Skip to main content

Labour Party Conference: What happened, and what does it mean for social work?

Kerri Prince, BASW Public Affairs Lead, provides members with an overview of the recent Labour Party Conference - and what this might mean for social work

Like the Oscars or the Grammy’s for the arts, UK party conference season is the highlight of the year for the political sector. The Westminster Parliament takes a recess, and this gives time for the major parties to meet with their members and debate the future of the party.

This week was the Labour Party conference, and its rule book gives a lot of power to conference to make decisions. Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) elect delegates to attend the conference on their behalf, and along with thousands of additional visitors, they all head to the conference for 5 days of winning, whining, and wine-ing.

The purpose of Labour conference tends to come down to which ‘side’ you’re on at that conference. If you’re supportive of the current Leader, you back their right to change party rules at the conference – the only forum to do so. If you’re a critic of the current Leader, you’d probably argue that conference should be for policy discussions and not rule changes.

The big votes came as General Secretary David Evans put forward a card vote on his position, as Labour conference has the right to ratify the appointment of the General Secretary. His gamble paid off, and conference voted to accept his appointment. This was the clear, early demonstration that Keir Starmer had the confidence and authority of his party. Further important votes changed internal Labour rules so that any challenger for leadership would need 20% of the Parliamentary Labour Party – up from 10%.

So why does this matter? 

The ‘stability’ that a Labour Leader feels can entirely change their approach and policy. A leader who does not need to rely on smaller factions in the party for support is a leader who can take whatever position they like. It will be extremely difficult for a challenger to get 20% (40) Labour MPs to back them to take on Keir Starmer in a leadership contest, so this secures his position….for now. This will mean he is less likely to compromise on policy or direction of the party.

Internal party warring can feel irrelevant on the face of it, but it has a serious effect on how the party operates and what it believes.

So what happened at conference that actually relates to social work?

I attended panel events on: food poverty; future of health and social care; violence against women and girls; employment rights; political communications; and the impact of the police bill on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. It was fantastic to see our very own BASW Cymru National Director Allison Hulmes speak on the GRT panel.

Fringe events are much more about the discussion than policy announcements and giving opportunities for visitors to question shadow ministers and other experts. The stand-out event for me was the one hosted by the End Violence Against Women Coalition and LabourList, with a focus on the failings of the domestic abuse bill.

So what announcements were there?

The key announcements that came out of Labour conference were:

  • Doubling of spending on dementia
  • Access to mental health treatment in less than a month
  • Pay care workers at least the living wage
  • End zero-hour contracts
  • Fast track rape and serious sexual assault cases and toughen sentences and for rapists, stalkers and domestic abusers

Keir Starmer’s Leader Speech was very long, but you can read the full transcript here.

From Sunday, the Conservative Party will meet in Manchester to have their conference, and while the Conservatives do not have the democratic necessities that Labour conference has, there will be a lot of pressure on Boris Johnson to address key issues such as the fuel crisis, Brexit, food shortages, and the terrible and shocking murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer.

I struggle to find the words to adequately sum up the collective feeling of many about the murders of Sarah Everard, sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and Sabina Nessa - but there will be immense pressure on the Home Secretary to take action to address the anger and fear that so many will feel.

Between the growing pressure to tackle violence against women and girls, food shortages, the fuel crisis, health and social care legislation, the nationality and borders bill, multiple consultations about issues that impact social workers and the wider social care sector, the work of BASW in making our voice heard in policy and politics shows no sign of slowing down.

The easy part is speaking up – but are politicians prepared to listen?