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Social work's person-centred focus will be key to a sustainable future after the pandemic

Social work student Enya Richards reflects on the inequality highlighted by coronavirus and how the profession should respond

Coronavirus, social work, stories, videos, poems, photographs, inequality, Amy Richards
Enya Richards

Professional Social Work magazine - 6 May, 2020. Share your COVID-19 experiences here.

In my studies I am encouraged to reflect. To make critical reflections on practice, keep reflective journals and be a reflective practitioner. This current time has acutely highlighted why reflection is crucial in social work and society as a whole.

The situation that we are all living through demonstrates the need for us to see the inequalities and the interconnected nature of our world.

It has been stated that COVID-19 does not discriminate. Although the virus itself may not discriminate, I believe it highlights discrimination within our societies. COVID-19 disproportionately impacts BAME communities, has links to air pollution and our environment and with mortality rates which even before the pandemic were almost twice as much in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived.

There is a paradox with unseen children and adults exposed to abuse and neglect, yet a reduction in safeguarding referrals. When I qualify I wonder if I will be ready for an influx of cases, because I do not believe there is a reduction of abuse happening behind closed doors.

While I have the privilege to sit at my desk ‘penning my reflections’, I know that some of my fellow students are struggling to feed their households. Research by the Food Foundation recently revealed nearly a fifth of UK homes with children are going hungry during lockdown.

The inequalities that social work battles have now been brought to the forefront of society’s consciousness. We recognise the unequal and erosive impact of climate change on different communities and its ramifications on biodiversity and the depletion of habitats increasing the chances of viral crossover.

We are aware of hunger in a ‘throw away’ capitalist society characterised by an increased use of food banks. There is a newfound experience and concern over work insecurity personified by the gig-economy and a more hostile benefit system.

So much is changing at the moment. The Coronavirus Act 2020 has weakened the duty to assess and meet needs, and face-to-face contact has been reduced. To be cynical, I worry that this will be used as a template for a less costly way of working in the future, with the price of propping up the economy during the pandemic cited as to blame.

However, even though we may be governed as a country by a particular ideology, our profession is one of values based on human rights, social justice and professional integrity.

A consistent principle of social work is its holistic practice of seeing the ‘person-in-environment’. When we talk in this way we mean people in their homes, their local area, the country in which they live, the planet they inhabit and their access to services.

I think COVID-19 has brought to the foreground our human need for green space and to be outdoors. Yet if we continue to erode that green space in pursuit of profit over wellbeing of ourselves and the creatures that we share our planet with, I fear we will face further reduction of biodiversity, more viral crossovers and growing inequality.

The International Federation of Social Workers says “social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing” and “social change initiatives recognise the place of human agency in advancing human rights and economic, environmental, and social justice”.

So how can social work develop after the pandemic? How can we encourage our grassroot neighbourhood groups to continue looking out for their communities?

Social work is a profession deeply-rooted in empowerment, liberation and social cohesion, of reducing the inequalities that are within our society. We may not now be seen as on the ‘frontline’ compared to health professionals but when considering the disaster recovery cycle, social work will be at the forefront. We will be there for the reconstruction of a sustainable resilient, brighter and more equal and cohesive future.

Do you have experiences, thoughts or feelings of social work during the COVID-19 pandemic you would like to share with Professional Social Work magazine? Click here to find out how

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.