Chair's Blog


Social workers and service users against austerity, side by side for social justice

The damaging effects of the austerity policies initiated in 2010 and extended since last year’s election are becoming ever clearer. The Independent may have become an online-only newspaper but it is still producing some hard-hitting reporting, witness its recent account of what is happening to thousands of families being moved from their local areas to places where support services are not available for them. Family support services are in fact being decimated right across England, as documented in the report, Losing in the Long Run, published last month by a number of leading children’s charities, and drawn upon by Ray Jones in his evidence to the Education Select Committee on 23 March.

As Ray – a professor of social work – makes clear, the impact of austerity is very much our business, as social workers, given that we are dealing with the effects of these cuts and these policies on a day-to-day basis. We can see how they are making children less safe, because families are less supported. We know the detrimental effect austerity has on people’s mental health, and the effects on disabled people of being threatened with benefit sanctions. As social workers we are responsible for doing what we can to combat this, which includes bringing to the attention of the wider public the detail of what austerity is doing to so many vulnerable people.

But we don’t have to talk on behalf of people who are affected. Disabled people, service users and survivors are speaking out themselves in no uncertain terms. I recently attended a meeting co-organised by the Mental Health Resistance Network, where I also met members of Disabled People Against Cuts, and found out about ways in which they are resisting austerity and its effects. The other organisers of the meeting were a group of mental health professionals, and as professional social workers we can also become allies with service users in such ways, to offer our help and pool our resources.

An inspirational example of joint action came from Spain where the Orange Tide movement brought social workers and service users together to protest against austerity measures. Ana Lima Fernandez, president of Consejo General del Trabajo Social (General Council on Social Work), played a leading role in this campaign and spoke inspiringly last year at the Social Work Action Network conference and at the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) European conference in Edinburgh.

IFSW held a Solidarity Symposium in January for social work associations in the austerity-affected countries of Europe, which produced this statement. Symposia and statements need to lead to actions, and here in the UK, BASW is helping to develop the Social Workers and Service Users Against Austerity campaign, which was initially kick-started by social work student Kirk Lewis, who, like me, had been inspired by hearing Ana Lima Fernandez. Building on the growing unity among social work organisations, including service user groups, that has been developing since the closure last summer of The College of Social Work, the campaign will be a broad one, which both individuals and groups will be able to join. It should include a wide range of activities, which I hope will make an active involvement in it accessible to anyone who wants to take part. A great example of this is provided by Psychologists Against Austerity, whose activities have ranged from the production of a comprehensive briefing paper on the psychological impact of austerity, containing extensive references, to a long and inclusive list of suggestions for their recent week of action.

A planning meeting for Social Workers and Service Users Against Austerity will take place towards the end of this month, but the campaign will explode into life before that, at the Health, Homes, Jobs and Education demonstration in London on Saturday 16th April, organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. We will march under our brand new banner, social workers and service users against austerity, side by side for social justice. Come and join us!

Click here for more details of the day, including the meeting point for social workers and service users.


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