Are staff too obscure to be heard?

    Yvonne Roberts says workers are well placed to warn of impending
    trouble in our cities… we should listen.

    Are staff too obscure to be heard?

    Andrew Kernan, a 37-year-old diagnosed with schizophrenia was
    shot dead by police marksmen in Liverpool last week after CS gas
    failed to subdue him. His crime was to wave a samurai sword while
    wearing pyjamas.

    David Blunkett, the home secretary, has said he wants to bring
    forward plans to use tranquilliser guns. The police are expected to
    react warily in the belief that different types of weaponry will
    lead to confusion in tense situations.

    In Bradford, just as in Brixton 20 years before, it has taken a
    riot – several riots – to finally allow the views of the
    disadvantaged and unemployed young Asians to be heard. It is also
    clear that many members of the white community feel that they have
    been pushed aside in the creation of Labour’s “New Britain”,
    despite of the surge in neighbourhood renewal, the drive against
    social exclusion and the government’s anti-poverty rhetoric. Their
    views are also being heard.

    But why must it take yet another death of a mentally ill man at
    the hands of the police and the destruction of so many local
    communities before the establishment actually takes real notice of
    the marginalised? For years, coalitions of local activists and
    politicians, community workers and social workers, had been issuing
    warnings in Bradford and other troubled areas but with little

    The government has affected deafness in the face of these
    warnings but that would be so much more difficult if social
    services in particular had a stronger voice and a higher profile.
    Instead, as health and social care become more integrated, so the
    role of the social worker, already much maligned, is in danger of
    fading into obscurity in the public’s mind.

    Thirty years ago, among graduates, social work was one of the
    three top options for life after university, alongside journalism
    and dropping out. The social worker then was viewed, in our
    idealistic eyes, as the engine of radical change; the empowerer;
    the David who could take on the Goliath of the state; the advocate
    of those who were without words.

    The national training organisation CCETSW says social workers
    “assist people to have control and improve the quality of their
    lives, and are committed to reducing and preventing disadvantage.
    They intervene in the lives of people whose life chances may be
    adversely affected by poverty, ill health, discrimination and

    Or, to put it another way, they cohere precisely with this
    government’s alleged aims to champion rights and social justice in
    a holistic way, putting the individual’s circumstances in a social
    context. If, that is, the social worker has the time, resources,
    training opportunities and energy to do so. Labour has said it
    wants to improve the image of social services – certainly,
    something radical is required to boost recruitment and to remind us
    all why social work is so much more than “interfering”.

    Like it or not, in the 21st century, image and branding matter
    but perhaps what’s more important than a fresh face for the sector
    is the emergence of a coherent voice. One which fights to make
    itself heard in the national arena and which reminds us why a fair
    and decent society simply can’t afford to have social services
    sitting neglected in the back row of policy-making .

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