I caught this article a few days ago on the Huffington Post by a Social Work academic, trying to explain away another aspect of the riots and cashing in on his status no doubt as an ‘authority’. I don’t have much time for the body of the article.
He starts by saying
There is much of merit in the Prime Minister’s speech concerning the riots
and I’m afraid he almost lost me there as I found absolutely nothing of merit in the Prime Minister’s speech. Not even a single thought that I would deem worthy of merit.
He also states that
Social work has developed, importantly, its commitment to people made vulnerable, marginalised and disenfranchised by social, political and economic circumstances. However, it has constructed an edifice of anti-oppressive practice sometimes decorated with the inanities of political correctness that hampers its position to mediate and negotiate a pathway that re-engages individuals with their society.
I dislike the way the author picks the intellectually soft targets of ‘PC gone mad’ brigade to cast aspersions on the profession and to attempt to construct a criticism of an over-reliance on ‘anti-oppressive practice’.
Perhaps I’ve had the theories ingrained into me after years of practice but I maintain that it is absolutely vital that social work retain a fundamental commitment to language of inclusion, equality and equity and I have strong objections to the theft of ‘political correctness’ as some kind of negative stream that is acting to society’s detriment. I believe very strongly that challenging oppressive language and offensive language is the first stage to changing assumptions and removing labels.
It seems to be desperately sad that someone who purports to be teaching social work holds these ideas and I have to wonder if his goal is simply to gain more ‘status’ for himself.
His criticism comes a lot closer to home when he states that
Perhaps for too long social workers have been content to stand outside of the policies and workings of society when it suits, whilst still being employed, in the main, by local government.
and I honestly have to claim I’m not sure I know what he means. I wish he had written in a less emotive and a more explanatory style. Shame, if he considers himself to be a so-called ‘teacher’ that he can’t express his ideas in a clearer way and come out with exactly what he means by ‘content to stand outside of the policies and workings of society’. To whom is he referring this comment? I take it personally because he goes on to refer to those of us employed in local government, like me, but I wouldn’t by any means see myself as being ‘content to stand outside the policies and workings of society’ and I would say, if he is doing his job properly in teaching and training social workers, he isn’t doing very well at it if those are the kinds of social workers he is producing.
Every single day I go into work (and many I don’t) I consider how the impact of my work affects the society I work around and live in. I have never been content to ‘stand outside’ and take the proverbial government dollar. I challenge from within the system and criticise from without. That is what the reflective and critical analysis that we are taught trains us to do.
If you are not happy with it, Mr Parker—oh, sorry, I mean Professor — teach it better.
But there was one aspect of the article which rang a bell for me while he is having a dig at the provisions of the welfare state and buying into the tired government rhetoric of the ‘something for nothing’ benefit claimant as he says
The rise of neoliberal, de-humanised market-driven approaches have encouraged a version of Government that has removed personal well-being from the economic. In the middle is the third level of action that is dependent on social policy and legislation and individual ‘buy-in’. It is the area of social welfare. We have a system in which a person’s expectations have reached a point at which there is no need for reciprocal action themselves. There is an important social welfare cushion that rightly protects vulnerable people. However, it allows some to play that system, to refuse to engage with training, work or socially responsible activity and to believe they have a right, not simply for protection, but for continued support regardless of lifestyle, behaviour and willingness to contribute to society.
When I first read this paragraph I thought he was going to go off into a far more interesting angle of discussing the way that personalisation has led to a commodification of resources and the reduction of care to money and cash but no, he went in the far more predictable tub-thumping ‘let’s bash benefit claimants’ way.
Well, I’m going to take the ‘neoliberal, de-humanised market-driven approaches’ in another angle.
Let’s think about what personalisation means. Of course it means choice. Choice is good. Choice is a word that abounds in economic theories relating to consumers.
Service users are now consumers so, the argument goes, they will have more equality in the market system. They can buy with their money what they choose.
That is the ideal but it is very very far from the reality for all. The agenda of choice is all very well and I heartily back it but it has been deceitfully delivered first to those who are most able to exercise choice (adults with physical disabilities, those with involved family members). We can see some excellent examples and many charities and organisations have whole-sale bought into the wonderful possibilities of opening up markets to more social enterprises and small providers.
The research evidence from the roll out of direct payments which proved that adults with mental health problems and older adults (particularly those without carer support) had a very poor take up of direct payments was COMPLETELY ignored when new systems of delivering personal budgets were developed. How those involved int he implementation were and are allowed to ignore swathes of evidence and plough on with the process in the way they ‘knew’ and the way it ‘suited them’ and this has somehow been interpreted as ‘successful’, I’ll never know.
As someone who actively advocated for those user groups who were ‘harder to reach’ to be targeted FIRST by personal budgets roll-out, I stand by what I said then. We have known what has worked for direct payments for a long time, why not look at new ways of managing them for those who lack capacity and don’t have family or informal support – but then, as now, I was completely ignored.
So we have a care delivery system which is very much couched in the biases of the market and insurmountable inequity that no-one is interested in challenging because it does not meet the needs of the narrative that relentlessly drives this as a wholly positive change. I completely accept it is a mostly positive drive. I want people to have better services but I see some people having much better services and some people having fewer, worse services and amid the wave of positivity, the difficulties are ignored.
We have commodified care needs and quantified them. Our work as social workers is about allocating resources and not supporting and providing a service ourselves.
An assessment becomes a mere conduit for an allocation of resources rather than an attempt to actually work to combat and counter inequities.
So has neoliberalism ‘won’ in the battle for the soul of social work? We become functionaries of the state for the most part and are reduced ad infinitum to processors and glorified data systems entry folk.
I don’t think so – not entirely. There is a real danger of it happening but we need academics to actually support us not attack us. We need people who are engaged in research to help us by providing information that will highlight what is lacking as government policy pushes forward relentlessly towards devolving responsibility and couching it as an increase in choice.
I am in favour of direct payments. I’m in favour of personal budgets but I am not in favour of the whitewashing that has taken place of the real problems, challenges and lack of choice which is the reality for the majority of people I work with.
I am more hopeful than Parker and his somewhat mealy-mouthed, confused ‘article’. I think we need to seize the opportunity to make social work something more meaningful in the face of neoliberal pressures to commodify everything.