Nottingham meeting gladdens the heart

For some time it has seemed that social care is not so much the policy that dare not speak its name, as the one whose name senior politicians just can’t remember.

As they have struggled to fend off attacks about NHS operation waiting times, the cost and inefficiencies of private finance initiatives, and the conundrum of pumping buckets of new money into health without things being seen to be appreciably better, it’s been easy to forget the parallel problems of social care. Now the resignation of NHS chief executive Sir Nigel Crisp raises further concerns about the follow-on effects of financial crisis in the health service for social care.

Two things, however, now offer some real hope. First is Community Care’s Stand Up For Social Care Campaign. Only by articulating the issues facing social care and widely highlighting the real contribution it has to make, are we likely to ensure it has any kind of safe and secure future.

This campaign has the potential to confirm social care’s crucial importance in the minds of policy-makers, the public and staff themselves. Second – and less obvious – but potentially marking no less of a watershed, is the conference in Nottingham which launched the Community Care campaign – Affirming Our Value Base In Social Work And Social Care. I feel very proud to have been part of it.

It will be a long time before I forget where I was that day in March 2006. It’s the biggest conference I’ve ever seen and I suspect that there has ever been in the UK about social work and social care. A packed concert hall, with people filling the stalls, the gallery and the second tier gallery that was so high, I’d have been frightened even to climb up there.

It wasn’t just that there were so many people. It was who they were and why they were there. The hall was filled to the brim with social work practitioners, students, service users and others keen to hear about and join together to take forward social care to a positive future and ensure it can play the constructive role that it has at its heart for all service users. A sea of lively and enthusiastic faces of many ethnic origins and all ages – but so many younger people, starting careers that offer the rest of us real promise for the future.

If only more leaders in social care had the courage of their convictions that Jim Wild and colleagues at Nottingham Trent University showed in putting this event together, despite all the things that could have gone wrong. But they didn’t. Instead, we could see the power and potential of social work and social care in the hundreds and hundreds of enthusiastic faces milling about, wanting to hear, to learn and share.

There were about 2,000 people present. This is likely to become the stuff of legend. I have just never seen so many people together all heading in one direction, all come to find out more about how to do social work and social care well and make it the user-centred service it truly can be. Some days you can wonder if you are alone in your concerns about social care. This was a day that proved there are many more of us out there for whom it is a central issue. It is a pity that more of social care’s formal leaders weren’t there – to get a sense of this dynamism and be energised by it. 

Of course nothing’s perfect. I’d have liked to have seen some current face-to-face practitioners on the platform. But some of social care’s key moral guardians, like Bill Jordan, Bob Holman and Beatrix Campbell were there to inspire. They stressed the need for social care workers to be politically engaged. Already one Community Care reader has criticised this for harking back to old-style leftist ideology. But I’d highlight the importance of supporting the efforts of service users to empower themselves and to work for change to achieve their collective human and civil rights.

Together we really can make a difference.

Peter Beresford is professor of social policy, Brunel University, and is involved with the mental health system survivor movement

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