If you talk about professional identity or professional pride, you are likely to be greeted with some eye rolls. In a neoliberal world where workers are treated like automatons many people are forced to endure work. The thought of having some identity and pride vested in it is simply galling.
This does not mean that we can afford to neglect or ignore the importance of professional identity. Even if its a resistant- “you wont fuck with me” one. This is particularly the case for those people who work with people-undervalued, critical work. To stand in our professional identity- how our work should be -and to fight for that is to resist being swept into the neoliberal rubbish dump of irrelevance.
I am a social worker. We are a profession. Even to say that has often been a radical act. Framed as ‘do gooders’ who are ‘caring’ or alternatively ‘child stealers’ most of what you hear as a narrative around social work is bullshit. It’s hard to have a line of sight into our work as its multifaceted, complex and ever changing, exactly as people themselves are, and we walk alongside them to the best of our abilities.
To quote our global definition of social work we sythesise “theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledges. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work”
This might just seem like words on a page but its one of the most complex jobs ever. Supporting people, families and communities day to day is complex enough. But actual social change? Social justice? That’s a huge task, and its one that we are uniquely committed to and responsible for. It’s even in our standards of practice which we have to prove.
With our well articulated commitment to social justice I suppose it should not come as a surprise that when it comes to recognise us as a skilled, competent profession and protecting our practice the Government has balked. The Social Work Registration Bill has been through select committee and come out the other side. It is an appalling assault on social work. It ensures that the work of social workers is not defined. Nope. Nothing about the work and what that looks like. No scope of practice- something every other regulated profession has. All that is protected is the title social work or worker. Its kind of like if I wanted to stop people swimming in my pool unless they knew how to swim so I put a gate up and stood sternly in front of it gatekeeping. Yet I forgot the damn fence and the whole neighborhood has just walked in and is swimming behind my back!
“It’s too difficult” they all cry from their seats in Parliament. Social work is too confusing, too vague, too fuzzy, it cannot be defined! I call bullshit on that. Seriously. Social work is defined clearly globally and locally. We know our own work, how dare you insinuate that we don’t.
What is the actual point of protecting the title but not the practice? Then employers can just call a social work job any old thing and have any old person do it. Maybe someone who doesn’t have to demonstrate that they are upholding social and economic justice perchance? Even the title protection has a wealth of confusing exemptions designed to make sure that you can never be sure who is a social worker even when they are called one.
Or on a more pragmatic basis an employer may just want or need to pay less, not pay for supervision, professional development or anything else associated with quality practice. We know the NGO sector has been underfunded for years, they may do that because they have to. Others will do it because they can. Turn around in 5 years and social workers will be a rarity. Oh don’t get me wrong- the work will be getting done- but you won’t know who you are getting and you can be damn sure they won’t be accountable to anyone.
If the Government really wanted quality practice then in my experience well paid, well qualified staff with access to lots of ongoing learning and high quality supervision do an amazing job. It’s not rocket science. It’s logic.
This assault on social work is one of many we have endured. I am sure it will not be the last. It is not uncommon to be attacked when you are a threat to the powerful and you talk about the reality of or unjust world loudly and without fear. However we are proud you see, we will lean into our professional identity and pride and we will fight. I think you will find that we are strong.
If you want to sign an open letter to our members of parliament, sign here