BASW silent on social work form-filling culture

Are we all Zombies now?

Form-obsessed, keyboard-chained, over-worked, hard-pressed, mega-stressed, resource-stretched, sorely-tested…social workers

I may be getting a bit long in the tooth, writes Dr Steve Rogowski, but apart from the occasional piece from an academic and the odd letter to the social care press (note the word care rather than work), nobody seems to be concerned about what is happening to social work. The silence of the British Association of Social Workers in particular is baffling.

Ever since the days of Thatcher, but, particularly with the advent of New Labour, social work as a “profession” (never in the league of such as medicine and the law, of course) has been in decline.

Put simply, one has only to note that a relationship-based service has been replaced by a bureaucratic, managerialist one, the current focus largely being the processing of repetitive forms as quickly as possible so as to meet often meaningless targets.

These preoccupations have led Professor John Pitts to refer to “zombified” workers who, for example, go through the motions by filling in forms. Admittedly he is talking about youth justice workers but surely his comments equally apply to social workers more generally.

To those who think I am painting an overly pessimistic picture, Bill Jordan’s latest book, Social Work and Well-Being, provides some optimism for the future. Thus, the current emphasis, by traditionally unsentimental or hard-nosed economists, on the importance of people’s well-being sits nicely with social work’s “old” emphasis on relationships and feelings.

Jordan rebuts the view that the latter are fuzzy concepts lacking in intellectual rigour, instead arguing that they are vital and necessary if social workers are to move themselves and their clients beyond concerns with material consumption and instrumental outcomes.

If there is to be a change in government policy to emphasise peoples’ well-being rather than just material circumstances, it sits well with social work’s roots in the primacy of relationships and emotions.

It may be stating the obvious, but many have never been happy with individualism, free market economics and the dog-eat-dog society these can lead to. As is often the case, Jordan’s work is a welcome antidote to such developments, and his arguments regarding the future possibilities of social work deserve to be widely read and digested. I hope he is right.

Dr Steve Rogowski is a social worker (children and families) with a local authority in north west England with 30 years practice experience.

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This article published in the magazine Community Care 1 May issue p8 under the headline Are we all zombies now

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