I’m almost weary of this story before I start to write it to be honest. Unfortunately the story is ripe for pickings, I can’t really help but go with it.
A bit of background. (note : this is my understanding and perception of what has and is happening – if I’m wrong on the details, please correct me because I haven’t trawled through documents.. it’s just as it looks from a humble practitioner’s viewpoint).
BASW (British Association of Social Workers) has long been the professional organisation for social workers in the UK (the clue is in the name). BASW does not have a large membership. It seems to have a smaller group of mostly retired, independent or management members – lacking in front-line staff. I am a member of BASW. I have been an on-off member since being a student but I’m probably in my longest continuous stretch of membership at the moment.
They publish the British Journal of Social Work, they have an advice and representation service, they have a regular magazine but they fell short of being a trade union.
One of the things they were pressuring the government through the Social Work Taskforce was the establishment of a ‘College of Social Work’. Fine, good. Whatever. Sounded nice but I wasn’t entirely sure how it would make things different and make things better for me.
The Taskforce ran with this idea and proposed this. Negotiations began. SCIE (Social Care Institute for Excellence) was left in charge of the process and given significant amounts of money to set up a College of Social Work – but crucially, just for England rather than for the UK.
BASW seemed to feel increasingly marginalised by this process as they were only one of many partners rather than the lead partner that they had envisaged being.
There’s a lot at stake for BASW.
The College went along its merry path with BASW increasingly becoming irritated by it’s lack of leadership of the process.
Consultations took place. And then the ‘arrangement’ with Unison was made by the College. That seemed to kick off the main source of trouble.
Personally, it seems that the College development had a choice of convergence with BASW or with Unison and they picked Unison – one of the largest public sector trade unions. Unison though could deliver more members than BASW and the trade union element was one thing that the SCIE College could offer that BASW couldn’t.
BASW probably quite rightly fearing for its own existence, decided to establish herself as a ‘College of Social Work’. As of Friday, BASW is now called -
BASW – The College of Social Work
The SCIE-inspired College meanwhile sent out calls for social workers to join their own organisation in advance of it becoming an official college.
Here’s the rub.
The SCIE College says it will offer as membership services
- a magazine
- peer reviewed journal
- professional indemnity insurance and public liability insurance
- representation and employment advice via Unison
- tools and resources to use in practice
- attendance at annual conferences
- special awards
- special interest groups, forums, communities of interest
It goes on and on.
The difficulty comes when you realise that this is exactly what BASW offers apart from backing of Unison.
In response, BASW has claimed it is going to develop it’s own trade union branch just for social workers.
The difficulty is that there are over 100,000 social workers or social work students currently registered by the GSCC and BASW has 13,000 members.
The GSCC only registers people in England. BASW membership covers the UK.
Can we see a problem here? Basically the SCIE College claims that BASW doesn’t have a mandate to have the prime mover role in its version of a college and BASW retorts, well, it’s better than anyone else has.
Except Unison – who may well have a higher number of social workers as members.
That’s a slightly shady argument though. Firstly, I’m a member of both Unison and BASW. I see them as having wholly different goals.
Anyway, BASW have now renamed themselves ‘BASW – The College of Social Work’. They have registered the name ‘The College of Social Work’ and seem to be insisting that the SCIE College refrain from using that term.
There have been many exchanges of letters that very few people will actually read.
The perception of disruptiveness whether right or wrong is likely to harm BASW.
I’m not an active member. I don’t have time to be but I didn’t see this coming. I received a letter through the post on Saturday about it. It didn’t inspire me very much to keep fighting the fight.
At the moment, this ‘fight’ seems somewhat distant to me. I can understand that BASW feels excluded and is fighting for its life. I wouldn’t want to see it go – there are good people there – but it really should have been fighting this fight for decades. If it had a larger membership and had inaugurated a trade union branch ten years ago without being under the threat of extinction, it would have been in a much stronger place now.
Perhaps it is the fault of the profession of social workers for not standing up for ourselves enough.
These bodies, these organisations mill around us and claim to be speaking for us but we have so little time to speak for ourselves that we allow them to be filled with the same faces and the same almost-professional committee members and board members.
The problem with BASW that I saw is that its’ vision of social workers was set very much by ‘old schoolers’. People who practised decades ago and moved into management, independent practice or the academia – thus having time to devote to committees and policy development – leaving the front line behind them.
There needed to be more support in those first few years of post-qualification working. Something that those of us who are hardly the best-paid professionals in the world, would look at and say ‘that’s value for money’, ‘that organisation knows what it’s like FOR ME’ – not just for my manager or for my wildly experienced colleague but for me as I enter this minefield of a profession.
I can’t see that the SCIE college will be any different. They haven’t made much of an effort with the interim board members. Where are the real issues that are facing us as the profession (in adult services) slips away and has slipped away?
Where was BASW 5 and 10 years ago when we should have been challenging the orthodoxy that has led to this current malaise?
I have been impressed by the drive of BASW since Dawson took over as Chief Executive, to be honest, but it may well be too little too late as BASW is judged on past performance and current membership.
As for me, my heart says I don’t want BASW to die a death. I have a positive feeling towards the organisation. I know they want and mean well. I like the idea of a UK-wide College.
But the government has pumped money into the SCIE College. I’m also a member of Unison which has sided with the SCIE version. It may also become an issue of money. I pay a lot to be a member of BASW and Unison. My gut feeling is to prefer a social work specific trade union as I don’t feel particularly well-served by Unison but Unison does have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies. It is hard to imagine not having the backing of a strong union.
I just wanted everyone to get on but at the moment, this seems like a bit of a mess and I think I’ll just be sticking my head in the sand and will let them battle it out. We’ll see what emerges from the dust.
I say that with a very heavy heart. Problem with social workers, they are too busy working to get involved in conflicts outside the workplace and it doesn’t really do us any favours at all.