Why I Quit BASW (British Association of Social Workers)

I felt a tinge of sadness when I finally decided to quit BASW (British Association of Social Workers). I’ve been an advocate and member for a good few years and I have a great deal of respect for a lot of people who work there. I advised colleagues to join over the years amid general  waves of apathy. I wanted to ‘make a difference’. I wanted to contribute to the general good of the profession as a whole and I saw my membership and support as the best way.

I can understand some of their irritation with the way the College of Social Work  has been established but what I couldn’t understand and believe me, I tried to, via their own forums and press releases, to get to the heart of what their anger about was  about UNISON  (the trade union that linked with the College of Social Work) , with the College, with SCIE – who were charged with setting up the College on behalf of the governmentwas all about.

I know it was partly about control. BASW had initially thought to propose the idea of a ‘College of Social Work’ and probably felt that they should have been charged with running it. The problem was and remains that BASW members remain a minority of social workers. I remained a member though. I enjoyed being a part of the professional association. I thought that it added ‘something’ to my arsenal and allowed me, theoretically at least, to hold a stake in the present and future ‘state’ of social work in the UK.

However, for me, BASW seemed to become less relevant to me as a local authority social worker. They run events but they seemed to be focused on either students and newly qualified social workers or independent social workers (I’ve been told that this is a faulty perception but it’s the perception that I have regardless).

I looked at their magazine and I saw what appeared to be page after page of propaganda for their own campaign to disassociate from the ‘official’ SCIE led College of Social Work. There was no space at all for any kind of dissenting or alternate views.  It felt like some ‘official party’ magazine. Sure, there would be some interesting articles but it would be one or two amid the reams of pages about how important BASW was. This is a membership magazine going to people who are already members. The writing felt patronising in the extreme as if we were just being exposed to a propaganda machine and were incapable of independent thought.

I am a member of UNISON as well as BASW. I never saw the two as being mutually exclusive. I certainly haven’t had UNISON bad-mouthing my professional organisation in its literature but BASW seem to find the idea of UNISON so difficult that they have press release playing ‘number games’ with their figures – forgetting the obvious point that some people (like me) are members of both organisations so comparing numbers becomes less.. helpful.. when you consider that some are counted in both ‘fields’.

I think their move towards creating a Trade Union is wrong-footed. I was unable to attend their AGM and when I asked about proxy voting, I was told that they only count the postal votes if those present dissenting reach a certain threshold. With that I realised that my vote against the Union would be discounted as those who would attend would be much more likely to vote in favour. I felt genuinely disenfranchised because my vote would not be counted unless I was able to attend in person.

I am deeply disappointed by both BASW and the College and their lack of engagement and innovation as regards trying to find new ways to build social work links and make progress in an increasingly social world. The same people are being appointed to the same committees to discuss the same issues. It very much feels like that from my point of view.

I was willing to continue my membership to BASW through their gripes and through my increasing concerns with the way they were moving.

However when they pushed out to promote their new ‘Social Workers Union’, that’s when I decided to leave.

They seem to be pushing their union as ‘added value’ to their current members. It would add no value to me as I already have a Trade Union. In fact, in their membership booklet, it even says that they encourage social workers who join to also join a trade union – and so I did. I know my Shop Steward and I admire them greatly. We link very well with the Health members of Unison as a lot of the issues, for me at least, in a Community Mental Health Team, are very similar regarding employment issues.

I’ve had my gripes with UNISON in the past as well but knowing how the local authority is minded, I would rather ‘stick my oar in’ with my colleagues regardless of whether they are ‘social workers’ or not as opposed to being in a union which exists only to support social workers. Currently our jobs are at risk. UNISON is working very hard locally to establish links within the local council and NHS trust to consultation and they are created with being an established partner and union who has members across the council. With unions, however right or wrong it may be, I think there is strength in numbers and I dare not quit my union membership in these current times. If BASW are focussing on ‘being a union’ and I don’t want to be a member of ‘their’ union – why should I pay for it? Especially when I am content with the union representation I receive from UNISON?

I felt sad to pack in my BASW membership and may be back in the future if they steer towards a more conciliatory path. I would still recommend membership for students, I think, because the fees are lower and if they to incorporate the union membership it may well be a good ‘deal’ to assist through difficulties with placements. I would also recommend membership for Independent social Workers as they have good networks and frequent meetings and events for Independent Social Workers and have good insurance packages (so I’m told).

