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Give grieving families named social worker after disasters - Andy Burnham

Call from Greater Manchester mayor at BASW England's social work in disaster conference...

Andy Burnham Hillsborough Manchester Arena BASW England disaster
Andy Burnham addressing delegates at BASW England's social work in disaster conference

Published by Professional Social Work magazine - 3 December, 2019

People who have lost loved ones in tragedies should have a named social worker to support them and help them gain justice, said Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.

Drawing on his experience with grieving families of the Hillsborough stadium and Manchester Arena tragedies, Burnham told delegates at BASW England’s social work in disaster conference in Birmingham: “Families who are bereaved in these circumstances should be entitled to have a named social worker who will advocate for them.

“I think you are the only ones who can be that real advocate against the system, that role is really important because the system isn’t fair to those who have been through these experiences.

“The pain is made much worse by how people are treated, not just in the immediate aftermath. Given the challenges they will face for years to come I think the role is to advocate for the long haul against the injustices they may face. I can’t see any profession better than yours to provide that role.”

Burnham said families seeking justice faced an “adversarial” court system in which they were pitted against top lawyers defending claims of corporate negligence. 

He was speaking days after David Duckenfield, the police chief in charge when 96 football fans were crushed to death at the Hillsborough stadium in 1989, was cleared of manslaughter.

“This is why we have spoken of the need to fund a ‘Hillsborough law’ to fundamentally readjust the system in favour of families and victims. 

“Families have to go into court rooms numb and raw with grief and find themselves against some of the highest paid QCs in the land. The experience they have there is probably what hurts more than anything.”

Burnham also called for “resilience hubs” to be permanently set up staffed by social workers and other professionals in the event of disasters.

“Given the times we are living through these incidents could happen more and more. So a central resilience hub providing specialist counselling mental health support is needed in every city region and arguably more broadly than that.”

Margaret Aspinall, chair of the Hillsborough Family Support Group who lost her son James in the stadium tragedy, also underlined the importance of long-term social work support.

“After 30 years families still need someone to talk to. You can’t talk to each other in the family because you don’t want to upset them more. When it first happened I was angry and chased the social worker away but she kept coming back. It’s just the state we are in at the time.

"Persevere, and I promise you there will be a time when we need you and we will thank you later on.”

This article is published by Professional Social work magazine which provides a platform for a range of perspectives across the social work sector. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the British Association of Social Workers