Why I’m wrong – A response from BASW

I am not going to add anything to this post. After I wrote a post explaining why I left BASW, I was sent this as a response and agreed to publish it.  I’ll leave the questions and comments for others and I have asked that someone from BASW respond to any questions or comments that arise from this post but obviously they are very busy so here’s their post. – cb

I’m disappointed that you are leaving BASW and, as head of communications for the Association and editor of PSW, I’m equally disappointed about your assessment of this magazine.

BASW is fortunate that more members have been joining than leaving for some time now but retention is just as vital as recruitment so any loss is frustrating.

Most members leave because their circumstances have changed – they might have lost their job, left social work or retired. On those occasions when someone contacts us to cite a specific issue for why they no longer wish to remain a member, someone from within BASW will usually correspond with them to at least try to respond to their concerns. Whether it makes any difference isn’t really the point – the main thing is to secure a grasp of what we’re doing wrong and how to do it better.

Your departure, inevitably more vocal and more public, is no different except that it seems appropriate to respond equally publicly, given the platform you have employed to air your views.

You cite BASW’s launch of the Social Workers Union (SWU) as the reason for now deciding to leave the Association. Clearly, the odd gripe apart, you are happy with your union and with your local representative. Fine. Really, fine, BASW has no intention of encouraging social workers who are happy with their trade union to up-sticks and join SWU instead.

We hope members in this position will still reflect on the range of member benefits being part of BASW offers, and will want to be part of their professional association, but in no sense is it making a play to poach you and others like you from other unions.

There are two reasons why SWU can be a good thing for the social work profession generally without impacting on the social work membership levels of Unison or any other union.

Firstly, there are well over 40,000 social workers in the UK who are not a member of a trade union or a professional association, so have little of the security such membership affords a practitioner in need of support – from basic advice to prolonged representation. By no measure can this be a welcome fact.

To date, a standalone BASW, acting solely as a professional association and without a union arm, has not attracted these people into membership. Nor too has any trade union appealed sufficiently for them to consider subscribing. BASW’s launch of the Social Workers Union offers these people something else, another option which some of them, just some, might choose to take.

Secondly, and most pressingly, there is one significant factor in BASW deciding to establish SWU that shouldn’t be ignored. A number of local authorities were increasingly unwilling to allow our Advice & Representation officers to attend internal disciplinary or conduct hearings. Although in contravention of ACAS guidance, this was leaving some fee-paying BASW members without access to the sort of expert representation they were entitled to have.

The ACAS guidance, it would seem, is just that, and if you are not a trade union then you don’t have guaranteed access to represent members with employers in the way we would want. By launching SWU, for no extra cost to members, we ensure, among other things, proper protection for local authority staff. This has to be a good development for social workers.

And let’s be very clear about which social workers. You describe BASW as ‘less relevant to me as a local authority social worker’ and ‘focused on either students and newly qualified social workers or independent social workers’. Yet SWU is, more than anything else, about ensuring we can support local authority social workers fully and properly in the increasing number of cases we are sadly being presented with where members are being poorly supported by employers.

You do allude to something very interesting though on the issue of how BASW represents local authority social workers and where we can do better. You suggest that the one thing you would really welcome is the chance for informal social networks – ‘safe’ places, physically and virtually, where like-minded people can discuss the future of social work. It’s a very strong concept and one BASW has recognised but could do far more in developing.

In this instance it is fair to say that we have gone much further down this road with independent members than local authority workers, as illustrated by the number of very successful independent groups holding regular meetings around the country. These aren’t controlled propaganda exercises – BASW staff usually only attend the first meeting to help get things off the ground – but informal meetings of independent social workers which BASW helps facilitate and that participants themselves then take forward.

We have staged a host of ‘tours’ within all UK countries over the past three years, many of which proved to be useful two-way discussion sessions, but facilitating networking groups within local authorities would be a good step for our members and should be explored further, and soon.

One of the most notable aspects of your blog, and the one I felt most keenly, was your assessment of PSW magazine. In particular, you referred to ‘pages and pages of propaganda’ and that there is ‘no space at all for any kind of dissenting or alternate views’. I will respond to this at some length but in brief I do not feel this is an accurate assessment of this magazine or BASW’s approach to dissent.

I have worked for a trade union where the members’ magazine became solely a propaganda device, where every editorial item was utterly patronising and where opportunities for dissent gradually dissolved to the extent it was untenable for me to remain with that organisation. I don’t miss it and I wouldn’t go back into that same environment or remain in an organisation that developed such a mindset. BASW is not that kind of organisation. Not even close.

