Front Line Focus: What’s blair done for us?

At last we are rid of Tony Blair. Ten years of a new Labour government should be a time of celebration. Sadly it is not.

There is a sense of betrayal about Iraq plus a lurch to the right that has impinged on all aspects of society, not least social work and social care. One result, despite a government target of reducing child poverty by half by 2010, is an increase of 100,000 children living in poverty, together with a widespread growth of inequality. Another, as a recent Unicef report notes, is the unhappy and unhealthy state of UK children.

Older people increasingly have to finance their own care needs by, for example, buying in services supplied by private companies. As for children and families, we have seen the growth of private fostering agencies and children’s homes. The primary purpose of all these enterprises is to make profits, often at all costs.

Social work has seen changes begun by Tory governments continuing. There is the fragmentation of social work with the proliferation of forms and tasks being split between different workers leading to deskilling, routine and bureaucracy. There is now a plethora of advisers, mentors, and counsellors working alongside family, outreach, project and development workers, all of whom now carry out what used to be seen as social work tasks. We even have the situation whereby a 16-year-old can have three different social workers dealing with welfare, youth offending and aftercare respectively.

Social work has been noticeably absent from various new Labour welfare initiatives such as Sure Start and the Children’s Fund. It is almost as if there is a concerted effort to airbrush the very words social work out of existence.

New Labour distrusts professionals whether in health, education or social services. Instead managers are seen as, in effect, the saviour of what remains of public services. This leaves social work with a more coercive, restrictive and deprofessionalised role. There is a focus on the rationing of services via assessment procedures and hands-on work with clients is now left to less qualified, less well paid and far easier to control workers. Current developments are the death-knell for social work as a profession and I doubt that the General Social Care Council’s review of its role and tasks will alter this. Sadly, Labour, which initiated the rise of social work by implementing the Seebohm Report, is now overseeing its demise.

Dr Steve Rogowski is a social worker (children and families) with a local authority in north west England

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