Pre-conference information for SWAN Conference 2013

With a little under two weeks before the 8th national SWAN conference, ‘Defeating the politics of austerity: creating an alternative future‘, here is some information which you will need to have a read through prior to coming to the event. Please see below for download:

1. Conference information sheet, which provides a run down of the conference

2. A map of the conference venue, London South Bank University

3. A conference programme

4. The abstracts for workshops and papers presented at the conference

5. The timings (i.e. whether on the Friday or Saturday of the conference) of the workshops and papers

6. A flyer for the social evening

7. Plenary speaker biographies

8. A flyer for the Critical and Radical Social Work Journal

Pre-conference information for SWAN Conference 2013 (2)

With a little under two weeks before the 8th national SWAN conference, ‘Defeating the politics of austerity: creating an alternative future‘, here is some information which you will need to have a read through prior to coming to the event. Please see below for download:

1. Pre-conference information sheet, which provides a run down of the conference

2. A map of the conference venue, London South Bank University

3. A provisional conference programme

4. The abstracts for workshops and papers presented at the conference

5. The timings (i.e. whether on the Friday or Saturday of the conference) of the workshops and papers

How should social workers support children and families facing destitution and cuts to their benefits?

A new Economic and Social Research Council funded report [1] from the Poverty and Social Exclusion project reveals that over 30 million people (almost half the in the UK population) are suffering some degree of financial insecurity. In terms of poverty amongst children there are currently an estimated 3.6 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That’s 27 per cent of all children under the age of 18, or more than one in four [2].

At a local level there are concentrations of child poverty and for 100 wards in the UK between 50 and 70 per cent of children are in poverty [3].  Here in the West Midlands for example one in five children live in households with parents who are out of work – just over 19 per cent [4].  A useful analysis has recently been produced by the ‘End Child Poverty’ campaign that graphically showed the effects of localised poverty.  Their recent study [5] demonstrated that in areas like Nechells in Birmingham up to 47 per cent of its children are living below the poverty line. We should also not forget that poverty affects different parts of the community disproportionately.  In Wolverhampton, for example, 26 per cent of the population are from a BME community but make up about 40 per cent of the homeless cases seen by the local authority [6]. Disabled People Against the Cuts make the same point [7].

Estimates vary but most commentators agree that Poverty and destitution is set to increase from the 1st April with the implementation of the benefit reform programme.  Using the governments own figures from the impact assessment of the 1 per cent rise in the Welfare Benefits Up rating Act 2013 as many as fifty social policy experts recently stated that this will push 200,000 more children into poverty [8].  The impact on family budgets of the ‘bedroom tax’ is becoming better known and we should all support the bedroom tax protest movement that has sprung up in the last few weeks. The West Midlands is one area that has an acute shortage of one bed-roomed property – families have no-where to go and typically face an additional £44 a month if they are under occupied. On an estate like Low Hill in the north of Wolverhampton, estate managers have worked out that out of 850 households, 150 will be hit by the bedroom tax [9]. 


I recently attended a welfare reform briefing and found that, somewhat worryingly, I was the only social worker present. With the abolition of the social fund, DLA, the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, the introduction of universal credit being paid monthly and so on, some social workers are in for a shock whilst others are turning a blind eye to that going on around them. In recent years with each benefit cut the government has produced publicity and information to explain the changes but the hard-nosed Con-Dem Government clearly does not see this is a role for them. In SWAN however we do have a role to play in order to combat, educate and agitate for resistance with our colleagues stuck facing the headlights and the headlines of the benefit cuts bearing down on them.  The extent to which we can get people out on the streets and involved in protest and opposition will be difficult but I would argue we have a ‘professional’ duty to do so by putting the case that if social workers they really want to do something about it – they have to act politically.


One thing is certain – is that come the first of April our duty desks and receptions will begin to see an increase in callers facing hunger and destitution. The people, our client base, the very children and families we know well already, will be expecting social workers to respond to exceptional times.

For some that may well be a point in the direction of the local food bank. The Trussell Trust, the UK’s leading food bank distribution charity, estimates that in the year 2011-12 food banks fed 128,687 people in the UK and it forecasts that will rise to more than 230,000 during this year [10].  In Wolverhampton as elsewhere food banks have grown out of all proportion based on the generosity of local people.  The Good Shepherd ministry in Thornley Street Wolverhampton now provides 4,000 5,500 food parcels every month [11]. Whether we like it or not food banks are here and are playing a valuable role we cannot ignore.


