by Ruth Allen
The chance to celebrate social work – and know that the celebration is going on around the world – is really important to me. World Social Work Day (WSWD) is a celebration of globally acknowledged values and a moment to show our pride as a profession.
Social workers dedicate our working lives to getting alongside people who are experiencing health or social problems or who face discrimination and stigma. We use our skills and knowledge to work with those excluded from exercising their rights, from accessing resources and from maintaining their wellbeing within the mainstream of their societies.
This year’s WSWD theme is ‘promoting dignity and worth of peoples’. Like many others across our sector, I’m reflecting on the importance and urgency of this given the harrowing scenes from the refugee crisis in Europe and further afield.
If we are serious about promoting dignity and human worth, this starts by recognising this is about all of us. It is about learning together what works. Fundamentally it is about enabling and supporting people who have been disempowered, for whatever reasons, to speak their truth and find their solutions.
Next month I take up post as chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW). One key issue for me is how we can best use our role as part of the International and European Federation of Social Workers to contribute to support for refugees and other humanitarian emergencies.
Challenges close to home
Of course our role in promoting people’s dignity and human worth is also vital closer to home.
Here in the UK, people are facing increasing material and emotional stress and deprivation relating to welfare reform and the underfunding of health and social care (particularly preventive and early support). There is increasing inequality in access to housing. Homelessness, an important barometer of our societal wellbeing, has risen hugely. These are fundamental challenges to people’s dignity and sense of worth.
As social workers, we value being able to work within the framework of the Human Rights Act as well as international frameworks such as the UN Convention on Rights of Persons With Disabilities. The political efforts to have the Human Rights Act repealed in the UK – a move that would undermine essential human rights protections – should concern all social workers in adults and children’s services.
Reasons to be hopeful
There are of course plenty of reasons to be hopeful about the promotion of dignity and worth in our sector. The enabling spirit of the Care Act and the increasing emphasis on improving the quality of practice around safeguarding adults, the Mental Capacity Act and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards are important examples we should not take for granted.
There’s also reason to be optimistic about social workers’ ability to innovate. While the climate is challenging, I know social workers are grasping opportunities to work creatively and effectively to support the emotional and practical resources that people have within themselves and their social networks.
Increasingly we need to work co-productively with the people we serve. We need to find solutions together, particularly where funding and other provisions are scarce. We also need to stand together against discrimination and exclusion.
This is important for all of us. There is strong research evidence that the more inequality there is in society overall, the more our collective wellbeing suffers. We need to work in humane and effective ways with communities and families – whether there are primary concerns about children or adults. Whole family and community-focused working are central concepts for all of social work. They are key areas for innovative practice and the development of evidence in the profession.
Reaching out to the diversity of social workers
My aim in my new role is to ensure social work practice and knowledge – and our understanding of what good solutions to difficult problems might look like – are influential across social care, health and other areas of policy and practice that impact wellbeing and inequality.
I want BASW to be a source of some of the best ideas, best critiques and clearest perspectives on how we need to develop as a society. To do this I will be reaching out to the diversity of social workers, from all backgrounds and parts of our communities. I will also be working ever more closely with people who use or are directly affected by social work services.
One of my first tasks is to ensure BASW is working towards the priorities set out our 2020 vision strategy. Through this programme of development, our professional association should become more inclusive and be an even greater resource to members and others who care about tackling social and health issues across the UK.