by Kirk Lewis
On 20 June the People’s Assembly is holding a demonstration against austerity in central London. At the march I‘ll be part of a section for social workers and service users to come together in a show of solidarity against the injustices caused by year-on-year spending cuts.
I hope you can join us. The global financial crash was caused by the financial sector. Yet those in power act as if austerity is a problem caused by people reliant on welfare – the unemployed, the sick and the disabled.
These already disadvantaged groups are feeling the brunt of spending cuts most. Essential services have closed, often due to short-term decisions that are likely to lead to long-term social problems and a greater need for services and charity. Austerity has also seen significant job losses at local authorities and other public services. We’re one of the richest countries in the world and yet food bank use has hit record levels in the past 12 months.
For many of us, the thought of five more years of Conservative government – with the promise of more cuts to come – is worrying. Social workers will see even tighter budgets and have less access to the resources needed to support service users. And threats from the government to jail social workers for ‘wilful neglect’ only add to the demonisation of our profession and hurt attempts to recruit new people into it.
Speaking out against oppression
Social work was once the vanguard for society’s most disadvantaged. Speaking out against oppression and social injustice are at the heart of our profession’s values. Years of political, media and public strangulation may have left social work’s voice weaker than it once felt but this is not to say there is no hope.
There is always hope. The belief in change is central to social work. If our belief in change needs strengthening in these harsh times, we need only to look to colleagues in other countries.
The inspiring actions of our European colleagues in Spain and Greece saw social workers and service users coming together to publicly condemn the destructive impacts of austerity.
Rory Truell, the secretary general of the International Federation of Social Work, regarded the actions of Spanish social workers as “the best example of social work led social-action in the world right now”.
This is an opportunity
So the demonstration in London on June 20 offers an opportunity for us, like those in Spain, to show a united front in the campaign against austerity. More than 60,000 people have already pledged to attend the march.
This is a chance for social workers to promote social justice and reclaim our voice. Let’s not waste it. The demonstration is being backed and attended by members of the British Association of Social Workers, The Social Work Action Network and the Palestine-UK Social Work Network along with hundreds of trade unions and other organisations.
I’ll be marching for equality, social justice and to preserve a welfare state for society’s most vulnerable. Will you join us?
Kirk Lewis is a social work student. Details of the social work section of the 20 June event can be found here.