I am visiting second year students on placement. Our second year placements are mainly in the voluntary sector. It’s very encouraging when you see students starting to thrive in their chosen career and I’ve got some students doing well and showing natural aptitude for the profession.
I also enjoy going out and visiting new agencies, and finding out what is happening on the ground. I know there is an emphasis in higher education, particularly through the teaching partnership bids, in enabling students to have two statutory placements, rather than a second-year placement in the third sector, but I wonder about the wisdom of this. For one thing, this approach seems to undermine the experience and contribution of this sector to social work.
Whether we like it or not, in the current mixed economy of care more and more provision is going to the third sector, so why when it comes to social work training do we focus so much on the statutory experience? I say this as someone who’s career has been almost entirely in the statutory sector. However my husband works in the voluntary sector and when I compare the active empowerment, service user involvement, and potential to innovate of his work with my social services experience, I know how much we have to learn from our third sector colleagues.
It’s my day off. There’s a lunchtime showing of I, Daniel Blake in my local cinema. Watching a film in the middle of the day usually feels the ultimate guilty pleasure, but I suspect this viewing might be more of a guilty misery. It makes me wonder if I should go. I’m despairing enough about the world at the moment and as a politically aware social worker, I feel I’m well aware of how awful the welfare system is. Should I just do something more enjoyable with my morning?
It turns out to be the most important two hours I have spent in a long time. The brilliance of the storytelling and the acting moves me in a way that purely head knowledge of people’s circumstances would never manage.
The film tells the story of a man, who despite being unable to work because of a heart attack, gets turned down for employment support allowance. It also focuses on a friendship he develops with an isolated single mother who has had to move from the south of England due to the caps on housing benefit. The dignity of the characters, and the support and love in their relationships, contrasts with the complete inhumanity of the welfare system they are fighting. The reality that individuals and families are facing the kind of poverty depicted in the film is indefensible in twenty first century Britain.
Today I’m doing a lecture on empowerment and am lucky enough to have a service user, who is also a disability consultant and campaigner lecture with me. He can make the theoretical points come alive with fascinating, although disturbing, stories of the kind of challenges he faces in his daily life, many of which are about negotiating the attitudes of professionals he meets.
He also tells of the indignities people are facing with the current system of assessment for Employment Support Assessment: assessment centres which don’t have access for disabled people; car parks which aren’t close to the building they must get to, but when people struggle to walk from them they are told that this proves they have adequate mobility.
It’s hard to know what to do with my anger and sadness about the current political state of things. I feel pulled to activism yet I also feel I am already too busy, and if anything, I’ve recently been drawn to spending more time at home not only to be with my children more, but to have more time for reflection.
Today I have essays to mark, and I pass the day analysing written work. I think of the concern for social justice that took me into this profession and wonder about my current contribution. I’m not sure encouraging good essay writing counts as changing the world! I guess for now I must do my job as well as I can, and hope that teaching the next generation of social workers is some kind of offering.