Message to all Labour Social Work Group members and supporters
This letter from a LSWG member who is standing as Labour candidate expresses what many members must feel when their councillors are forced (as with many Labour councillors) to cut essential services, or willingly collude with govt prevailing view: ‘public bad, private good’.
A visit to a Desborough Town Council meeting recently set me thinking about driving. Desborough’s local tax has been increased by the Conservative controlled town council from £19.10 to £95.26 (Band d property over 2 years). In doing so they have jumped into a vehicle which they now appear to be struggling to control.
To some Northamptonshire County Councillors, presiding over an impossible deficit, the plan to free themselves of direct control of all services must seem quite appealing. Potholes don’t fill themselves. Indeed even the recent attempt by government to push through legislation ‘freeing up’ local authorities from their Child Protection duties, unleashing the potential to ‘innovate’, must have seemed like a good idea to some. Mercifully, at the last minute, government couldn’t agree with itself about that.
I would suggest that such tendencies in our elected representatives, especially in Northamptonshire’s case, are more akin to freeing up the steering wheel and depressing the accelerator. An eccentric minority may think it productive, but it is incompatible with care of the vulnerable and maintenance of our infrastructure.
When external auditors express almost unheard of criticisms of the County’s finances, and ordinary Desborough residents resort to videoing town council meetings, we have surely to consider that the drivers have lost control.
Now I have every human sympathy with anyone doing a difficult job, but no-one forced these Tories to jump into this vehicle, and it is still going.
As it careers towards goodness knows what, only the electorate can stop it.
Labour Candidate for Desborough and Surrounding Villages, Northamptonshire County Council Elections, 2017
April 15, 2017 blog
The Privilege of Social Work
It’s easy to find problems, anxieties and stresses on a day to day basis. We often joke that social workers have a particular outlook that encourages a degree of grumpiness and that’s not so difficult to understand. Often we do work with people who have been ignored and marginalised by society with resources that are being cut and in large scale organisations that can often frustrate our professional judgements. The feeling of working in a sausage factory when you want to be a creative — co-producing innovative care plans but stuck in a model which favours top down implementations can be frustrating and can sap one’s soul.
It is in this environment that is best remembered, reminding ourselves if noone else is there to do it, of the privilege that it is to work in this field. If we begin to stop thinking and remembering the privileges we have — not on a day to day basis, everyone has good days and bad days and we have the rights to dips in mood, but on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis, it may be time to think about moving out or moving on.
I have twice ‘stepped out’ of social work since qualifying. Once was just after one year of practice as a locum social work. I went to work in a completely different field for two years. There were various circumstances around this which weren’t related to me not wanting to do social work but it had been a tough initiation. This was back in 2000 before AYSE or NQSW programmes or protected caseloads or anything like that. I went straight into an older people’s care management job in a busy inner city London team. My caseload hovered between 35–45. In the weeks before I left, I closed or transferred 49 people and families to others. I lacked confidence after completing my qualification. And I left. It was only after leaving (and I was gone for two years), that I realised what I had left behind. It wasn’t during month one, or month five — it was more in year two actually. During those years, I came to the decision that it was absolutely what I wanted to do — or at least, I wanted to try in a different setting. One office, one environment and one organisational culture, does not define the profession.
So I returned, again as a locum — into an generic, multi-disciplinary adult social work team, again in inner city London (a different borough) and again as a locum. It was different — not least because the service manager inspired faith and confidence and she was supportive. I applied for a permanent job in the team as soon as it came up and stayed in that borough (although I moved internally into mental health) for roughly ten years. Then I stepped out again, to where I am now. I am still using my social work skills and knowledge but am not in a post which requires me to have a social work registration (although I maintain it because I feel it is a part of a professional identity which is important to me).
Moving away from a direct social work role in a local authority/mental health trust has given me space to breathe. It has also given me cause to reflect on the meaning of the role I left behind and what I miss about being a social worker. Sometimes we can’t appreciate the value of what we have until we don’t have it anymore.
So what are the privileges of social work? Well, this is just my view. I’m no expert, but it’s important to fill in the gaps yourself and consider, away from the specific job, in the specific borough, with the specific team — what the profession has given you? But these are my answers.
Grumbling happens. Of course it does. It happens in all jobs and all roles. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have ebbs and flows of enthusiasm but amid the grumbles, we also have to step back and think of the wonder, opportunities and privilege that this job — this profession- can give us.