There has been a call both by Ed Balls for British social workers to ‘speak up for themselves’ as well as murmurings of the lack of professional bodies that approach his department to speak on behalf of social workers.
Generally, social workers in the UK are unionised – at least social workers who are employed in statutory services. This is entirely an unscientific point but my gut instinct is the UNISON is the most common union for social workers to have joined. I am a member of UNISON – albeit a somewhat reluctant member. I don’t actually have any faith in UNISON as a body to represent social workers. I believe if I encountered any difficulty at work it would probably be my first point of contact and I know that they have been effective in helping individuals I know in troublesome situations. I don’t dare let the subscription lapse to be honest – but I have reservations.
UNISON though have their fingers in too many pies to be effective as a voice for their members who are social workers.
So BASW is the obvious place to turn – the British Association of Social Workers. I have been an on-off member of BASW since I qualified. I join because I think it is Useful and then when I take a long and hard look at my finances, it was usually one of the first things I would cancel. Firstly, paying BASW and UNISON while not cripplingly expensive at this point in my life, is fairly hefty or at least a noticeable cost – certainly at an earlier point in my career when I was paying off more of those credit cards that funded me through my more flighty twenties.
Recently though, BASW seems to have been pushing out a little more – possibly due to the appointment of a new Chief Executive- Hilton Dawson.
He hasn’t been sitting on his thumbs since his appointment at least and I, for one, as a current member, find it both refreshing but also necessary.
He has written an open letter to Gordon Brown which calls on a wider appreciation of social workers and what social workers do. I personally was greatly heartened by this.
One criticism that I might have had about BASW is that it sometimes seemed that it was all the same people and could come across as something of an ‘old boys network’. There is, however, a survey on the site about how they can change their approach and be more inclusive.
The last time I joined BASW (which was just over a year ago) I said to myself that if I was going to pay for my membership – I intended to participate more fully and not only make myself available for meetings and study days that they offer but also actively share my thoughts and ideas with the body as a whole. That is something I have actually achieved and one thing I will say is that if the effort is there to make contact and actively engage it feels a lot more positive. I have a feeling that the organisation wants to hear new thoughts and ideas – but sometimes you just have to speak first rather than wait to be spoken to. Fortunately, the nature of social work is that it rarely attracts the ‘shrinking violet’ personality type!
I sincerely hope that a chance is taken to broaden BASW membership although that may only come if there is a more solid link with UNISON as I think the dual membership is something of a deterrent and given the choice of UNISON or BASW – I expect most people would go with the union just on the basis that this is a profession that invites criticism from others and even internally and the checks and balances offered by union membership are often very necessary.
Although BASW does offer indemnity insurance, it is more of the workplace bullying and criticism that the union can come into its own – as well as an established structure of negotiation with ‘the powers that be’.
I do think it is important though that Social Work retains a unique voice. Perhaps the profession has been pushed by the wayside is the lack of support for the main professional organisation in the UK.
There isn’t really an alternative at present in any case.