by Steve Rogowski, a social worker (children and families) with a local authority in NW England
Public expenditure cuts are now beginning to seriously bite, affecting services users (rising eligibility criteria, increased charges, closure of facilities etc), social workers and other staff. All are paying the price for a financial crisis they had no part whatsoever in creating.
What amazes me is how ‘the powers that be’ have managed to convince almost everyone that cutting deep and fast is the only way out of the economic mess we are now in. There seems to be a general feeling among many that cuts are inevitable and there is nothing people can do about them. You even have the situation where social workers and others seem willing to accept pays cuts as a way of saving jobs or services.
Similar deficit, different response
However, one has only to recall that Britain faced a similar financial deficit after the Second World War and how the response then was very different; millions of pounds were invested in housing and the welfare state was created.
As Ken Livingstone has pointed out, the result was that industrialised western countries saw the most successful period of economic growth ever, something which coincided with a strongly redistributive tax policy.
Over ensuing decades the proceeds of such growth sustained high levels of public and private investment and closed the inequality gap. This was not just because of benign governance from both ‘old’ Labour and ‘one nation’ Conservatives, but coincided with the high point of the influence of trade unions over the economy.
The ‘there is no alternative’ view of the Con-Dem coalition government to the current crisis has to be seriously challenged. Even if one accepts the need for the deficit to be reduced, this could be done in the form of progressive taxation, a clampdown on the multi-billion pound tax-dodging industry, harnessing the banking system to play a positive role in stimulating the economy, and investment in public services such as council housing.
There also has to be a change to the craven failure to rein in the financial system which in turn indicates how business and economic policy is dictated by multi-national conglomerates. Surely we could have an economy geared to producing goods and services that meet our shared human needs rather than securing excessive financial gain for a few.
Determination to fight
So how should service users, social workers and others respond to what is happening to services, salaries and terms and conditions of employment? In the first place, apathy must be replaced by a determination to fight and resist, by working both through and with users groups, trade unions, professional associations, charities and other progressive groups. Not least the TUC day of action on 26 March provides an opportunity for all concerned to show their anger and dismay at the dismantling of, as Pierre Bourdieu once wrote, ‘the economic and social bases of the most precious gains of humanity’ i.e. the welfare state. As Marx might have said, social workers you have nothing to lose but your apathy.