Unison’s strength is that it has many voices

Owen Davies argues
that social workers need unity with other health and social care

The way that public
services are delivered is once again under scrutiny. All the caring
services – education, health and welfare – are facing radical
change. Those who work in these services want to ensure that the
necessary improvements can be delivered without ditching the values
on which they should be based. A genuine concern that we are not
winning this argument has led some commentators to put the case
that we need a single voice for social work – or is it for social

In Unison we know who
we speak for – our members. We represent social workers,
residential care workers, home care workers, occupational
therapists and many other groups of public servants who make up the
teams which deliver the services people need. If anyone is looking
for a trade union to look after the interests of the social care
workforce, then Unison is it. We represent more than 350,000 people
providing social care in public, private and voluntary
organisations. They have a very strong voice within the union and
Unison has a voice which is not easily ignored by

This is one of the
reasons why we announced at the beginning of August that we are
launching a campaign to highlight the crisis in social care. For
the first six months we will be highlighting the plight of social
workers – the need for a better public understanding of the
excellent work they do, for real efforts to tackle the problems
which limit their effectiveness (inadequate training, poor back-up
resources, threats of violence, etc) and – of course – for better
pay and conditions. We intend to sponsor a major conference on the
future of social work – we have already asked the Association of
Directors of Social Services and the British Association of Social
Workers if they will sponsor the conference, and we will be asking
others to come on board.

There is another
strength that Unison has. One of the changes which the government
is determined to drive through is much closer co-operation between
those providing social care and those who provide health care.
Unison is in a unique position to influence this process because we
are the only organisation with the right to speak authoritatively
for those who work in both services.

Our top priority must
be to persuade the government to rethink the way it treats the
social care workforce and the “single voice argument”
is a divisive distraction from that key task. It’s neither
desirable nor practicable. We need to acknowledge that those
delivering social care are not a homogeneous group and so they need
a set of organisations to speak for them. The key task is to bring
those organisations together where we can be sure that our common
message is heard loud and clear. We don’t need a single voice
– we need a chorus.

Davies is national officer for social services at Unison.      

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