A little known, or should I perhaps say a not forgotten, provision buried in section seventeen of Children Act 1989 has been the ability for local authorities to make cash payments for children in need.  This, I should remind readers, is a provision under part three of the act that:

‘may include providing accommodation and giving assistance in kind or, in exceptional circumstances, in cash’ 

We are in exceptional circumstances – although worse may come. Alarming still are reports from our friends in the voluntary/third sector doing sterling and very difficult work with undocumented and destitute families where much testing as to the limits and possibilities of section 17 has been going on. In a recent case in one West Midlands authority, where the advocate for a destitute family facing deportation was astonished to hear from the social worker that she had never heard of section 17.  This is part of a wider difficulty. Dave Stamp from Birmingham’s Asylum Support and Immigration and Resource Team (ASIRT) argues that significant numbers of social workers and their managers themselves appear to have little idea of either their duties or powers under this legislation. One assistant director of children’s services recently informed ASIRT that ‘to provide to an otherwise entirely destitute family would be ‘limited’ since Section 17 ‘is not designed to be a means of providing full financial support for whole families’ [12].

Whilst we should be under no illusions about local authority budgets, and evidence in the West Midlands from SWAN freedom of information requests shows that section 17 budgets are shrinking, we should start making demands on these budgets whilst they still exist – or at least social workers should try until proven otherwise. Using the law as a tactic has it limits but in this case it opens some possibilities. It is, in my view, entirely wrong to state that section 17 was not designed to provide full financial support – on the contrary – that’s exactly what it’s for.

Two recent cases, Clue Judgement [2008] and R(VC) v Newcastle City Council [2011] support the case and found against the local authorities attempts to wriggle out of its S17 duty.  The Newcastle judgement explicitly stated that the UKBA’s section 4 support provision- £35 per person in cashless support- was entirely inadequate to meet children’s needs, and should not be used as a substitute for section 17 support [13].

Other national organisations are arguing that S17 is a safety net for children in need.  For example, Women’s Aid has a useful guide and set of arguments for women and children facing domestic violence.  These can be made to help women and their children leave abusive situations or survive within them. Such assistance might include; cash for new clothes for children, cash for travel to get away from a violent man, assistance with fitting new locks, getting a telephone or alarm system and transport to a refuge [14]. Herfordshire on the other hand accept that S17 is appropriate for use where 16-17 year olds are homeless [15].

There is another debate and another struggle to be had as to how much cash payments should be provided but – at the very least – they should be based on a test of reasonableness and pre-2013 income support rates. Arguabley we should be demanding under a test of reasonableness that a daily rate per child should reflect the actual costs of bringing up children.  The Child Poverty Action Group argues [16] that in 2012 it costsaround £150 a week (averaged for a child across all ages and including childcare costs and housing) or £21.42 per day per child.  


Finally we should all be aware of each local authority duty under the Child Poverty Act 2010 to complete a needs assessment and develop a strategy to address child poverty.  How this relates to the existence of shrinking section 17 budgets remains to be seen but again we need to explore and create opportunities to undermine the government’s strategy. As I often say to my manager ‘you might control the budget but my job as a social worker is to spend it!’. These and other related issues including the localisation of the social fund and the role of social workers will be dealt with in the second part of this article to follow.  As with all good social work practice it’s time to be creative – only that for us as oppositionalists – this means developing ‘creative resistance’ and pressure points on the government’s welfare reform agenda from both within and against the local state that will lead to its eventual collapse.

Follow Simon on twitter: @simoncardy

[1] Gordon et al (2013) ‘The Impoverishment of the UK’ Poverty and Social Exclusion (see
[2] Households Below Average Income, An analysis of the income distribution 1994/95 – 2010/11, Tables 4.1tr and 4.3tr. Department for Work and Pensions, 2012
[3] Child Poverty Map of the UK, End Child Poverty, March 2011
[4] A Profile of Child Poverty 2010 ONS
[5] End Child Poverty Campaign News 20th February 2013
[6] ‘Homelessness Strategy 2011 – 2014’, Wolverhampton City Council (Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton City Council, 2011), p. 14.
[7] Disabled People Against the Cuts – Policy statement (see
[8] ‘Benefit cuts putting 200,000 children in poverty must be stopped, experts say’ Guardian 27th March 2013
[9] ‘The human cost of the bedroom tax’ Guardian 8th March 2013
[10] The Trussell Trust (see
[11] Stephanie Spiers ‘Food Poverty Wolverhampton’ blog 12th August 2012 (see;
[12] Stamp, D. (2013) ‘Asylum and the race to the bottom’ The Justice Gap (see
[13] ibid.
[14] Providing support for ‘children in need’: Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 6th June 2008 (see
[15] Homeless 16-17 year olds: online procedures (see:
[16] The Cost of a child in the 21st century.  CPAG 2012 (see

