I’m practising in a climate at odds with social work values

Social workers need to actively protest against the dangerous political landscape that is emerging, argues Sophie Ayers

by Sophie Ayers

Anti-discriminatory practice is one of the most important aspects of social work training and central to the professional standards we have to meet.

I’m increasingly alarmed to be practising in a political world that appears to be in direct opposition to this way of working and so incongruent with social work values.

For example, I’m extremely worried by Theresa May’s recent visit to meet Donald Trump and the subsequent invitation to Trump for a visit to the United Kingdom. I believe that May’s position is akin to collusion with Trump and his devastating immigration policy.

As social workers, we must meet section 6 of the HCPC’s standards of proficiency. It states that social workers must “be able to use practice to challenge and address the impact of discrimination, disadvantage and oppression”. These standards may not apply to our political leaders but I believe our government still has a duty to challenge and address Trump’s overtly hostile and discriminatory voice and policies.

If social workers were asked to use race, religion or a country of origin to inform risk assessments, widespread horror and outrage would ensue. I feel nothing but fear for Muslims in this current climate. I cannot imagine how Muslim communities are responding to Trump’s new anti-immigration policy.

A blatant disregard for respect

I wonder how I can look a Muslim service user in the eye, knowing that our prime minister is tolerating a blatant disregard for respect, equality and the right to live safely, without fear.

Whilst our government does not appear to be advocating a similar immigration ban to the United States at present, I continue to be concerned that there have been other indications, aside from passivity with Trump, that promote oppression and restrict support for human rights.

Take May’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis, with particular reference to the many unaccompanied asylum seekers within the Calais camp. Our prime minister appeared to show a marked indifference and lack of action for children who deserved protection from some atrocious conditions.

While the government did relent and allow some unaccompanied asylum seekers to cross the channel, their response was slow and appeared to lack compassion. And now it has said it will limit to just 350 the number of unaccompanied refugee children it will take in from other European countries.

I am not minimising the complexities of the humanitarian issues palpitating across the globe. There is no clear solution. However, my regard for humanity being enhanced everyday through my social work practice makes the government’s complacent response to humanitarian crises a bitter pill to swallow.

Respecting human rights

Respect with regards to human rights should be at the heart of every social worker’s practice. However, with the government’s apparent leaning to pacify offensive immigration policies, it would be understandable for professionals to be cautious about the government that they work for.

Within social work practice, complicated ethical dilemmas enfold on a daily basis. It can range from whether a person who is displaying clear signs that they are a risk to themselves or others should be detained to whether a parent should permanently face the loss of their child through adoption.

Many critics of social work already argue that the balance of human rights has been lost, particularly with reference to the family court system. I currently do not share this view and am clear that there are strict legislative and ethical guidelines that affect decision making to protect any form of social engineering.

However, with our ingrained and taught sense of justice, it is imperative that social workers stand up now to the pernicious utterings of racism and prejudice that appears to be prevailing across the pond. America is a powerful force and has much influence over the British people and seemingly the UK government.

Social workers need to actively protest and find our voice against the very dangerous political landscape that is emerging. Let’s fight this destructive complicity and complacency at its infancy, rather than find ourselves in a world where every value base of our profession has become defunct and dispersed.

Sophie Ayers is a child protection social worker

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6 Responses to I’m practising in a climate at odds with social work values

  1. Dee Burton February 9, 2017 at 9:30 pm #

    Can I add another reason to protest? The way people are being marginalsed more and more with blanket refusals for benefits such as PIP and ESA causing increased stress and hardships.

  2. Nicola White February 9, 2017 at 10:18 pm #

    What an eloquent article. I wholeheartedly share your concerns. It is, indeed, a frightening climate for all of us; professionals and service users, alike.
    You succinctly encapsulate the heart of the matter. I fully agree that we must take a stand against oppression and the spreading of fear. Moreover, not just because a Code of Ethics tells us this. We are fast losing sight of the impetus of social work in the UK. The media continues to dehumanise us; political input is jeopardising the standards we’re able to offer.
    For all us this, I remain proud of what I do, and how I help. Keep fighting the good fight.
    In closing “Do not go gentle into that good night….”
    Thank you for your article.

  3. Sally Attwood February 10, 2017 at 11:06 pm #

    Briefly – I agree with the comments of Nicola White regarding Sophie Ayer’s article. It is a fact that most individuals going into social work do so because they wish to contribute to reducing the harmful effects of inequality, discrimination and injustice in our society. However, being employed by Local Authorities, some of which espouse very different values, can lead to pressures being placed on the social worker carrying out their role according to their professional ethics. From what I have observed this has increased during the recent past. At a time of growing need and decreasing resources it is unsurprising that stress is increasing among social workers. Sophie Ayers is to be applauded for continuing to espouse social work values – indeed human values – in the face of increased marginalisation of the refugees.

    • Stuart February 13, 2017 at 9:09 pm #

      Not sure whether the same applies in Tory heartlands but everywhere I’ve worked these past 45 years the Council and it’s leaders would definitely espouse the aim of contributing ”..to reducing the harmful effects of inequality, discrimination and injustice in our society”.

      The tricky part is how much cash they have available to pay us to pursue that aim, alongside all the other responsibilities.

      We social workers mostly do what we can to make the world a generally better place, after doing the stuff we’re paid to do, but I wouldn’t like any aspiring social workers to enter the profession in expectation that it’s actually going to be a route to righting every wrong. That can’t be done.

  4. Neil February 13, 2017 at 2:26 pm #

    Donald Trump was democratically elected by the citizens of another country

  5. Mark February 15, 2017 at 5:52 pm #

    My experience of dealing with social workers is they have lost their way. I rate social workers beneath used car sales man in terms of honesty. They are part of the reason why people vote for the likes of Trump. If they were indeed as this article suggests there wouldn’t be such a backlash. It is time social workers looked hard in the mirror and began to be honest