SWAN Conference 2014

Change the course of social work


The next SWAN national conference is the eighth. It takes place at Durham University on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th April 2014. We will regularly update the SWAN website with information about speakers and booking. You can find these pages in the Conference 2014 section. Please email SWAN North East at ioakimides [at] googlemail.com if you have questions about the conference.

The title of the 2014 SWAN Conference is yet to be confirmed. This is the first time that a national SWAN conference has been held in the North East of England and we hope it will be the biggest ever SWAN event. It will link up social workers (in practice, education, research and training), service users and carers, trade unions, user-led groups, anti-cuts organisations, pressure groups, the disabled people and women’s movements to unite to defeat the Coalition Government’s social policy direction. Just as importantly we will debate, promote and celebrate alternative models and visions of social care.

What is SWAN?



SWAN is a democratic, grassroots organisation – policy making and elections take place at the AGM during the annual conference’

Social Work Manifesto.

Social work in Britain today has lost direction. We need to find more effective ways of resisting the dominant trends within social work and map ways forward for a new engaged practice…

Get involved.


SWAN developed from the Social Work Manifesto written in 2004. It launched a popular defence of social work in the aftermath of the Baby Peter tragedy in 2008. It continues to hold successful conferences and campaigns; the 9th national SWAN conference will be held in Durham in April 2014.

Call for proposals – SWAN conference 2012

We would particularly welcome contributions that consider: “Whatever happened to anti-racist social work?”, Transgendered issues in social work and social care, building alliances for resistance, social work and social movements, social work and women’s oppression – and any other relevant social work or social care issue.

Proposals should be 300 words or less and should indicate the aims of the session, the style of presentation and the content. Please include a cover sheet with your name, email and contact details. Please submit your proposal to both Laura Penketh ( penketl@hope.ac.ukThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ) and Nigel Kelleher ( nigel.kelleher@liv-coll.ac.ukThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it )

Book here for the National Conference 15-16th April 2011

Conference registration costs:

£15 Unwaged/student/service user

£45 Waged

£65 With institutional support*/Solidarity price**

Free For asylum seekers

* This is for those whose conference booking will be paid for by their employer, trade union branch or other organisation.

** We are asking those who are waged and can afford to do so to pay the solidarity price. This enables us to charge a lower fee to those on low incomes.

Please contact us if you have any concerns about costs.

There are several ways to pay for your conference booking. You can pay online by PAYPAL or BANK TRANSFER, or send us a CHEQUE. See below for more information on these payment methods.


Log in to internet banking.

Click on ‘Set Up a New Payment’, ‘Make a payment’ or similar.

Enter the following information:

PAYEE:                           SWAN West Midlands

SORT CODE:                 08 60 01

ACCOUNT NUMBER:    20254551

REFERENCE:                (Add name of person registering for the conference here)

AMOUNT:                       (See ‘Conference Registration Costs’ above)

Once you have made this transfer please complete the Conference registration form by clicking here.


You can also pay for the conference via PayPal. However please note this includes a small extra amount to cover Paypal’s charges (these extra charges do NOT apply to payment by bank transfer or cheque).  Therefore to book using Paypal please add the following amounts:

Total to pay

Student/Service User/Unwaged:

add £0.75



add £1.75


Institutional Support/Solidarity Price:

add £2.50


You do not need a Paypal account to do this.

Just go to: www.paypal.co.uk/uk
On the header tab select ‘Send Money’.

In the ‘To’ box enter: swanconference2011@gmail.com

In the ‘From’ box below enter your email address.

Click on ‘Personal’ then ‘Other’. Click ‘Continue’

If you already have a Paypal account log in and make your payment.

If you do not have a Paypal account follow the instructions on the ‘Send Money’ page. You will need to enter your credit/debit card and other details.

If you get stuck use Paypal ‘Help’

Once you have made this Paypal transfer please complete the Conference registration form by clicking here.


Please send your cheque to the following address:

SWAN Conference 2011,

c/o IASS,

8th Floor Muirhead Tower,
University of Birmingham,

B15 2TT

Please make cheques payable to: ‘Social Work Action Network West Midlands’, and write the name and address of the person registering for the conference on the back of the cheque.

Whichever payment type you have chosen please remember to complete a registration form. You can either fill in the online registration form by clicking HERE or send a completed paper copy of the registration form – found on the Conference flyer HERE – with your cheque.

Thanks for your booking and for taking the time to complete the online registration form. If you have any queries or problems with the registration or payment process, please email us at swanconference2011@gmail.com.


