From the vaults

Thirty years go

There are cultures that believe time is cyclical and events repeat themselves. For example, the Aztec calender had cycles of the beginning and end of the world. Aristotle believed that states went from monarchy to oligarchy and democracy before starting over again.

Evidence for these beliefs can be found in social care such as BASW’s flirtation with setting up a union. Caught between the demands of professionalism and negotiating pay and benefits, BASW decided to set up a parallel union – the British Union of Social Work Employees.

However, other unions objected to the close relationship between Buswe and BASW forcing the two into an early divorce. Sadly, Buswe did not recover, never reaching above 3,000 members. Recently it joined Community, made up of unions representing steel and textile workers. Most BASW members ended up in the embrace of Unison.

At this month’s annual conference, BASW will again be balloting members on having closer ties with a union or setting one up. Is the Aztec God, Quetzalcoatl, ruler of the fifth cycle, heading up the social work body?

Twenty years ago

Imbued with the spirit of decentralisation, Hackney Council moved social services to local offices recognising “the council has become a dirty word for many local people…because of bureaucratic and insensitive town hall servicesrun by remote officials in far away buildings.” The plans were part of a move away from the big centralised departments set up in the 1970s to smaller flexible units.

Hackney’s staff weren’t so happy. Demoralised by the previous regime, they were unsure of the reforms, particularly as the council refused to discuss “more resources” with them.

Turn the great wheel of time and we have a similar situation today. Hackney has been pioneering smaller, flexible children’s teams, overhauling the structure and culture of practice and supposedly giving staff more responsibility.

Yet the Hackney Unison branch claims the consultation on the restructure was “an utter farce” and “staff are being denied their contractual rights, given offers of alternative employment that are unreasonable and forced to reapply for their jobs”. If Aristotle was alive, he would be appending his work to include the cycles of reorganisation that take place in social services departments.

Fifteen years ago

Those who believe flexible services, personalisation and independent living are all new ideas will be disappointed. In Community Care’s hallowed pages we find an article on consumerism, especially how it was being used by the New Right (those young Tories who believed in rolling back the frontiers of the state. These days they keep company with Gordon Brown). For example, one idea was for older people to have credits to buy in services in order to encourage them to stay at home.

The two key watch words were choice and empowerment while simultaneously having the great benefit of reducing costs and getting rid of those “remote officials in far away buildings”.

We also read about person-centred care and user control, citizen advocacy and independent living. All buzz phrases that trip off the tongue of any “social care thinker” today, even to the extent that such policies are termed, dare I say it, revolutionary.

One revolutionary, Friedrich Engels, said that history repeats itself first time as tragedy, second time as farce. Is social care beginning to enter the land of the farce?

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