When I went into social work, and still from time to time, I come across more experienced colleagues who have been working in the field for far longer than I and they tell me about the ‘golden era’ of social work.
They tell me about the joys of real generic social work where they might start the day liaising with foster carers and end the day supporting an adult with a mental health need. Where they might have been involved in ‘real community work’ rather than the staid and procedural role that seems to have forced its way into the profession in recent decades.
It seemed to me, as an extension of the human propensity to reminiscence about times and experiences ‘in the past’ with a certain sugar coating. Just as ‘schooldays are your happiest days’ type memories.
As I move through the stages of my career, such as it is, I feel some mild thoughts of ‘how it used to be type nostalgia’ creeping into my own narratives.
I never thought we had particularly ‘good’ times but when I compare the types of care planning and support that was available and look at the bare bones of support provision now, I can’t help but thinking that perhaps we are moving backwards as opposed to forwards.
Social Work in a time of cuts presents a whole new world of ethical dilemmas that previously we might not have faced.
There are some improvements. The roll out of ‘Direct Payments’ whereby people who need services were ‘given’ the pot of funding available and were and are able to choose ways to spend it on different and more creative services has been a big step forward.
However this has led to the ‘personalisation’ agenda or the ‘transformation’ agenda or ‘any-kind-of-large-mostly-meaningless-word-you-want-to-add’ agenda which wants to use this model and extrapolate it out. While this certainly provides better systems for some groups of people, the agenda has left others behind, but I’ll come back to that another day.
Regardless of the detail the fact that choice is extended (however poorly in practice it is done – and it is done poorly) and that users are put at the heart of service provision is generally a good thing.
It’s a shame that the push towards ‘choice’ has come in an era of cuts or perhaps it is and always was wholly inevitable. We are seeing an attempt to push the responsibilities present in the NHS and Community Care Act (1990) and the National Assistance Act (1948) away from local authorities and towards individuals. For some individuals this is wholly appropriate and welcome but as we march towards another type of ‘one size fits all’ provision I do worry where it might lead.
We have fewer provisions to ‘hand out’ and eligibility criteria are rising so that fewer people fall into the ‘service user’ category. As a result, fewer carers will be entitled to what sparse support is available for them and the local authority responsibilities shrink accordingly.
My hope as a part of this blog and as a social worker who has and does work with adults is to monitor and process the ‘dying of the light’ or perhaps, on a very negative day what might be perceived as the ‘dying of the support’.
While less state involvement is exactly the right thing for a lot of people, we have to remember those for whom it remains necessary. The old tired ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ phrase can be overused but I’m going to take the liberty of referring to it here because it explains to me what I see as happening to our social care and health services at the moment.
We, who see it from the ‘inside’ have a duty to report and share with those who might not be aware as it’s happening.
We need to fight.