Leader of Liverpool Council, Joe Anderson, has always felt close to the community, so becoming a social worker was a natural step. Molly Garboden reports
From merchant seaman to pub owner to social worker, and now leader of Liverpool City Council, Joe Anderson has had a varied career to say the least. Anderson says, however, that his transition into social work felt relatively seamless.
"The funny side is that when you're a pub owner, people tend to think you're a social worker anyway," he laughs. "I was always hearing about customers' problems."
On a more sober note he says he's also always been a community activist and a trade unionist, "so I've always had concerns for the welfare of the community. Social work seemed like the right road to go down in order to make a difference".
Personal experiences played a part too. "My dad was an alcoholic and we had domestic violence in my family, so there were times we were supported by social services. When I became a social worker, I would see the conditions some of the families and kids were in and the issues they were facing. It really galvanised me to want to change things for the better."
He ended up working for the charity Sefton Welfare of Pupils. "Its main purpose is to supply school uniforms for kids whose families can't afford them. I know what it's like to be in that situation - kids can get marginalised and bullied. The charity also sometimes pays for children to go on school trips. We've paid for a couple of disabled kids, whose families have so many other expenses, to do this as well."
Proud of the charity and its aims, Anderson worked his way up to head the organisation while also dabbling in politics. He was elected as a councillor in 1998 for the ward, Abercromby (now Riverside), where he grew up. The last council election in May saw Labour take back the city from the Liberal Democrats and Anderson now finds himself in the privileged position of being able to decide how the city as a whole will deal with its social problems.
Although the most recent Ofsted annual rating showed Liverpool is performing well in its children's services Anderson says the current financial climate will put pressure on everyone.
"Clearly, we have large numbers of families who depend on social services. Within the first two months of 2010 we were over-spent by around £9m in that area. We spent £187m in total on social services, both in children's and adults'. And there's a growing dependency on the system, so there's not really an end in sight."
Most of the issues are due to the prevalent deprivation within the city, he says, pointing out Liverpool's unemployment rate is high above the national average.
For this reason Anderson has committed himself to "protect everything he can, particularly in children's services" where he plans to increase investment in early intervention and prevention.
"It will be difficult but we have to continue to provide those services because children are very vulnerable and lots of them are in such difficult situations. We can't just ignore that. Preventative services are extremely important to us as a council. You have to have services that identify early where the support should be. That way you actually end up with a situation where it costs a lot less. I believe we need to invest more in preventative services - it's so much more cost-effective than being reactive."
● Born 1958 in Liverpool.
● Joined the Merchant Navy after leaving school.
● Joined P&O Ferries and became a trade unionist.
● Studied social work at Liverpool John Moores University as a mature student.
● Councillor on Liverpool City Council since 1998.
● Leader of Labour Party in Liverpool since 2003.
● Became leader of Liverpool Council 2010.
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This article is published in the 5 August issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Drawing on a colourful past