Socialist Worker

Conference planned on social work: ‘ethical career’ or excuse for social control?

by Iain Ferguson
Issue No. 2040

Many people will have felt shocked and angry at the recent Unicef report which showed that Britain’s children are both poorer and less happy than children in 20 other Western countries.

For some, it may lead them to think about working in social work or social care. A desire to make a difference to people’s lives is the most common reason for moving into social care work. That is why the organisation People and Planet includes social work in its list of “ethical careers”.

Unfortunately the reality is often very different. New Labour’s “welfare reforms” have turned many areas of social work into a business.

Managing budgets and saving money have become more important than improving people’s lives – what one writer describes as “neoliberal social work”.

The social control element of the job has increased. Social workers are expected to implement punitive policies towards young people, asylum seekers and people with mental health problems.

A conference later this month in Glasgow aims to change this. “Social work: a profession worth fighting for?” will bring together social workers, social work students, academics, activists and service users from all over Britain to explore alternatives to neoliberal social work.

Building on the success of a similar conference in Liverpool last year, the conference will include sessions on neoliberalism, poverty, social movements, immigration, asylum and Islamophobia.

Speakers include Richard Wilkinson, criminologist Phil Scraton, Professor Ann Davis from Birmingham University and mental health activist Peter Beresford.

The weekend will provide a real opportunity to challenge the isolation felt by many social workers and show that another social work is possible.

The event is at Glasgow Caledonian University, 24-25 March. Go to or email

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Sat 3 Mar 2007, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2040
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