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Asylum charity pulls out of England's Social Worker of the Year award over Capita sponsorship

Social Work Without Borders says sponsorship of championing social work values category by firm criticised over handling of deportations is 'problematic'...

Capita's sponsorship has sparked controversy

A finalist in England’s Social Worker of the Year Awards that supports asylum seekers has pulled out in protest against outsourcing giant Capita’s sponsorship of its category.

Social Work Without Borders (SWWB) said Capita’s role in removing people from the country on behalf of the Home Office was “of grave concern”.

Earlier this year the company was found to have used excessive restraint to get asylum seekers on a charted flight out of the UK.

The board of trustees of the event, which earlier this month announced the 2018 finalists, has now pledged to carry out a “values and ethics audit” to include developing a “clear policy on sponsorship”.

SWWB was nominated for the Championing Social Work Values category which is co-sponsored by Capita.

The charity said while it was in favour of celebrating “the brilliance of social workers across the UK, this sponsoring of the event by Capita has led to our decision to withdraw.”

It added: “SWWB cannot accept an award that is funded by a company whose ethics are antithetical to and violently undermine those of the social work profession.

“Capita’s sponsoring of this event is particularly problematic for our organisation due to the violence inflicted by Capita on migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the UK.”

SWWB also expressed concern at Capita’s role in the Windrush scandal earlier this year amid reports staff gained bonuses from the Home Office to hit removal targets.

In addition, it criticised what it described as the company’s role in the “neo-liberalisation of the welfare state”.

In a statement, SWWB said: “We call on the Social Work Awards to reconsider collusion with organisations such as Capita. Social workers across the country are fighting the privatisation of services, funding cuts, the demonisation or marginalisation of the families we work with – and therefore we fight the encroaching of Capita into our profession.”

It dedicated its nomination to “all those who fight the hostile environment on a daily basis out of necessity or conviction”.

SWWB’s stance was supported by the Social Work Action Network. In a statement jointly released with other concerned organisations and signed by Suzy Croft - honoured for lifetime achievement by the awards two years ago - it said: “It is with alarm that we learn that the multi-national outsourcing giant Capita has been allowed to sponsor the championing social work values category in the forthcoming 2018 Social Worker of the Year Awards.

“This is particularly ironic given that Capita has such a poor track record of championing the type of values we espouse, when it comes to its own actions.”

It claimed the involvement of Capita and other private firms in social care awards was “nothing short of a cynical device on their part to attract more business and to advance the corporate capture of social work”.

The British Association of Social Workers, which sponsors the event, said it understood the concerns raised about ensuring ethical sponsors.

BASW England manager Maris Stratulis said: “This throws up contentious issues on occasions which need to be properly worked through and we are in active and constructive dialogue with the organisers about addressing these issues.”

The award's board said it would involve BASW and other stakeholders in drawing up the new sponsorship policy. SWWB has also been invited to take part.

In a statement, it said: “Ultimately the awards exist to recognise and incentivise individuals and teams in the social work profession to achieve excellence. Our sole purpose is to promote great social work practice and we have to put that to the fore.

“The Values and Ethics Audit needs to be more than a public/private sector debate. England has a plural sector whereby social work takes place in a whole range of settings and the lines between settings are complex.

“The awards are a small charity and are funded within this complex context and the consultation will focus on agreeing clear sponsorship guidelines which will help the awards be sustainable and continue to achieve our objectives of promoting great social work.”