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SWU Blog: John McGowan looks at what lies ahead for social work

SWU highlights the importance of sufficient social work funding post Covid-19

‘Imposing another age of austerity after the coronavirus crisis will have a profound impact on societies most vulnerable people’ suggests John McGowan, General Secretary, Social Workers Union (SWU). ‘The possible extent and impact on local authorities' social care budgets will also be massive but cutting spending, after a decade of cuts, would be hugely damaging’.

Social Workers Union fear that the possible option of cutting services would only add to existing pressures on the likes of social work services. Social workers are already feeling stressed in terms of their work with a significant number indicating that they want to leave the profession entirely. 

Unmanageable caseloads do not help with the retention of social workers and attracting new permanent staff members to a team. This will be harder to achieve against a backdrop of potential funding cuts and an increasing number of children, families and adults in need of help and support after Covid-19 lockdown.

We need urgently to ensure that we have cross-party political pledges to assist and invest further in social work and social care funding.

We also need to ensure that all organisations associated with social work get together, campaign and be active on this.

The Government constantly speaks about the terrific job of the caring professions but digging deeper reveals that the resources are still not there to enable social workers to do their jobs properly once we have a degree of normality. We are certainly not all in this together.

Carol Reid, SWU National Organiser & Union Contact Manager explains why we are definitely not in this together

The constant reminders that we are “all in this together” and “all in the same boat” are beginning to grate as it becomes more and more evident that the working class are bearing a lot more of the brunt. 

Local news reports from beautiful locations such as Windermere in the Lake District highlight the impact of coronavirus on their local economy,  but head a little further south to Merseyside or Greater Manchester and a film crew would be hard pushed to find a town who’s economy hadn’t been decimated, not only by coronavirus, but by ten years of imposed austerity. 

Whilst I truly hope the Lake District recovers from the impact, I fear it will be more difficult for doubly blighted town’s and their residents.


On the subject of annoying rhetoric, who else has been informed that “the pandemic proves how easy it is to work from home”? 

As a registered social worker still working in mental health advocacy, I can’t emphasise how frustrating it is to lose contact and interaction with service-users, many of whom have no internet, no laptop, and no credit on their phone. 

I know many SWU members and Union Contacts are experiencing the same frustrations and are using their resourcefulness and community connections to find ways of keeping in touch - but it is far from easy!

The marvellous and uplifting achievements of people like Captain Tom, collecting millions of pounds for the NHS, are to be unanimously and warmly applauded, but we should also remember that the NHS is not a charity - it is a right that was fought for, and won, following the cruelties of the second world war. 

Through the creation of the Welfare State, the then newly elected Labour government ensured all were able to receive healthcare, welfare, housing and education “from cradle to grave”, regardless of wealth or class. 

To many of us its unimaginable that the notion of a Welfare State was opposed, but the ideological belief that privilege afforded status and prosperity existed then as it still does. 

The Conservative and coalition-led austerity agenda of the past ten years has been underpinned by the idea of dismantling the Welfare State in favour of paying for services (if you can afford them) or turning to charity if you can’t.  Despite this we (still) have our Welfare State, and as social workers we are proudly part of it. 

I can’t finish without mentioning Covid-19’s devastating impact upon the residents and staff of the country’s many privately owned care homes. 

My own daughter is a care worker for older people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and the impact of Covid-19 was brought frighteningly home when she was diagnosed with the disease. 

Fortunately, she has now recovered, but it is infuriating to consider the risk at which she, her colleagues, and the vulnerable people they care for have been placed, and my heart goes out to the families up and down the country who have lost loved ones.

Care home keyworkers frequently earn minimum wage, with poor terms and conditions, long and tiring hours and little recognition of their hard work. 

Added to this are the horrors of coronavirus and the drip-feed of inadequate PPE.  Care staff have been underpaid, overworked and overlooked for far too long, and as social workers working in the same sector, we value their input and support. 

As well as a weekly round of applause care workers and social workers deserve decent pay, appropriate personal protective equipment, and a strong, organised presence in the trade union world.

Carol Reid is SWU National Organiser & Union Contact Manager.  She is an active and registered social worker based in Merseyside.

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