Merry Christmas, it's been quite a year!
Well, it’s been quite a year! And I want to end it by wishing everyone that is reading this a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. A big thank you too to all BASW members, for helping to make the Association ever stronger, and bigger - a sweepstake has begun in the office for the date when we’ll hit a membership of 20,000, and at the current rate it won’t be that long coming.
Performing the professional task of social work is intrinsically difficult, and this is surely part of the appeal of the job, its challenge and its complexity (paradoxically, I think part of the challenge is to find ways to simplify the task. As Einstein said, if the internet is to be trusted, ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler’, but this is for another post).
And the intrinsic difficulty is added to many times over by the external challenges, including those caused by cuts and austerity and all the other threats to fully inclusive public services that we currently face.
So given all of this, we have to look for our achievements and really, they are not too hard to find.
BASW, the professional association for social workers in the UK, is thriving and growing. We launched our 2020 Vision this year, to focus our work over the next five years, during which time we aim to be the strong, independent voice of social work and social workers that the UK’s social workers need and deserve.
On the international stage, we hosted a wonderful conference for the European region of the International Federation of Social Workers in Edinburgh, with stimulating presentations from practitioners, service users, academics and others.
One of those presentations was on austerity and the social work response to it, with contributions from Spain, Ireland and Iceland. This has led to a social work symposium on austerity being convened in Athens for 21-22 January, to which BASW will contribute and more importantly learn a lot from.
This learning will be brought back to feed in to the developing Social Workers and Service Users Against Austerity here in the UK. Becoming involved in this was among my personal highlights of the year, for several reasons. First, it was a great example of a grassroots initiative coming from the bottom up. A social work student, Kirk Lewis, took the initiative of contacting the organisers of the End Austerity Now demo in June, to ask for there to be a social workers bloc, and then contacted BASW to ask us to support this. We were very happy to do so, and the result of this was a powerful display of unity on 20 June, when social workers and social work academics, from BASW, SWAN and JUSCWEC marched together on the streets of London.
This unity has since developed further, a further spur to this being the closure of the College of Social Work. The announcement of this came as a shock, and was a worrying sign of the new government’s approach to social work and its organisations. Within BASW, no matter what the history had been, we wanted to show our solidarity and support to our social work colleagues who were active within the College, or simply members of it. We are pleased to be in the position of being able to preserve and develop a part of the College’s legacy, and the most important part of this for me are its people. I am pleased about the relationships being developed and strengthened between some of the pivotal TCSW people and ourselves in BASW, and the continuation of this will be one of my priorities in 2016.
One thing that I found particularly encouraging was the surge of energy and activity amongst grassroots members of the College, the tangible result of this being the creation of the TCSW Facebook group and the Social Workers Assembly. For me this again showed how activity can emerge and develop organically, from social workers on the ground, and also pointed the way towards a more dynamic use of social media and the internet.
The theme of social work unity threading through the year, especially from June onwards, is also reflected in the summit that BASW has convened, to take place early in 2016. The response to this has been terrific and I think it has all the makings of a stirring event.
Another aspect of the College closure that has helped to focus our minds at BASW is the involvement of service users that was built into the College from the outset. This was not built in to BASW in the same way, which means we have much work to do to develop the partnerships that our vision calls for (though BASW’s 1980 paper, Clients Are Fellow Citizens, the result of a 5 year process instigated by Bill Jordan’s clarion call to the 1975 BASW AGM, was an important staging post on the way to an awakening that social work had to involve service users in a way it had historically never done).
So I’m pleased that service users will be playing an important part in the summit, and my appreciation goes to the organisation, Shaping Our Lives, in assisting us with this. We have much to learn about involving and working together with service users and carers and their organisations, and I’m looking forward to the journey that lies ahead.
There have been many other achievements, too numerous for the time and space I have here, in all parts of the UK, and I pay tribute to all social workers for what they achieve every day, with insufficient recognition, in their challenging, complex, and vital social work practice.
Finally, a particular tribute to Bridget Robb, who announced her retirement as BASW Chief Executive in September, and who will be standing down at our AGM in April. Involved with BASW for 40 years, from the grassroots to the head of it, and known to many from her work over the years as practitioner, academic and manager - a big thank you from me for all you have done for social work in the UK and its professional association.
A Happy Christmas to one and all!