Skip to main content

Social work and social movements – BASW’s annual UK conference and AGM

The importance of BASW as the ethics and values driven professional body for social work across the UK and the responsibility of social workers to promote those values through collective action were explored at the association’s annual conference and AGM.

The conference and AGM took place the day after a group of BASW members and staff completed their 100-mile ‘Boot Out Austerity’ walk from the association’s new headquarters in Birmingham to the venue in Liverpool. The walk explored the impact of austerity for people using services, families, refugees and in seven towns along the route.

The conference opened with energetic contributions in spoken word, songs and poetry from the walkers, led by BASW Chair, Guy Shennan.

It went on to underline the need for the profession to listen to and respond to the experience of those who use services while promoting human rights and understanding the social determinants impacting on wellbeing and social protection.

In her AGM speech, BASW Chief Executive Dr Ruth Allen spoke of how social workers join the profession to “make a difference – to promote and protect people’s rights and support change in their lives”. To further this, she said the association is developing close alliances with service users, families and carers, to seek new and better solutions to meeting need and to explore innovations that are rooted in shared values and ethics.

Dr Allen said at a time when many “social protections we have taken for granted” are being rolled back, the association’s role was “greater than ever”.

Speakers at the conference throughout highlighted the importance of alliances between social workers and service users to promote social justice. Among those addressing delegates was Emad Lilo, an Approved Mental Health Professional, who spoke of the plight of asylum seekers, highlighting his own experience of fleeing Saddam Husain’s brutal regime in Iraq.

Abyd Quinn-Aziz, a social work lecturer at Cardiff University, outlined positive engagement projects with refugees and asylum seekers, including a walking and running club, a job club and a bike recycling project.

The impact of austerity on communities and how social workers can help was outlined by activist blogger Charlotte Hughes and Roger Lewis, from Disabled People Against Cuts.

One of England’s most respected social workers Emeritus Professor June Thoburn emphasised the “creative use of relationship-based helping” and the advocacy role that social work offered.

Social Work Action Network co-founder Professor Michael Lavalette described how social work activism was a vehicle for promoting social change.

The professor of social work at Liverpool Hope University said such activity was not only good for “social work as a whole” but also good for the mental health of practitioners.

With the event being held in Liverpool, BASW was keen to show solidarity to the families of those who died in the Hillsborough football stadium tragedy and to talk to them about how they built their social movement that garnered great support over a long period of time, pushing back on stigma from the press and establishment figures, and winning through holding out for the truth.

Delegates were moved by powerful accounts by members of the Hillsborough Family Support Group Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts who spoke about their fight for justice.

Speakers at the conference also highlighted the urgent need for a new paradigm in mental health. A presentation from Phil Wilshire, head of social work at the Avon and Wiltshire Partnership NHS Mental Health Foundation Trust, Dr Sarah Carr of Middlesex University and clinical psychologist Dr Lucy Johnstone discussed how the current emphasis on the medical model and referring to “illness” or “disorder” in mental health treated people like an “alien autopsy”.

They called for services to focus more on understanding the “social context” and socio-political determinants of those seeking support.

A new educational arm – the BASW Foundation – was also introduced. This will develop over coming months and be formally launched to help practitioners fulfil their continuing professional development ambitions.

A full report of the conference and AGM will feature in June’s issue of PSW.

Ordinary motions passed

Ordinary motion 1

Amendments to the association by-laws

Ordinary motion 3

Delegates agreed some social work services are at risk of being moved out of local authority control into “largely untested organisational models”.

Delegates agreed that the inspection regime is being politicised which threatens to bring Ofsted’s role into disrepute.

BASW was called upon to develop and promote models of practice and organisation which include democratic accountability and the voice and involvement of staff and those who use services.

Ordinary motion 4

More support should be offered to BASW branches to enable them to carry out their activities.

Emergency motions passed

Emergency Motion 1

Delegates agreed austerity measures are “debilitating and oppressive” on the people social workers work with. This goes against the vision of social wellbeing based on building social capital and economic health.

Attention was drawn to the impact of the lack of state support to help practitioners work with people using social work services to achieve long-lasting change and able to be contribute to their community and society.

The International Federation of Social Workers’ policy statement on The Role of Social Work in Social Protection Systems should be used as the foundation to build evidence and help BASW members realise their potential in “helping change happen”. The aim being that people are included in society and get the “social justice, dignity and respect that is their right”.

Emergency Motion 2

Members should encourage and help people to register to vote in the coming General Election “so that their voices can be heard”.