Social work pays tribute to one of its own as Mark Drakeford announces resignation

Outgoing first minister of Wales trained as social worker and then worked as a social work academic before entering politics

Mark Drakeford, first minister of Wales, 2018-24
Mark Drakeford, first minister of Wales

Social work figures have paid tribute to one of their own after Mark Drakeford announced he would be stepping down as first minister of Wales.

Drakeford was hailed for maintaining his social work values and commitment to social justice, after announcing he would be stepping down from the role in March 2024.

He trained as a social worker, then worked as a probation officer, a youth justice worker and as a social work academic before being elected to the Senedd (Welsh Assembly) in 2011.

This was followed by stints in several ministerial roles, including as health and social services minister from 2013-16, before he became first minister in 2018.

Social work academic career

As an academic, Drakeford was professor of social policy and applied social sciences at Cardiff University and published several books on the profession.

These covered subjects including the impact of the inquiry into the death of Maria Colwell that reported in 1974, social work ‘scandals’ and the effects of austerity on the profession.

Then, as health and social services minister, he presided over the passage of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) 2014.

Distinctive approach to social care

While similar to its English sibling, the Care Act 2014, both having originated from the Law Commission review of adult social care law, it also had distinctive features.

For example, while the Care Act obliged English councils to promote a diverse market in care provision, the Welsh act placed a duty on authorities to promote the development of co-operatives, social enterprises and other third sector services – but not the private sector.

Wales’s distinctive approach to social care, compared with England, has continued under Drakeford’s tenure as first minister.

His administration has committed to eliminating profit from services for looked-after children and is also exploring introducing a national care service to provide adults’ services free at the point of need, similar to the NHS.

At the same, the country has faced similar challenges to others UK nations with social work recruitment, retention and workloads.

‘He never let go of his social work values’

Paying tribute to Drakeford, social work academic Ray Jones, who lives in Wales, said: “As the first minister in Wales Mark has been, and is, impressive.”

Jones, emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University and St. George’s, University of London, added: “As a politician he has never let go of his social work values and skills. Humane, caring, engaging, and wise and not drawn into the current political swamp.”

The British Association of Social Workers Cymru also joined the tributes to Drakeford, saying: “As an ex-social worker, he led with compassion and integrity with social justice at the heart of his leadership and political beliefs.

“His contribution to politics and the profession of social work, through a values-led vision, bought about real change for the people and communities of Wales.”


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