Skip to main content

BASW CEO Blog - 'The voice and influence of social work in Europe' 

Ruth Allen CEO highlights the purpose and role of the Council of Europe - and its huge importance to social work in these uncertain times

Ruth Allen, BASW CEO

As CEO, alongside the BASW Chair, International Chair and other member leaders, I represent BASW in activities of the International Federation of Social Workers globally and in Europe.

Since late 2019 I have represented IFSW Europe in the Council of Europe’s ‘Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations’ – known as CINGO. The work of CINGO continued in 2020 but was inevitably disrupted by the pandemic.

Despite this, its leadership managed to take some great strides in creating a new governance arrangement for CINGO, to modernise, make it more transparent and relevant to INGOs and wider civil society across Europe. There is an emphasis on key topics including youth and the next generation of activists and contributors to the development of civil society. 

There is also a focus on the other big challenges of our time: on migration, refugees, the rise of right-wing populism and resurgence of authoritarian regimes, the need for CINGO to act to protect rights and to promote the vital role of civil society in creating communities, wellbeing, peace and good lives.

In support of these developments – and with enthusiasm for being able to work with European colleagues after Brexit – I stood for, and was successful in, election to the Standing Committee that coordinates the CINGO. Working closely with the CINGO President and Vice President, the Committee coordinates the involvement of CINGO representatives in topic committees and groups across CoE, including some with Ministers and Parliamentarians, and ensures the voice of civil society is heard wherever possible, wherever needed. This is a work in progress, but the status and influence of CINGO within CoE is growing.

But what is the Council of Europe?

The Council of Europe (CoE) is not well understood in the UK and often gets confused with the European Union. It’s not the same body – and the UK remains a member of CoE despite leaving the EU. And it's hugely important to social work and the concerns of the people we work with. 

For 70 years, the CoE has led across Europe on matters of ‘democracy, human rights and the rule of law’ through cooperation across (now) 47 countries of wider Europe and through the formal bodies of the CoE. These include the statutory Council of Ministers from across each nation; the Parliamentary Assembly; the European Court of Human Rights (responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights) and the CINGO.

The CINGO represents over 300 international non-governmental organisations such as IFSW Europe. These are diverse bodies, covering welfare, the built environment, green issues and sustainability, ethnic and social inclusion, defence of fundamental rights, health and care, poverty, the landscape, education, music, the arts and other cultural activities… and many more. Greenpeace is a very recent new member.

The immediate past President, Anna Rurka, is a social worker and academic. She was instrumental in the modernisation and opening up of CINGO. IFSW has long had a strong role in CINGO, and I hope to be able to continue and develop that tradition. Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law are all vitally important to social work so we have a huge amount to offer to CINGO and the CoE, and much to gain from raising social work’s profile in this important institution.

This may all seem far away from day-to-day practice, but we should remember how our Human Rights Act, Equality Act, Employment Rights, Mental Health and Mental Capacity legislation and much more have their roots in the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. 

Whatever role UK plays in Europe in the future, we need to remember how we have benefitted from collective commitment to human rights and their translation into national laws over decades and seek to continue and build on the best of that. I will be playing my part in the endeavour within CINGO and will keep you all updated.

For more information and a chance to hear more about the Council of Europe and CINGO, look out for details of a webinar with IFSW Europe on 25th May 17.30pm which will be announced through the bulletin soon.