Housing for all: the Counihan Sanchez Family Housing Campaign

Notably, the Counihan Sanchez family and thousands of other people have experienced this housing crisis before the imposition next week of the Spare Bedroom Tax, Council Tax Support, overall Benefit Cap and amongst a malicious arsenal of other welfare retrenchment measures. Polly Toynbee, writing in today’s Guardian, calls this an earthquake of social destruction. As the socialist lawyer in the video says, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with those under attack and that means supporting collective non-payment of rent and collective resistance against evictions. The future of the welfare state and alternatives to this neoliberal destruction will be the focus of this year’s SWAN conference – join us on 12-13 April at London South Bank University.

Developing Social Work in Central Asia – Wednesday 20 March, Teesside University

The experience of working directly with some of the outstanding local social workers during the Kyrgyzstan ethnic cleansing of 2010 will lead into a discussion of the ethical and practice issues involved in working with social workers in politically unstable situations and of the complex tensions between international social work values and local political realities. In particular the idea of enhanced or preferential  duties of care to local colleagues for social work consultants will be explored.

Event will be held at Teesside University on 20th March 2013. 1-2pm in Room PS0.13, Parkside Offices, Park Road North Middlesbrough TS13BA

World Social Work Day: Against Neoliberal Social Work?

In individual countries the extent to which the developments have progressed and in what combinations they have developed is path-dependent; it depends on political institutions, constitutional arrangements, the extent of opposition to them and so on. Nevertheless, as a direction of travel neoliberalism is increasingly prominent in many countries as a bounded rationality, governing the limits and forms of what is know-able, say-able and do-able in social work as a result of the impact of the three developments.


Neo-liberalism tells us that markets are needed in social work and that the role of the state is to create the institutional framework within which the social services market operates. In neoliberal rhetoric the installation of markets is supposed to produce competition on quality and price, with the former going up and the latter going down. All too quickly, markets introduce a race to the bottom on price alone and undermine the sense in which social services previously countered market values by stressing citizenship rights, entitlements, and needs; the market is not an arena of social justice. Conveniently this means that governments are able to hold the consequences of punitive policies and cuts in funding at arms-length because market outcomes are, allegedly, neither fair nor unfair but simply flow from “impersonal” market forces.


Markets require customers. Neoliberalism promises that markets will liberate the users of social work from their alleged role as passive recipients of social workers’ attentions  and turn them into active, rational, self-interested, choice-making customers. Neoliberalism argues that customers have high expectations, forged in consumer culture and carried over into their encounters with social work. However, the neoliberal rhetoric slips all too easily into managerial definitions of what being treated well as a customer means, usually through simplistic and narrow definitions of customer satisfaction such as the use of proxy measures. For example, when I returned to a period of practice as a social worker, the proxy measure of the quality of an assessment was the social worker giving the service user a copy of the written document that resulted. I could have undertaken the worst possible assessment – not listened to a service user, behaved in an oppressive manner and so on – but as long as I gave her or him a copy of the written document my assessment would be judged to have met the standard laid down to measure customer satisfaction.  

Such narrow approaches sidestep questions of justice, inequality and oppression and ignore the extent to which we have to learn to behave as consumers; proficient consumerism is not a readymade experience that all possess innately. Our consumer learning is located within a class position that intersects with a range of other social divisions in our biographies (age, disability, gender, “race”, sexuality). In addition, consumerism hides the reality of how most, maybe all, people come into contact with social work. They are not making a “customer choice”. They come from stressful conditions, they have lives that seem unbearable, their contact with social work may have been initiated by someone else and may be unwelcome. They are, therefore, likely to be trying to get their circumstances or improved rather than seeing themselves as customers accessing a particular “commodity”.


In order to move in the direction of marketisation and consumerisation, social work becomes increasingly managerialised. The search for “better” management focuses on the world of private business in the belief in a generic model of management, which minimises the differences between private businesses and social work.  This has three main consequences. First, the commodification of services through managerial identification of discrete problem categories and a menu of service options, quantifying and costing service outputs. This results in social workers being deprived of meaningful working relationships with and commitments to service users and reduces social work to a series of one-off transactions. Secondly, cuts in funding and expectation of efficiency gains exert a general downward pressure on costs. Thirdly, greater managerial control is exerted over professional space. An example of this is performance management: organisational objectives are identified, performance indicators are developed to reflect the objectives, targets are set in terms of the performance indicators and progress is monitored using the PIs. Even its supporters identify a range of dysfunctional consequences, such as tunnel vision – an emphasis on phenomena that are quantified in the performance management system at the expense of unquantified aspects of performance – and gaming – minimising the apparent scope for performance improvement to avoid increased expectations and higher targets in the future. Another example of the extension of managerial control over professional space is the introduction of call centres into social work. This is the epitome of treating users of social work as customers. It introduces a process for dealing with them taken from the business sector that ignores the potential complexity of their “transactions” and jettisons social work’s emphasis on seeking to establish trust with and appreciate the unique circumstances of the service user.