Baby P and the case of the Greek “home care” project: two faces of the same coin

What most of the colleagues don’t know –since the media where preoccupied with the aforementioned theme- is that on the same day thousands of Greek social workers and social care practitioners went on strike and took to the streets demonstrating. It was only the first time in 50 years that social workers massively challenged the victimisation of their service users and the deterioration of their working conditions. The industrial action was triggered by the decision of the Greek government to exclude local authority welfare projects from the National Budget and thus ask them to face the horrific dilemma: privatisation or closure.

The early signs of such a development became clear few years ago, when the government ordered local authorities to create their own “private entities” in order to manage the public funding related to the welfare projects. Both social workers and service users faced the consequences of such a decision straight away: unmanageable caseloads, extended working hours and significant delays in payments and salaries. As the practitioners’ Union reveals the majority of social workers have not being paid for over four months. And yet, despite all these fierce attacks, social workers remained on the front line working unpaid in order to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of service users. As in the case of British social workers, Greek colleagues prove and justify their genuine commitment to social justice and equality on a day to day basis, constantly fighting at the front line against the grim consequences of neo-liberalism and managerialism.

“Social justice and universal public welfare” is at the top of their demands while they demonstrate with dignity and determination at the streets of Athens. However, the kind of justice social workers are fighting for has nothing to do with the disorientating and vitriolic abuse of the term that decorates the tabloid front-pages these days. It is a continuous battle to protect service users’ human rights, secure decent working conditions and contribute to the creation of an equal society. The 13th of November appears to be a day when an interesting coincidence occurred; it also the day when Greek social care workers decide to stand up and fight back.

Action by SWAN Hong Kong supporters against property developer

From South China Morning Post – 7th June 2011

‘Job offer gets bulldozed by social workers

Developer’s ad for counsellor to meet residents forced out of homes has led to petition on Facebook and fears applicants could breach code of conduct

Ada Lee

Jun 07, 2011

A controversial property developer has advertised for a social worker to counsel residents forced to make way for redevelopment projects – provoking a backlash by hundreds of social workers.

Richfield Realty, which is often criticised for being heavy-handed in acquiring old buildings from reluctant residents, took out the job ad last week. Besides providing counselling to the people displaced by the developer, the job apparently entailed keeping records of meetings with residents and handing the reports to the company.

Many social workers said the job description “twisted the meaning of social work” and promised to launch a series of campaigns against the company.

Peter Cheung Kwok-che, a social welfare lawmaker and president of the Hong Kong Social Workers General Union, said the job appeared to violate their professional code of practice.

“Would Richfield tolerate the social workers it hired to help the residents it’s trying to displace against the company’s interest?” he said. “There are some fundamental conflicts between working as a social worker and working for Richfield.

“We will not tell our fellows not to apply for a certain job, but they have to be careful if they apply for this one.”

The union will protest at the developer’s headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui today.

Richfield has been active in Tai Kok Tsui, Quarry Bay, Mid-Levels and Ho Man Tin.

According to the code of practice for registered social workers, the primary responsibility of a social worker is to his clients.

The code also states that if a social worker finds his employer’s policies are jeopardising the interest of his clients, he should inform his managers.

Cheung said: “The code demonstrates to a large extent the value of social work. If a social worker is to work for Richfield, he’s walking a tightrope.”

A social worker found to have violated the code faces penalties ranging from a warning to being struck off by the Social Workers Registration Board.

By last night, more than 670 social workers had signed a petition on Facebook in protest at the Richfield job offer.

Lam Chi-leung, an organiser of the petition, said it would be inappropriate for social workers to work for the company.

“Social workers should stand on the side of the weak. They shouldn’t work for those who are damaging fairness in the city.”

Lam said the group would urge other social workers not to apply for the job by publishing an open letter in newspapers in the coming two weeks.

Meanwhile, there is another petition on Facebook calling for social workers to send “application letters” to the developer telling them why they would not work for it.

About 100 social workers had joined that group by last night.

Richfield Realty could not be reached for comment.


A SWAN Statement on Cuts and Resistance

We should not be fooled into thinking the cuts are an economic necessity, they are ideologically driven. If the aim was to reduce the debt then money could be found by scrapping Trident (saving £35 bn), by initiating a one-off tax on those in the city banks whose estimated Christmas bonus this year will be £7bn, by demanding payment on the estimated £125bn that the wealthy have ‘dodged’ in their tax payments or by ending the cash bonanza that have given guaranteed super-profits to those large companies involved in various PFI firms schemes.

