Chair's Blog


Social action and the media

I am very pleased to be welcoming a guest post by Malcolm Jordan, a member of the executive of the Social Workers Union (SWU). Malcolm represents SWU on the Social Workers and Service Users Against Austerity alliance and he is good at coming up with bright ideas. The one he is writing about here is bold and ambitious and it would be tremendous to see this media project take off. I shall let Malcolm explain.


Social action and the media

Social action has always been a key part of social work. In his book, The Social Worker, published in 1920, Clement Attlee wrote: ‘A social worker should certainly be an agitator, exercising the full rights as a citizen to concentrate attention on a particular aspect of a social problem’. It was advocated by the 1968 Seebohm Report, which led to the establishment of Social Services Departments, and has been practised since then despite increasingly oppressive management practices. 

Six years of the Coalition and Conservative governments’ cruel austerity regime have brought social action back to the fore as evidenced by protest marches and demonstrations with both social worker and service user groups joining together across the country. The recently formed Social Workers and Service Users Against Austerity alliance brings together the key organisations to enable action to be co-ordinated, experiences shared and lessons learnt by local and national groups. It will also be liaising with teachers, psychologists, lawyers and others who are running anti-austerity campaigns.

While such activity brings the situation to public attention on news items, seldom is it followed-up by the media. The grim reality of day-to-day life for many workers, families and for those seeking help from our embattled social services needs to be brought to the wider attention of the public through mainstream radio and television as well as by social media. We need to replicate the shock of Ken Loach's ‘Cathy Come Home’ in the 1960s, which stirred great public support for organisations such as Shelter, set-up to campaign on the issue of homelessness.

A project has now been launched by SWU in conjunction with BASW to re-stimulate interest in these social issues among a wide range of media and to challenge their long-established position which has dubbed social work as ‘too worthy’, ‘grey’ and ‘lacking in drama’ to commission a programme. Can anyone actually believe that when austerity is working its evil on everyday problems there is no drama?! Jo Brand's new sitcom, Damned, shows that there are ways that social issues and social work can be translated onto the small screen, and we want to go a lot further.

An information leaflet has been sent to social workers and service users to gain interest and support, this has had a very good response and is soon to be followed-up by a more challenging flyer to be circulated to all media outlets. A small ‘clearing house’ group is being formed to consider proposals and enable writers and producers to explore the issues and soak-up local cultures.

To my mind these initiatives are social action for the modern age. We will be particularly interested in ideas from activists in social media so that mainstream documentaries and dramas can be matched by cartoons, day-to-day diary type presentations on Facebook and other social media outlets. Any ideas or suggestions will be welcome. You can contact me at:

The aim is to hit screens and radio as we get nearer the next General Election.

Malcolm Jordan


Jacqueline Moore on 27/09/2016 12:54:06

This is a very welcome initiative. One way effective way to portray issues is through advising soaps. Another is to get local feature writers to run series on certain issues.

I haven't watched the new comedy yet but I was rather dismayed by the radio trailer, quoting a social worker saying they were not paid to care. I remember a wise senior manager once remarking that 'there is nothing so dangerous as a social worker who has ceased to care'. Jo Brand also told women's hour that social workers were better paid than the health and teaching professions, because we carry so much responsibility. I doubt this is the case.

Guy Shennan on 30/09/2016 12:59:59

Thanks for your comment and ideas, Jacqui, I'll make sure Malcolm sees this. I thought Damned was a little disappointing as a comedy, myself, but I'm pleased it's on the TV - and I'm hoping it gets better.

on 24/10/2016 01:46:11

Thanks for this post Guy; I agree with Maggie. Also good soaps can and do highlight social issues.
So did Cathy Come Home and so might I Daniel Blake - We heard Ken Loach speak strongly at the Anti - Austerity Conference in Brum but missed the preview.

I know Malcolm from his Lancashire CC time; over lunch at the AGM we shared LCC memories including his forthcoming book re his times up to 1987 when he left LCC; he says no punches will be pulled.

Malcolm also co-authored a play with a colleague of mine which awaits recognition and production.

Members can log in to comment on this post (comments are subject to moderation before they appear on the website)

Non-members can respond via Guy's Twitter page