Look at page 11 of this month’s PSW and you can see that one of the three letters is a direct attack on the magazine for publishing an article the correspondent loathed about lessons to be learnt from the Baby P case. I might disagree with the contributor but his was a valid member’s view which we published without hesitation.

Go back to March when we published a double page spread of comments posted by members online after BASW launched its own College of Social Work (as you will know, the name has since been dropped as BASW and the SCIE-sponsored College work to establish a single organisation for 2012) and you will see two sharply critical views and one far from convinced about the move. As a proportion of the 200 or so responses we received online this wasn’t just a fair reflection of dissent, it actually represented a higher proportion of opposing opinions than were actually posted.

Go back even further to the fall-out from BASW’s decision in early 2010 to hold a referendum of members on the kind of college members wanted to see. We carried letters from one BASW Council member who had resigned and another from a member at the end of his term, both of which were sharply critical of any move away from the SCIE college. No censorship, just publication.

It may surprise you but we actually don’t get a massive postbag of alienated members wishing to air their ire. Far more correspondents focus on something specific they have read, respond to requests for comment on a particular topical issue or, to my inevitable frustration, highlight minor errors of fact or grammar.

As for ‘reams of pages about how important BASW’ is, this is a tougher one because to some extent you have a point – we didn’t used to highlight the Association’s work that much in PSW at all. And people would complain that they didn’t know what BASW did.

People used to wonder why they were paying their membership fees if BASW wasn’t more publicly prominent, more vocal about the issues that mattered to them. BASW is definitely more assertive, more opinionated and, sometimes, more bolshy and for a lot of members that is a good thing.

Now, should that entail using the magazine for endless self promotion? No, in my view it should mean members get to read what BASW’s position is on key issues, whether on the riots in England, adult protection laws in Scotland, funding cuts in Northern Ireland or a consultation document on the future of social work in Wales.

As a monthly title PSW can’t present you, in print at least, with the very latest news, but it can reflect on the past month’s developments by offering the facts and adding a BASW view. This doesn’t change the facts but it does enable members to see what BASW is lobbying for, using the membership subscription fees they pay each year.

News is only a small part of the magazine though, so too is The Chief, where the chief executive is free to write what he wants to the BASW membership. Elsewhere you can read content including features, book reviews, advice columns and interviews, none of which offers a BASW view or seeks to evangelise.

Incidentally, though not without relevance, 345 members replied to a survey on our communications output in early summer and 92% said PSW was either a welcome or very welcome member benefit. It’s not scientific and there are plenty of members who haven’t expressed a view but it’s not a bad statistic considering it is an anonymous poll and I haven’t stood behind anyone’s back twisting their arms.

And just to go back to the issue of self promotion, only a couple of days ago, after reading your blog, I noticed a comment within a Guardian story about research it was co-sponsoring into the causes of the riots, in which the editor-in-chief waxed lyrical about the ‘great strides in the field of data journalism’ The Guardian was continuing to make. Possibly true but certainly self promotional.

BASW is an active, growing organisation that is constantly developing new services. We need to talk about this if we are to sustain our growth as, to borrow from your blog, there is ‘strength in numbers’ and the more members we have the more we can represent the interests of the social work profession – whether you are a student, local authority worker, independent or anyone else.

Joe Devo


As for those Annual General Meeting numbers you wanted. Around 230 people attended the Practice Symposium in the morning and 164 remained for the actual Annual General Meeting. Of these, 134 supported the launch of SWU, 21 opposed the motion and eight abstained. Proxy votes totaled just nine, with five opposed to the launch of SWU and four in favour.

Would we like more members to take part in the decision about the future of their organisation? Absolutely and we are trying to learn lessons from our attempts to promote the AGM in May. Several advertisements and e-bulletins actually attracted the biggest turn out at a BASW AGM in my time at the Association, around five years, but we must continue to try and up the numbers further as clearly those who attend the event are clearly a minority of our overall membership – though this isn’t particularly unusual for any union or association.

Considerable effort will be made to alert members to the next opportunity to shape the future of BASW on 1 November when an Additional General Meeting in Birmingham will be asked to determine whether BASW should transfer its assets into a new College of Social Work. This will commence in earnest once BASW Council meets on 21 September to consider the latest position ahead of the Additional General Meeting.

