Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the

The question whether social workers – and social care workers more
widely – should have a stronger presence on the national stage was
raised again at the recent Social Work History Network

Social work professor Malcolm Payne said that, in a survey, social
workers saw the British Association of Social Workers as “distant
and elitist and remote” (news, page 13, 28 November). The
association had been most effective when it had focused on
professional issues rather than when it had campaigned on issues
such as poverty, he said.

It had had a big influence on the Children Act 1989 but failed to
make an impression on the NHS and Community Care Act 1990.

The 1970s and 1980s were the association’s heyday, but its
membership declined in the 1990s and has only recently started to

However, the association was recently forced to close its special
interest group on ageing after declining interest in its
activities. “The time is right for the torch they have carried so
successfully to be carried forward by others,” said BASW’s
director, Ian Johnston.

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“When I was a probation officer, I always valued the fact that
my union, the National Association of Probation Officers, was a
campaigning organisation as well as a professional association –
and it was good at it. While the British Association of Social
Workers styles itself similarly as there to help, support, advise
and campaign on behalf of its members, Malcolm Payne’s research
suggests it is failing in its advocacy and lobbying potential. I
hope his conclusions lead to honest reflection and significant
improvement in these vital roles.”

Karen Squillino, senior practitioner, Barnardo’s

“I have long wondered why social work does not have a real visible
and instantly recognisable national body as all other professions
appear to have. I am aware of the good work of BASW but I feel that
there needs to be a more proactive position adopted by the
association in respect of promoting social work as a profession.
BASW could also be used to oversee standards in an attempt to
maintain good practice.”

Julia Ross, executive director for health and social
care, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

“I’m passionate about the unique contribution of social work. As a
life member of BASW I believe there is no better vehicle. But I
support Malcolm Payne who is brave to say the unsayable. I am
particularly sad that BASW has failed to grasp the necessary
practitioner leadership for the integration of health and social
care. There is a level of self-absorption and a “workers r us”
attitude which can exclude broader-based contributions. I think and
hope it is rescuable.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“Despite the positive social worker recruitment campaign, the media
continues to denigrate social workers. If BASW were succeeding in
sticking up for social work, its views would be sought whenever
there was a ‘case’ in the headlines. I am frustrated at the lack of
a national voice for social work. A good start would be for social
workers to be recognised as a profession with bargaining rights
like nurses, teachers and doctors – yet I have never heard BASW
seeking to separate social workers from other council workers. If
BASW cannot do it someone else must – and soon.

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield institute
for Health, University of Leeds

“Twenty years ago a BASW view on major professional and policy
issues relating to social care could be taken for granted, but the
radical changes over the past 10 years or so seem to have merited
barely a whisper. It seems to have been left to the Association of
Directors of Social Services to fight the social care corner –
hardly a healthy situation. Social work badly needs a body to
effectively represent its interests and shape opinion at national

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