“The spirit of social workers still stays the same”

BASWThe Silver Jubilee of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) in 1995 was a time of great challenge for social work. Hearing the criticisms, challenges and plans that politicians seem to have for social work made me revisit an article I wrote in 1995 when Chair of the association. There’s not a lot of difference in some of the thinking and in social workers’ place in the world.

That article looked back before 1995 but also looked forward and I find it fascinating to check what resonates now. Let me know what you think.



The Voice of Social Work – Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

It is striking how much that was said and done in BASW’s past that closely echoes the issues and struggles the association has today. Above all the consistency of shared values shines through.

BASW stands now, as it always has, for the voice of social work. That will remain true in the future, no matter what changes in organisational structure may occur in the social work world. The association campaigns for and protects the interests of social workers and their clients, and works to promote an environment where the ethics of the profession can be upheld. It encourages and allows social workers to be social workers and not watered down administrators.

Thirty years ago there was a starburst of job descriptions in the medical profession. All of a sudden we had every type of ‘…ist’ under the sun. But every new specialist remained a doctor in the eyes of the profession and the public.

It feels as if we are undergoing a similar starburst at the moment – with care managers, counsellors, therapists, mental health specialists and innumerable other titles describing what social workers do.

Our aim has to be to ensure, as the doctors did, that we ground social work as the core professional title. Just as BASW acted as a unifying force for the seven predecessor organisations of specialist workers in 1970, so in 1995 it has an equally important unifying role to play.

Part of this role involves making sure that core areas of social work are claimed and reclaimed if they are threatened by change which is motivated by little more than transient ideology. For example, we must resist the drift away from preventative work and towards an inspectorial role which is happening in some local authorities.

But BASW also has an increasingly important function in protecting individual members as well as social work in general. In and increasingly litigious world, one of its prime tasks has to be to support its growing membership with a strong advice and representation service.

Of course things change. Members are now involved in different ways than they were 25 years ago. I think members can now make a valuable contribution to BASW by becoming involved with the media locally, putting forward their own experiences and giving the association the broadest base of information from which it can draw.

Internationally things have changed too as links have improved. We must now see ourselves as part of the world social work scene and not be blinkered into believing that social work begins and Lands End and ends at John O’Groats. We have an incredible amount to learn, and impart, on a world level.

Social work is now an established, mature profession, celebrating its centenary as well as the BASW jubilee. The average age of entry is 30, and the demand for places on social work courses is very high.

They have also given the lie to many of the myths that have been perpetuated about them by governments trying to cover up deprivation of their own making, and a media keen to create its own demonology with ‘politically acceptable’ targets.

People do not always agree with us, because what we say about the vulnerable and how they are neglected is uncomfortable. But even with the past 25 years of criticism we have survived because we speak the truth. BASW will continue to speak the truth about, and for, social work. We are here to stay.


See also another 1995 BASW Article still relevant today

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