For me,  though, I need to see more and mostly I need to see more positivity. The organisation increasingly feels very defensive and negative and that makes me sad.

Ultimately what  I would like from a professional organisation/college is more local groups/social groups. Spaces both physically and virtually to discuss the future of social work and ‘safe’ places to bring together issues that affect social work as a whole. Not just a forum, online forums are ‘old hat’ but there are more ways to discuss and find space.

I think regional groups would definitely help build connections and membership.

I know there are good people in BASW and that they want the best for the profession but I couldn’t justify continuing to pay over £200 per year alongside my union membership as they move in a path I no longer agree with and in tough financial times, you have to ask ‘Is it worth it?’.

Personally, I felt it wasn’t.

My hope is that there is a move towards more collaboration with the College of Social Work but that those within the College will push away some of the apparently self-obsessed cobwebs from BASWs eyes and create and evolve an institution that can really work for Social Work rather that what appears to be their own ends because unfortunately that’s sometimes how it feels from the ‘front line’.

Committees arguing for their own continued existence. I’m sad to say that but that’s how I feel.

Just one aside, when playing their numbers games and trying to ‘outmanoeuvre’ Unison in claiming to have more ‘Social Work’ members, I commented that I would like to know two things

How many members attended the BASW AGM?

How many people voted in favour of the move towards a Trade Union (numbers not percentages)?

I haven’t been given these figures but if there is anyone from BASW reading, I’d really like to know.

I’m not saying at all that I’ve left forever. I really hope I will be back at some point but I have to see more effort and will towards promoting the profession rather than BASW itself.

13 thoughts on “Why I Quit BASW (British Association of Social Workers)

  1. I’ve discussed my opinions on this topic with you in the past, but will share a few thoughts here. (sorry, it’s another long comment!)

    When I was reading up about SW and deciding to enter the profession I became quite interested in BASW, and thought for a long time I could see myself becoming actively involved with them. However things have moved on for me a lot since then. For me, it was all about the legal fights over the name “college of social work”. I don’t seek to defend the College here – I have mixed views on it and those tasked with establishing it (comms have been pretty poor and the pace of coming up with something real that will benefit social workers is very frustrating). But BASWs naval gazing through the whole affair has been disgraceful in my opinion. The time, money and energy spent changing their name and then fighting a legal battle with the college is difficult for me to forgive.

    I really hope someone from BASW is able to formally respond to your post. I would like to hear how they can defend the seemingly undemocratic approach to AGM votes, and their failure to provide the most simple of numbers about their votes, especially when requested by a paying member.

    My partner is a doctor. I get to see what a strong professional association and college can do for those they represent. I can’t help but think that social work could do with some of the same, but I don’t feel overly optimistic about it.

    That said, I am about to be a student and may actually end up joining BASW, albeit with something of a heavy heart. I can assure you I will continue to make my views known to them though. I’m already a prospective member of the college and would be keen to try and engage positively with them when they eventually get things going as I think it is worth me trying, rather than just grumbling from the sidelines. And certainly I will look into the union options when the time comes from this to be beneficial. But I won’t become an uncritical cheerleader for any organisation.

    • I love long comments 🙂 and you make very valid points. I don’t really feel angry re: BASW – just sad actually and certainly don’t want to rule out rejoining at some point. I do think it is probably good for students – as you would have the additional ‘union’ protection. I just don’t think it was right for me at the moment as I hadn’t had any other opportunity to make my opposition to their path known.

  2. Looking at it from the outside, I have never had any involvement with BASW, reading your post they sound delusional and totally out of touch with the reality of “social work” in local authorities.
    What are they playing at setting up another “union” when there is a struggle to get people to join those that exist?? No, UNISON is not great but at the moment its suicide to disperse people and think its very important for S/Ws to be in a union with other workers.

    Social Workers are not treated with any respect in Local Authorities, thisn is sadly reflected in the disappointment and depression experienced by newly qualified workers who had been led to expect so much more. Having a union there, even UNISON is important.

    I feel really worried/sad for anyone joining the “profession” at the moment, if you are considering it please make sure you have adequate support and keep other options open. If you can do a course leading to any kind of joint qualification do it, this as been an escape route for some people.

