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BASW Blog: The inequality revealed in social work's ASYE programme

Advice & Representation’s Laura Sheridan and Lindsey Huxtable ask why the service gets more calls for help from minority groups than white social workers

Laura Sheridan 

Not only is discrimination fundamentally wrong, the Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful. Whilst the Equality Act provides a legal framework that offers protection in employment, a look at the calls we get into BASW’s A&R service shows inequality in the workplace sadly remains a reality.

Our team offer advice and representation to Social Workers on employment issues. One of the areas that has caused our team concern is the disproportionate representation of certain groups that have difficulties passing their Assessed and Supported Year of Employment (ASYE).

Many employers link the passing of the ASYE to job retention, pay and progression and therefore, if people do not pass the programme, this can have major implications on future career prospects.  The pattern that our team have observed is that we represent a disproportionate number of social workers with disabilities and social workers from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority groups that either have their programmes put ‘on hold’ or are told that they are failing.

We have seen examples of members from Black, Asian and Ethnic minority groups facing more scrutiny and criticism in comparison to their white counterpart colleagues. We are aware of members who have had their ASYE delayed as a result of raising complaints about discrimination.

We have represented members who have disabilities who have faced delays with the provision of their equipment, which has subsequently led to delays in them passing their ASYE or, at worst case, dismissal from their jobs as they have not met their ‘contractual requirement’ to pass the ASYE.

Quite simply, these are issues that should not be occurring in any employment and certainly not in a Social Work setting.

The ASYE should be a supportive programme that enables a newly qualified social worker to develop their skills and knowledge in a supported environment. For many Social Workers, this may be the case – after all, our team would not be aware of those that were reporting positive experiences as they would not come to us for advice!

However, for those who are encountering difficulties, it can be very difficult to challenge things. The ultimate decision as to whether a Social Worker passes their ASYE lies with the employer – there is no external regulation of the programme.

Skills for Care devise the programme materials and offer advice and guidance, but the employers are responsible for delivering it. An employee is therefore at a clear disadvantage if discrimination by their employer is a factor in the reasons for them failing the ASYE.

Any form of discrimination is not only completely unacceptable, it goes completely against the core values of social work.

Our team support members to actively challenge discrimination when we are representing people through difficulties with the ASYE process. We offer representation at meetings and hearings and support members to raise grievances. We have also raised our concerns directly with Skills for Care, who have introduced several measures as a result.

They have improved their collating and monitoring of equality and diversity data, instigated several quality assurance visits and ran stakeholder sessions addressing equality and diversity issues.

For us to be sure that the ASYE is being applied consistently and in an anti-discriminatory manner, I believe that an external regulator is required. An organisation that is monitoring the programme and available for people to be able to raise concerns to if needed.

The basis of the ASYE programme is positive, but it must not be used as a tool in which employers can delay or halt career progression. In the meantime, our team will continue to actively stand with our members against discrimination and structural racism and argue for the change that is needed.

 

Lindsey Huxtable

In my role in the A&R team i have caseload disproportionately filled with women and men of colour who are experiencing racism in their workplaces. Unconscious, and conscious bias remains a running theme.

I am horrified that a lack of reflection, an unwillingness to look below the surface of actions and inactions has become pervasive and acceptable by some social work employers.

For some social workers, COVID-19 has exacerbated the experience – where there is existing lack of insight, it has amplified the exclusion. It amounts to a failure to implement adjustments, provide guidance, equipment or to take underlying health conditions seriously.

I’m sure there is good practice out there, perhaps that because of the role we do in A&R we here only the bad stuff. But when it is bad, it is really, really bad.

As a team we will continue to support members to effect personal and wider change from within. The first #RaceEqualityWeek should not be an exceptional week, for we need to keep the conversation, the fight and the desire for change alive every week of the year.