not improvement, asserting unqualified staff could carry out much of the role at a fraction of the cost, underfunding services and putting jobs at risk, eroding pension entitlements and enforcing a pay freeze.
These strategies are used against a range of professionals but every time one group is undermined and bullied into submission it makes it easier the next time the government wants to impose its will and silence dissenting voices.
Are we willing to be discounted?
If social workers are not willing to stand up and defend those who will suffer and allow their inconvenient views be discounted, devalued and dismissed, then what is left?
The unchallenged views of ministers and a prime minister who orchestrates huge spending cuts and then asks his local council why they are closing libraries and cutting services to vulnerable adults.
Blair McPherson is a former social worker and director of social services. He is now an author and blogger. www.blairmcpherson.co.uk