Call centres are much-vaunted by their proponents because they overcome barriers of place and time. However, a sense of place and locality has other connotations in terms of service users’ identities and where and how they want services to be provided. These kinds of concerns were traditionally seen as integral to the nature of social work. In many progressive aspirations for social work, the notion of responsiveness to the ‘local patch’ has had pride of place.  With the advent of call centres, the ability of social workers to be aware of and utilise local networks and resources is rendered unimportant.

Think global, act local

Some readings of these three developments suggest that neoliberalism is now indelibly inscribed in the consciousness of service users, social workers and managers so that neoliberal social work is the only form of social work with which it is possible to identify. An alternative is to see service users, social workers and managers as interpellated  (being “called”) by neoliberalism. From this perspective, social workers (and others) may be called but may not respond to the call or may respond to it in ways that were not anticipated. This potential gap between neoliberalism’s intentions and accomplishments needs to be exploited not only by individual social workers struggling to work in the interests of service users in their day-to-day practice but also through collective struggles that support World Social Work Day’s Global Agenda at the national and local level (see Social Work Action Network).

‘Social work and me’ by Julia Warrener

Thinking about why I chose social work as a career has helped me realise that social work chose me. When I graduated, with what is effectively an English degree, I wanted to be a journalist. I have always been interested in people and writing so it seemed a logical choice. I didn’t get far. As one of many unemployed graduates in the 1980s I soon joined a Manpower Services Commission scheme in a Local Authority residential home for older people with dementia. The residents, staff and managers I met there, working as a Recreation Officer, ignited my enthusiasm for working with those more vulnerable than me. The manager instilled a truly person centred approach to the care of people living in the home. I was impressed. The staff group was committed to supporting those people as people, attending to their individuality however this was expressed. I was impressed. The residents, many of whom I remember to this day, revealed their personalities, strengths and needs in diverse ways. This could be challenging. Getting to know each one of them and their histories, helped me however, to interpret their responses in the present. One woman’s behaviour, C, would have been inexplicable to anyone who did not know that she was formerly a Nursing Sister, in a time when bandages were rolled by the nursing staff on duty. At certain times of each day C would roll toilet paper as bandages. Connecting C’s past and present, and that of others, impressed the importance of valuing the person whatever their difference.

Valuing difference, in the context of our commonality as human beings, commits me to working for greater social justice. In 1987 I would have used different words to express these commitments but working in that home sparked my commitment to value people and empower social justice. Unfortunately, working there also gave me the opportunity to realise the importance of resisting change which inhibits both. In 1989 we were told that the home would close as a consequence of the Local Authorities preparations for community care. This to me was unfair. Unfair on the people that lived there, who were at home there and who were so vulnerable to any change in their day to day lives. Our resistance was ultimately unsuccessful and the home closed. All of those living and working there were dispersed to the remaining resources within the Authority. However, the people I’d met as they lived and worked in that place ensured that I committed to valuing people and places, promoting social justice and resisting change that threatens it. I had not been conscious of these commitments before I started work as that Government sponsored Recreation Assistant in 1987. I welcomed those commitments then and retain them now, channelling them more recently in my work as a social work lecturer who is still enthused by social work as an agent of change. Rapid and radical policy change, with its implications for welfare and social work, has reaffirmed my commitment to resisting change which challenges and inhibits social justice and value for difference.

As I say, social work chose me. I was impressed with what it could do way back in 1987 and remain committed to what it can do now and in the future. It’s tough but organisation and action to reassert the importance of relationship based social work and collective approaches in the promotion of social justice, as championed by @SWANsocialwork, inspire me and ensure my ongoing commitment to the cause.