The ConDem government aren’t interested in any of these solutions. Instead they want to use the ‘shock’ of the debt crisis to push through the wholesale privatization of vital public services.

Those most to blame for the financial mess – the banks, the private sector and business leaders – have been left untouched. The people who will be most hit are those with least money and resources, those that social work traditionally works with – older people, lone parents, disabled people, mental health service users, carers, those on benefits, black and minority ethnic communities and social housing tenants. The wealthy tax avoiders and tax dodgers are left alone – the poor on benefits are stigmatized and vilified for being poor.

British social welfare policy and practice has never been renowned for its humanity but the inhumanity of the Coalition Government is breathtaking as it removes billions of pounds of benefits and services. This is social violence and leads to even further fear, insecurity and anxiety to some of the most vulnerable in our society. Their hope that privatization will fill some of the holes will guarantee services that lack care and compassion for both users and workers. Profit and care just don’t mix and too expect otherwise is simply delusional.

But there is an alternative to austerity. In France, Greece, Ireland and across the globe there are growing struggles against such measures. In Britain we are seeing the beginnings of such a movement. Students are at the forefront of this with student SWAN members involved in marches and occupations against education funding cuts. We celebrate the resourcefulness, resilience and resistance of the student movement.

SWAN supporters have also been active in the growing anti-cuts protests and campaigns around the country – and we encourage all our members and supporters to actively engage in local anti-cuts groups.

The scale of the present assault on the poorest in our society is unlike anything any of us have witnessed for several generations. The time has come for those involved in social work to make a stand against the social violence being unleashed by the ConDem coalition: to speak out, campaign and join the movements of resistance.

Another world is possible!

A call for students to debate and create a social work future

Last week, those involved with social work in the UK had a keen focus on the Social Work Taskforce’s final report. The report’s recommendations may be progressive and ameliorate some of the problems affecting social work. As students looking ahead to our future careers, however, it seems likely that some of the deficiencies underlying and threats to the profession of social work in the UK will persist. These issues include those addressed by the Taskforce; social work’s public image, tightly constricted resources, problems with retention of staff and the time consumed by bureaucracy, to pick a few.

There are also issues, however, which the report does not address such as the policy underlying performance indicators and rigorous means-testing which may lead social workers away from practice consistent with their values. Furthermore, there are issues outside the report’s remit which will affect social work in future such as the changing population profile, public spending cuts and the impact of climate change.

We feel that students need to not only critically appraise the profession we will enter against the social work values common to us all, but to prepare ourselves to change practice for the better. We need to consider the challenges of the future today if we are to contribute to social justice and serve humanity tomorrow; the reasons so many of us enter the course.

We know that students lack experience of the role we seek to influence, though many, particularly those on employment based routes, may have spent many years working in social care. Many are or have been service-users or carers themselves. As future practitioners our opinion must have an influence. We also know that it would be counter-productive to exclude service users, carers, academics and current practitioners from our debate, and we welcome their input. At the same time, we recognise that a student-orientated forum developing a coherent student voice has value.

To this end, on 17th February next year we have devised and arranged a student conference entitled ‘Neo-liberalism vs. Social Justice’ Can I practise the social work I believe in within the statutory sector?’,to address these issues. At this point, because of limited space, the conference is restricted to those students based in London.

Nonetheless, we call on social work students across the UK to consider the social work they want to practice now, while there is opportunity to reflect, organise and campaign. Our firm wish is that students open up this debate for themselves and start imagining a social work of which they wish to be part, not simply one they do not favour or reject. If we do not have a destination, we cannot plan to reach it.

As a start, we propose that we distribute the outcomes of our conference to any students who are interested in campaigning for a better social work future. There are many ways in which we could do this, conferences, seminars or student campaign groups, but the goal is planning what to do when we enter practice.

Please contact us for more information on what we are doing and spread the debate among all social work students.

Dan Morton and Natalie Angel

A (Royal) College: is more professionalism the answer to the crisis of social work?

At the launch speakers from BASW and the GSCC praised the Task Force group and the ‘excellent report’. The atmosphere was one of ‘uniting together’ to push the profession forward. Indeed when I asked three questions about the implications of the report for frontline workers I was loudly ‘tutted’ for even raising such questions!

One obvious question we should ask is: Where’s the cash? The recommendations that seem most attractive will require significant amounts of funding. But as both main parties claim that we are now entering a period of welfare retrenchment – how will this be paid for?

