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Social Work England launches equality, diversity and inclusion action plan

Regulator says it's 'moving beyond conversations to achieve real, tangible' change...

Published by Professional Social Work magazine, 9 February 2022

Social Work England is to look into whether members of staff from discriminated groups are more at risk of appearing before fitness to practise hearings.

The move comes in the wake of concern that practitioners from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds are being disproportionately referred to the regulator.

It is part of a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan launched by Social Work England.

However, BASW’s anti-racism lead Shantel Thomas criticised the regulator for not going far enough in addressing racism within the profession.

From this January, Social Work England has tasked review panels to consider equality, diversity and inclusion issues when looking  at target samples of fitness to practise cases.

A framework for the skills and knowledge that learning providers are expected to equip qualifying social workers with is to be produced later this year and will include a “specific focus on equality, diversity and inclusion and anti-oppressive practice”.

The regulator said the action plan was about “moving beyond conversations to achieve real, tangible steps and change” and help eliminate potential for bias.

Ahmina Akhtar, head of equality, diversity and inclusion for Social Work England, said: “As the specialist regulator, we share common values with the social workers we regulate.

“We recognise the responsibility we have to promote national conversations about the role of social work in addressing inequality.

“Part of this involves embracing many national awareness initiatives, including LGBT+ History Month and Race Equality Week this month. Our new action plan sets out Social Work England’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, which we’ll deliver for and with the sector and staff.”

However, Thomas said the plan “fell far short of what I would have expected from my regulatorw which is a zero-tolerance stance against racism”.

She added: “The promotion of anti-racist practice is not explicitly mentioned and has still not been incorporated into pre and post-qualifying social work standards.

“What we already know from previous studies and from our members across the UK is that Black students in particular face significantly disproportionately negative outcomes and experiences at every level of the education system which continues when they enter the profession.”

The murder of George Floyd in America in 2020 sparked an outpouring of anger from Black social workers who shared experiences of discrimination in the workplace and on university courses.

Social workers with disabilities and from LGBTQi communities have also highlighted experiences of discrimination.

The new framework for learning outcomes, to be published in September, will explain to education providers what students should gain from their courses in terms of skills and knowledge.

A spokesperson said Social Work England will consult with the social work sector later this year about the learning outcomes.