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BASW writes to new ​​​​​​​Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Maris Stratulis, BASW England National Director, and Dr Ruth Allen, BASW CEO, write to Sajid Javid MP.

The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Sent by email 

Dear Minister, 

RE: Social work

Monday, 28 June 2021

Congratulations on your appointment to the role of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. This is a role that is challenging even without the pressures of a pandemic, and we wish you the best in tackling the problems that the health and social care sector face.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is the professional membership organisation for more than 22,000 social workers across the UK. Social workers are integral to the social care system as they support people with additional and complex needs including people with learning disabilities; autistic people; children at risk; domestic abuse; addiction; mental illness; and those who do not have mental capacity to make their own decisions.

Social work and social workers carry out a vital role in improving the lives of children, families, and adults in need. This in turn improves the stability and wellbeing of society as a whole. This has been highlighted during and after the pandemic, as social workers are key to safeguarding people of all ages from harm and distress. Social workers also help people get out of poverty and ensure that people get fair access to the social care that they need. Proper access to social care support can make the difference between being marginalised and disadvantaged, and being a contributing part of communities, society, and family.

The unique function of social work often gets lost in the wider discussion about social care, and it is our hope to put the key issues facing social work on your agenda so that it can inform further development of DHSC policy.

Wellbeing of staff

Social workers have been the ‘forgotten frontline’ during the COVID-19 pandemic and have had to navigate the complexities of lockdown and what this has meant for the people that social workers support and work with. The long-term effects of COVID-19 on the public, both mentally and physically, will be felt by social workers both on a personal level and professionally as their caseloads increase.

Recognition of social work

The work that social workers do can often go unnoticed by many people unless they have received support from a social worker. Many people will not fully understand the important contributions that they make to individuals, local communities, and wide society. From working with people who have learning disabilities or autistic people, child safeguarding and intervention, mental illness, substance abuse, limited or no mental capacity, domestic violence, or carrying out age assessments for asylum-seeking children - the work of a social worker does not stop.

Values and ethics

Social workers are committed to fighting oppression, but the system that social workers operate within is oppressive and unequal. From the inequalities that COVID-19 has highlighted, to the murder of George Floyd – we are far away from living in a society that is truly equal and just.

Politicians must promote, support, and legislate for the embedding of anti-oppressive and anti-racist standards and practice in all stages of education and learning including nursery, primary, secondary, and higher education. It is important that education and learning curricula is inclusive, represents the contribution of all and embraces an honest and transparent reflection of domestic, UK and international history. Social work education must also focus on oppression and anti-racism in our society, and how this impacts everybody’s lives. Not all groups of people are treated equally, and that must change.

Time for social work and putting people with lived experience at the heart of decision making

When making policies, it is essential that those it directly impacts are involved in the development. Local authorities should not be making decisions about people, without their input. Decision-makers should bring a broad range of voices to every table to prevent policies and approaches from excluding people.

Politicians must use their executive and scrutiny powers to make sure procedures and policies are accessible and inclusive for all people, especially those most impacted by any decisions or approaches and that social workers have ‘time’ to do social work and fully engage with the people they directly work with.

Tackling the causes of social work crisis intervention

There are social issues that impact caseload figures, the complexities of a person’s needs, and these could be addressed through other policies. Poverty can often be a root cause of needing social work intervention. That is not to say that people who do not live in poverty do not require support from a social worker, but that poverty can make life significantly more challenging and difficult.

Poverty is also a root cause of homelessness, which can lead onto further mental and physical illnesses. Because statutory social work intervention tends to take place at crisis point, there are many people whose lives may never have reached that point if there were fully funded preventative measures in place that everyone in need could access. Tackling food poverty should be a core ambition of local and national government. The increase in the number of people using foodbanks is a national scandal and addressing food poverty and the causes of it should be a policy priority.

Covid-19 Inquiry

We add our voice to the call for a public inquiry into the Government’s response to the pandemic. We also support the call for a rapid review by Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. Families and communities will feel the impact of the people we have lost for years to come. It is also important that a review is carried out so that we can plan for the future. We are likely to encounter new viruses again, and lessons must be learnt about what went wrong. It is through looking at what could have been done better that we can make sure the country is prepared for any future pandemic.

Whilst the issues discussed in this letter are of huge importance, the biggest challenge facing the sector now is social care reform. Small changes will only amount to a plaster that will not achieve the significant change that is needed. Reform will require not just significant funding and resource, but a genuine appetite for it. We hope that you will enthusiastically take up this challenge and give the people of this country the long-awaited reform that is so desperately needed.

With best wishes,

Maris Stratulis - BASW England National Director

Dr Ruth Allen - BASW UK Chief Executive