Solidarity with Greece: Against the Athena Plan

Statement taken from petition:
We the undersigned call on the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Sport and Culture in Greece to withdraw the “Athena Plan” and particularly to stop the abolition of Social Work Department in TEI of Patras.
Since 2010 Greece has been engulfed in an unprecedented crisis, which has escalated into a full humanitarian crisis.
Dramatic reductions in salaries, pensions and welfare benefits; the erosion of the public sector in favour of privatizations; a sharp increase of poverty and unemployment, rise in suicides and a great deal of other social problems; these are some of crisis’ results. The complete dissolution of the already weak welfare state has led frontline social workers into working under extremely precarious working conditions. At the same time most of the service users experience marginalisation and social exclusion. Moreover, Higher Education faces unprecedented cuts. The recent ‘Athena plan’ for the restructuring of Higher Education pushes universities and polytechnics (TEI) further into privatisation and underfunding.
As part of this plan, the Government has announced that the Department of Social Work at TEI of Patras will be scraped. Apparently, in a country where the welfare sate is considered as luxury, social workers seemed to be unnecessary. The dissolution of Higher Education merely follows the recent obliteration of the NHS and welfare state.
The closure of the social work department in Patras will have multiple consequences on the welfare state and broader society alike. :
A. It deprives local communities from a profession (social work), which significantly contributes, to social empowerment, wellbeing and protection of human rights. One of the main roles of social workers in Greece has been to support the most vulnerable people in society. Over the last 35 years the Department of Social Work has developed close links with the local community. The abolition of the department results in the cancellation of a variety of interventions and actions aiming at alleviating social problems at a local level.
B. Over the last couple of years we have witnessed a degradation of social work education (crowded lecture theatres, insufficient equipment, reduction in academic staff). This has led to an increased risk of compromised quality of education compared to the international standards in Social Work. The ‘Athena plan’ will be final blow for social work education in Greece.
C. According to the Ministry’s decision no more students will be allowed to enrol to the Patras’ social work department and the programme will formal close after the graduation of the current cohort. Even this transitional period is expected to cause significant problems to the remaining students as they will have to carry on studying in a programme that will not receive any funding and will ultimately be scrapped.
D. Greek polytechnics mainly depend on external guest speakers and part time staff, due to chronic underfunding. The implementation of the ‘Athena plan’ will inevitably lead to the redundancy of all this member’s of staff who, given the current unemployment rate, will be forced to marginalisation or migration.
E. The ‘Athena plan’ will also drastically reduce the opportunities of the poorest in society for access to Higher Education.
Therefore we, the undersigned, demand:
-The immediate withdrawal of ‘Athena plan’.
-The protection of social work education and the reversal of decisions aiming at closures of social work schools.
-The further improvement of social work education in Greece.
– The withdrawal of draconian policies, which have pushed the Greek population into poverty and have dismantled the NHS and Welfare State.
All social work students, academics, practitioners, service user’s and local communities are determined to continue the fight against:
-The assault on young people’s rights to employment and education.
-The devaluation of the social work profession.
-The erosion of services for the most vulnerable people in society.
Initiative of academics, social workers and students Patras, Greece.

SWAN Ireland statement on the recent cuts to the Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport Allowance


Instead of adhering to Ms. Reilly’s recommendations under equality legislation to extend the scheme to include those previously discriminated against and instead of adhering to various human rights charters such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, to which Ireland are signatories and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability (which Ireland has yet to ratify[1]*) Kathleen Lynch, the minister with responsibility for equality, older persons and mental health stated, “The facts are that if we keep this scheme going as it now exists it will be opened to everyone over 65 and who within the Disability Act is defined as having a disability, we cannot afford that”[2] (emphasis added), as the prime reason to abandon the scheme altogether.

The government’s decision has effectively left thousands of people with disabilities (approximately 5,000) without a vital allowance that supports them to live independently in their communities and to have access to a standard of life one might reasonably expect while living in a supposedly “civilised” society.  

As social workers, social care workers and others working in the caring professions who work from an ethos of social justice and challenging oppressive practices in society, we in SWAN Ireland cannot stand quietly by and watch as the social fabric of our society is torn apart piece by piece by a government who’s priorities are clearly “money first, people last”.

This is just one example of a continued attack on the marginalised, vulnerable and oppressed in Irish society. In 2011 and 2012 there were countless examples of the state choosing to vilify certain groups of people and to cut back on necessary social safety nets, for example, cuts to lone parents allowances, attempted cuts to personal assistants for people with disabilities and continued attempts to cut home care and home help supports, to name a few.

For the past year, SWAN Ireland has been involved in supporting and working with many of the groups being targeted by government cuts. We will continue to work alongside these groups to fight back against the growing tide of these cuts. We will continue to work towards a society that has egalitarian ideals at its core. We will continue to stand in solidarity with every person detrimentally effected by continued austerity and growing cuts to services.

To contact us please email: or find us on facebook:



* Updated 03/02/2013