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Media social worker-bashing is adding to society's problems, says newspaper columnist

Negative stories about social workers can put vulnerable people at risk, political commentator and The Guardian columnist Owen Jones warned.

Speaking at the British Association of Social Workers annual conference, Mr Wilson expressed solidarity with delegates at the London event who made a “profound difference to people’s lives and communities” in an increasingly diifficult climate.

He said: “Even as you face ever-worsening injustice you are right to be aggrieved that the immensely positive contributions you make go unheard and ignored by the media, whereas every time something goes wrong, that is the only time social work appears in our newspapers.

“Frankly, shame on the British media, for not only is it unfair to do you wrong, it is completely counterproductive to run down people’s morale, to run down a service and drive away people from this essential service.

“That is why it has to be resisted because it puts people’s security at risk. That is why journalists have a responsibility to show the reality of what you are doing to give hope and inspiration to others, and show how very difficult complex problems can be addressed with skill and courage.”

Mr Wilson said social workers were suffering the brunt of government cuts that he claimed were “not borne out of necessity but of ideological conviction” to drive back the state.

The author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class claimed the current government was going “where Thatcher never dared to tread” with a privatisation agenda.

“Who would have thought and dreamed they would even press ahead with the privatisation of children’s social care? Protection of children is at the heart of what you do. Now they are going to strip it of local accountability and have private organisations with the power to take children away.”

Yet despite a focus on private sector solutions, Mr Wilson pointed out it was the state and the public sector that bailed out the banks during the economic crisis.

He criticised a generation of successive governments for promoting a view that social problems were “individual failings”.

“When the idea of unemployment and poverty and all the problems that go with them which were once deemed as a failure of an unjust society to be addressed by collective means are turned into individual failings, then why have a welfare state, why have public services?

“It is up to the individual to pull themselves up by their boot straps. That mantra is used to do down what you do and the whole of the welfare state and all public services.”

Mr Owen said social workers were up against “a tidal wave of injustice” which would be difficult to cope with even if they were properly resourced.

However, the political establishment was protecting themselves from public anger by stoking the “politics of envy”, he claimed.

“They try and make struggling people envy each other. They say to low paid workers whose wages are falling, whose tax credits have been cut, don’t be angry at your boss, don’t be angry at politicians. Envy instead the unemployed person living next door with a lifestyle you can only dream of in a mansion made out of widescreen television sets.

“People in the private sector, don’t be angry at your boss for stripping you of your pension rights, envy instead the nurse or the social worker or any public sector worker whose pension is still intact.

“They say to people who can’t get an affordable home or a secure job, don’t be angry at the politicians or people at the top, envy instead the immigrant getting what should be rightfully yours.

“It is the politics of divide and rule, the idea that you have been mugged, so your less deserving neighbour should be mugged as well.”

Mr Wilson called for collective action to prevent people being “picked off” while blaming each other, coupled with a sense of hope “that injustice is not inevitable”.

Alternative policies such as a living wage, free childcare for all and creating a new generation of council homes and renewable energy jobs could be delivered, he said.

Citing the example of the country's ancestors who fought against injustice and those who founded the welfare state and the NHS, he added: “Lets have a bit more confidence and a bit more courage. It is not for us to let everything they fought for to be stripped away. We have to have courage and determination. If we stand together and we fight together we will win this battle together.”