19 thoughts on “Why I’m wrong – A response from BASW

  1. Talk about the tail wagging the dog!!! A pathetic AGM attendance / vote which can carry no credibility whatsoever other than the VASW majority of members have no interest in what BASW is doing and are alienated from it.
    As a former (and last) Chair of Membership Services I can only reiterate that BASW ceased to have its Members interest at its heart many years ago and is now little other than an Insurance Company.

  2. I am just starting out as social work student and we have had talks from both BASW and UNISON during our induction week. The lady from BASW said that they were now going to join the college after a falling out. That is all she said and she would not elabourate on the nature of the falling out. We then had a talk from 3 UNISON guys who were very passionate but were very rude and even dismissive of BASW’s role within the social work system as a whole, not just over the College falling out issue. UNISON said that BASW were definately not joining the college. Some one is obviously misinformed but I am not sure who I believe? very confusing as we have had a very busy week with lots of information thrust at us and it would seem not all of it is even true.

    A confused social work student

  3. ‘LG’ you have encapsulated the whole problem – neither trusts the other in the slightest. Hilton Dawson is now BASW’s Union Chief with the whole Membership just transfered over without anyone even applying for Union membership – utterly hypocritical and quite dishonest.
    My original post should, of course, have said VAST!

    • Phillip, if you’re going to state facts, at least do some fact-checking. If you spend just 2 seconds looking at the union page at base.co.uk/swu it asks its members to opt-in. The signup page to join BASW also requests that you tick the box to opt-in to the Union.

      So where does this idea that BASW has just transferred their entire membership over to the union come from? Perhaps your hatred and anger is clouding your thought process. Or maybe it’s intentional to paint BASW in a bad light.

  4. I must admit it is somewhat paradoxical that I am responding to this post having just had an article published in the BASW journal Professional Social Work titled “The social media we need not fear” http://cdn.basw.co.uk/upload/basw_11730-7.pdf which cites @monstertalk. We are both passionate about the power of digital engagement and social technology to transform social work.
    I will declare an interest here I am a qualified social worker but I am no longer a BASW member. I agreed to write the article because I believe an understanding of the potential of social media is essential for social work.
    The BASW response does not reflect well on the organisation and shows a lack of understanding about the engagement and conversations that are taking place across the internet about social work.
    I am not interested in revisiting history of BASW of which I am fully aware. I do believe that the thoughtful post by @monstertalk required a more reasoned acknowledgment about a social worker wanting to discuss the issues and concerns expressed by many social workers through social media channels. You make some fair points but the defensive and attacking tone is misjudged and in my view is unlikely to encourage the debate that is urgently needed to inform the future direction of social work and the College of Social Work.
    A number of us have requested an open debate through social media channels – a willingness to engage and discuss the issues is the response I would expect from the professional association representing social work in the UK.

  5. Enough said from BASW- fully demonstrating the usual disconnectedness from the views of the social workers who form the association (or used to, before they felt they had to leave to get their views heard).
    It’s so nice to know that big decisions about the future of the association are being made by 134 members (most of whom will have been students/ independent social workers or retired members) who don’t have the same problems fitting in a day off to attend an AGM that local authority workers do due to the problems facing social work today. My vote was one of the 9 postal votes received- I guess the stamp was pretty much wasted! LOL!

  6. I think the BASW’s response proves you to be right! Talk about digging a bigger hole for themselves.

    Seems that BASW is interested only in itself and how big it’s membership can be, damn it sounds like a political party manifesto reading the piece above.

  7. Regardless of the content of BASW’s reply I give them some kudos for at least responding to @monstertalk’s blog and engaging. But you need to continue now BASW and have the dialogue.

  8. I find their reasoning about forming a trade union very convincing, based on my prior experience of giving employment advice. ACAS does recommend that employees should be allowed to bring anyone into a grievance meeting for support, but a lot of employers restrict this to a trade union rep or a colleague, so I can well believe that social workers wanting to bring a BASW rep in for support would have a much easier job doing that if it was labelled as a union.

    I think it might have been a good idea to explain that a bit more widely rather than posture about the great advantages of a social worker’s union.

  9. @monstertalk has again raised a series of important issues from a personal perspecitive. I too share @shirleyayers view that BASW’s response does little for a professional organisation. The growth of social media provides platforms for discussion and debate that we need to embrace and I too am passionatte about the opportunities such platforms provide. Ultimately criticsm needs to be respected and the debate needs to occur on the relvant platform and in a tone that cements professional relationships. I do not think that BASW’s respone does any of these things.