The recommendation that has seemingly gained most support is for the creation of a College of Social Work (or even a Royal College of Social Work). But the College proposal raises some awkward issues. When workers have contacted SWAN over the last few years the key issues they identify are:

1. The impact of managerialism on the job of frontline workers – the control of the work process, the embodiment of that control within IT systems, the lack of time to build relationships with clients/service users, budgetary restrictions, excessive case-loads, etc

2. The impact of marketisation on service delivery – the ways in which social workers – who come in to the profession with a vision of meeting people’s needs – find themselves forced to ‘ration care’; the ways that marketising pressures have undermined the quality of services and the working conditions of those who work in the (increasingly privatised) care sector, etc.

How exactly will a Royal College solve these problems?

The College is put forward as offering a single voice for Social Work. This, it is claimed, will allow us to gain visibility for all the good work we do. But the obvious question is ‘Whose voice will it represent?’ The frontline worker or the Director of Social Services? Will the voice of frontline workers and Directors be the same? Are those who promote marketisation of care and managerialism have the same interests as those frontline workers who are often appalled at the impact of marketisation of services on those that we work with?

When frontline workers find themselves under attack it is usually from their employing agencies – wanting to change their working conditions, their pay rates – or even their right to speak out about local events that affect social work clients. (It is only occasionally that social workers come under attack from the media, though, of course, such attacks do have a high profile, and do have an impact on the profession.) When such attacks happen, social workers are best served by uniting with their colleagues – and other workers – within their unions. Yet where does the College proposal leave Unison and social work trade unionism?

The College idea seems attractive. It seems to be tied to a promise of better pay and career pathways; it seems to offer protection; it seems to bring about recognition and bring social workers into line with doctors, nurses and others within the caring professions. But the suggestion that the solution to the crisis of social work is rooted in a more sharply defined professionalism – one that brings with it more distinction and distance from other welfare workers and service users – is an argument that is deeply problematic.

The Social Work Action Network Constitution

(Agreed at SWAN National Conference, Bath September 2009)

1. SWAN – What we stand for.

The Social Work Action Network (SWAN) is a radical, campaigning organisation of social work and social care practitioners, students, service users, carers and academics, united by our concern that social work practice is being undermined by managerialism and marketisation, by the stigmatisation of service users and by welfare cuts and restrictions. While recognizing that social work is one of the mechanisms through which the State controls the behaviours of poor families, we believe nevertheless that social work is a valuable activity which can help people address the problems and difficulties in their lives. Many of these difficulties are rooted in the inequalities and oppressions of the modern world and good social work necessarily involves confronting the structural and public causes of so many private ills.

2. Aims and Objectives.

i) To promote a model of social work practice which is rooted in the value of social justice, which seeks to advocate alongside, and on behalf of, carers and service users and which values both individual relationship-based practice and also collective approaches;

ii) To challenge the domination of social work and social care services by managerialist perspectives and practices  which prioritise budgets, targets and outcomes over the needs of the people who use these services;

iii) To bring together practitioners, students, carers, service users and academics through regular conferences and campaigning activities in support of the above objectives, and to strengthen the radical voice within social work practice, education and wider social policy debates;

iv) To work alongside existing social work, social care and carer and service user organisations, including UNISON and BASW, to promote strong collective organisation and, wherever possible, to campaign jointly around specific issues.

3. Membership

Membership of SWAN shall be open to social work and social care students, academics, carers and service users, and to anyone working in the field of social work and social care who supports the aims of SWAN (as outlined in section 2 above) and who pays an annual membership fee to be agreed at annual conference.

The annual fee shall be agreed each year at national conference. For the period September 2009 to September 2010 the membership fee is £10. The fee for students and service users is £5. Asylum seekers are eligible to free membership.

4. SWAN structure and organization

SWAN is a democratic, grass-roots, membership-controlled organization, which aims to support and promote both local and national initiatives, in line with SWAN’s aims as outlined in section 2 above. As a matter of both principle and resource considerations, any additional layers of organization should be kept to a minimum.

SWAN is committed to the principles of anti-oppressive social work and, therefore, membership of far-right, Nazi organizations like the BNP is incompatible with membership of SWAN.

5. Conference

i)  Annual conference is the sovereign body of SWAN, where policies are debated and agreed upon, and where elections take place.

ii) A national steering committee of 12 people will be elected each year by SWAN Supporters at conference and will be accountable to conference.

iii) In addition, conference shall elect the following office bearers:

a) National Convenor

b) Deputy Convenor

c) Treasurer