  3. Really great and honest blog post – thanks for sharing. We had a discussion at work today about professional identity and the seeming challenge for the Social Work profession of ‘becoming’ more professional, not ‘selling-out’ and distancing too far from the people social workers are there to support, and of course these challenges without clear and strong leadership.

    I think it will be interesting to watch what happens over time and I hope that BASW take note of your thoughts and comments. Thanks, as ever, for sharing your thoughts.

  4. I love the idea of local/regional forums. It would be great just to meet up in a non-stuffy kind of way to discuss issues. Nothing over-structured and prescribed. I’m in Nottingham if anyone is nearby 🙂

  5. Thanks for all the comments. One of the frustrating things is that BASW did nothing for years and then suddenly when it feels threatened by the College, it does what would really have saved it if there hadn’t been a College in the offing so it feels like BASW trying to save itself by finding a reason for its existence rather than doing what it is doing to promote the profession..

  6. I joined BASW as a student, mainly due to their indemnity insurance, which I felt was quite important to students on placement. I also liked the aims and objectives then, and agreed with the path they were taking. 3-4 years down the line however, I made the same decision and left the association reluctantly and sadly due to their petty squabbling over the College. I spent ages being frustrated with decisions being taken and continued name calling, and eventually thought, why am I paying to be associated and represented by people who are no longer representing my views? I rarely read much of the magazine for the same reasons you mention, cb, and wasn’t able to get to events, the AGM etc due to the locations, and eventually started to wonder what I was paying for as they didn’t offer me anything. I’d also have liked local/ regional groups but that wasn’t on offer.
    It’d be interesting to know actually how many other members have made similar decisions to leave. Judging by all the emails, telephone calls (event at work) I received for months afterwards begging me to reinstate my membership, they are becoming concerned.

  7. Thanks Meg. I almost wish i didn;t feel I had to leave but in the end I felt it was the only way to make my voice heard. I was sorely disappointed at the way the proxy voting was managed at the AGM so I couldn’t let them know in any other way apart from withdrawing my membership.

  8. BASW decision to set up its own union instead of putting all its effort into establishing a united College with Unison begars belief. When the College’s members next year elect its Executive Committee and BASW ceases to exist except for those misguidedly having joined its Union I predict it will have a short life.

  9. A membership association/college that will represent the views, visions and expertise of its members is only as good as the activity of its members.Staff can help get the vision seen and heard, but it is the members who are the driving force.

    Local activities happen because local members want them to happen. 50 social workers, brought together through SASW (part of BASW), recently met in Highland to discuss the integration of health and social care; to share how they could best achieve helping people find a clear path through the complex matrix that is now part of our health and social care infrastructure. Many issues were covered that may promote or impede progress. There is much work to be done together through the professional association – let us not lose sight of that vision – that we are here to help people make positive changes in their lives. Nothing was gained by division, there is everything to be gained by constructive discussion, a shared purpose and working together.

    One of the great observations about empowerment is that ‘if you do not use the power you have others will use it for you’. It could be said that Social Workers are so used to working towards empowering other people they sometimes find it difficult to
    reflect on how to apply the same axioms to themselves. Whatever the professional body that will be there to support our work next year our responsibility as professionals is to make sure it works on to the principles and values of the international ethical statement of IFSW that binds social workers across the world.

  10. BASW and any College can simply make it’s Company ‘rules’ of participation and engagement more suitable to this century.

  11. Rules of a membership body are made by the members, but have to be compliant with the law. If you want to change them then you need to be a member and get involved.

    I have been a member since I was a student back in 1972. BASW has gone through many changes in that time, some I have supported, some I have not, but it has not stopped me seeing the value of membership in the wider vision of where we are going as a professional body.

    As an active member it has given me support when I needed it professionally and given me opportunities I would not otherwise have been able to access. It has given me worldwide contacts in social work, both people who work in services and people who use them. The opportunities for learning about what can be done differently and lobbying and campaigning for policy change will, as I reach the end of my career, be the parts of my membership that I will treasure.

    This debate is about so much more than setting up institutions, it is about why we all joined social work – to make a difference – and I think we have to get back to the bigger picture – the reality of how best we can support each other in helping people achieve positive change in their lives.

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