  10. I address my computer keyboard with some trepidation as I fear I am in the same position as many chilld care social workers,- damned if I do, damned if I don’t. You see, I work for BASW. I don’t want to make the situation worse and won’t respond to every point as that could become petty and rather boring. I am a frequent reader of Fighting Monsters which is a brilliant blog and was so disappointed that cb felt they could no longer be a member of BASW. I respect the measured tone of the comments, the lack of generalisations, an acknowledgement of positive aspects to BASW and the fact that a return was not ruled out. There were some errors of fact, but of course that gives me food for thought because that is how the situation appears to cb and others and we need to know that.
    Confused student (it may have been me who came as I’m doing lots of Uni gigs at the moment and enjoying it very much), we are working together with the College on several projects and are moving towards being part of the College of social work when it becomes real next year. I am signed up as a prosepctive member.
    I qualified in 1986 and joined BASW and Unison as I thought it was important to be part of the Union and the professional association. About half of SWs don’t belong to either a Union or BASW and that really worries me. I always say at presentations, I’d love you to join BASW of course, but please join something, whether that be us, Unison or another Union (eg GMB, Aspect, etc). SWU is not in competition with other Unions and that has been accepted by some of them. Nor is BASW going to bad mouth any other Union. Look at info about SWU and make your own decision.
    Local networks – we have several branches which are brilliant for members in those areas and some have formed recently. We have reference groups and special interest groups, who carry out much of their business by phone and email, but there are few members who want to come forward to initiate and maintain (with our staff support) such groups. I can understand why as things are tough (and we are in fact very in touch whith members and SWs), and we try to offer opportunities (eg my.BASW) for inline discussions and interaction. We are independent and so our only income is member subscriptions. That means we have four staff plus admin convering England for example (meeting members, local seminars, media, consultation responses, supporting reference and special interests groups and branches, guidance for SWs, answering member queries, working with policy formers, eg SWRB, and other activiites – it’s not boring!) which is why we need and encourage member involvement. I’m not saying poor us – it is what it is, but means we cannot do all we would wish to do.
    For an accurate picture of BASW and our activiites – http://www.basw.co.uk
    I hope this doesn’t seem over defensive. Happy to reply to any questions if I can.
    Regards, Ruth Cartwright

  11. As a new social worker coming here, it is nice to see what is available and see healthy discussions and opinions that spark healthy debates.

  12. I think Ruth has addressed a number of issues so I won’t go into any great detail, except to add two things. Firstly, Shirley, having re-read my post I am a bit surprised at your description of its tone. I hoped, as some observers have suggested, it would form part of BASW’s engagement in debate, as people are calling for, rather than a refusal to engage. Clearly I have an inevitably partial view, however, so couldn’t fully second guess how others would interpret it.

    Secondly, and most importantly, in response to a comment by Philip Measures, I do need to address a significant factual inaccuracy. Just to be clear, the whole membership has not been ‘transferred over without anyone even applying for Union membership’. Members must take the step of opting-in to membership of the union. If they don’t, they are not members of SWU. I hope that helps clarify the matter.

  13. Sorry about Joe Devo’s “inevitable frustration” at this comment, but I can’t help noticing that on page 11 of this September’s PSW magazine, (the Speaking Out page for “members’ opinions, views and updates”) the word “fallacy” is mis-spelled in a large headline as “falacy”!!

    As a BASW member myself, I find myself thinking that such amateur levels of sub-editing hardly create a professional impression…. which I am sure is not Joe Devo’s desire. I have to write reports for mental health review tribunals, and personally, I would be embarrassed if I made an error like this in one of my reports… I can’t see why we can’t expect reasonable standards of literacy in the PSW magazine… but maybe I’m just old-fashioned….

  14. BluePompidu,

    You are not old-fashioned at all – petty pedantry and point-missing is not age specific.

    Your comment would also hold a little more water if it did not contain a spelling error, two glaring grammatical errors and a good handful of woeful style choices.

    “Physician heal thyself”

  15. As a fully signed up member of ‘pedants anonymous,’ I can see why typos and the like are annoying to people, but wonder if we might get back to the topic?

  16. BASW’s relpy just seem like more propaganda to me, the letter below offers BASW some food for thought.

    Open letter to Hilton Dawson, Chief Executive of BASW – RE: College of Social Work
    Extract: “At BASWs Annual General Meeting, 164 took part, which is 1.1% of BASW’s 13700 members. I suggest that if BASW wishes to set itself up as a College of Social Work alongside the other SWRB College of Social Work, that relying upon anything less than a referendum of all 13700, will leave little more than ranker and division within BASW membership.”

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