Help the Social Work Action Network Ireland Campaign!!

Dear SWAN Supporter,

At the recent International SWAN conference in Durham, a motion (see attached photo’s) was passed to support the Social Work Action Network here in Ireland in our fight against the introduction of the cheap labour graduate scheme for newly qualified social workers.
As SWAN supporters you can help our campaign by emailing the person trying to introduce this scheme, the Director of the Child and Family Agency Gordon Jeyes, on May 1st, International Workers Day, telling him about this motion and voicing your opposition to this scheme. His email address is:

Thank you!

Further queries to:



Barnet struggle for services and Care UK strike

A little more about these two campaigns.

For the past six years our Barnet UNISON has been engaged in an ideological struggle with London Borough of Barnet employer over service delivery models. First it was called Future Shape, then EasyCouncil, then One Barnet, and now it is being rebranded as the “Commissioning Council.” The rationale is the same – privatise to save money. Except Your Choice Barnet – comprising the previously ‘in-house’ services for people with physical and learning disabilities – was spun off in February 2012 projected to make a significant surplus, but shortly afterwards it was around £1m in debt! It required a bail out from Barnet Homes to cover this gap at 6% interest PA. This failure has resulted in the announcement in January 2014 of the need to cut a further £400,000 from the staffing bill on top of a number of redundancies in 2013. This will mean jobs cuts, pay cuts and an inferior service provided by a greater proportion of agency staff.

Please show your support by signing the petition below to bring Your Choice Barnet back in house and to stop the erosion of services for adults with disabilities in the borough:

As a humourous campaigning video, “A Tale of Bob in Barnet” (see below) provides an insight into the challenges facing Barnet UNISON and their members. Many of the challenges they are facing are no different to what other trade unions and community campaigns have been facing since the Coalition government unleashed Austerity in our workplaces, our homes, our services.


The Care UK dispute in Doncaster is another situation concerning the privatisation of social care. Former NHS workers in Doncaster, who work with adults with learning disabilities, now employed by Care UK, face cuts to weekend pay rates, holiday and sick pay which will amount to huge attack on their wages. On top of this they have had no pay rise for five years. This fantastic strike action is an inspiration and unites the workers and service users. The present industrial action includes a solidarity demonstration at 11am, this Saturday – 19th April – at the Civic Square, Waterdale, Doncaster. Please jon them.Care UK demo - Sat 19th April

Rush solidarity messages and requests for speakers to:

Make cheques payable to: Doncaster, District & Bassetlaw Health Branch and send to: Jenkinson House, White Rose Way, Doncaster DN4 5GJ

Email Care UK chief executive Mike Parish to complain about the way they’re treating their workers:

Visit the strike Facebook page ‘Doncaster Supported Living Unison Strike’ click here.

Follow on twitter: @StrikeUnison

SWAN Mental Health Charter launched

SWAN welcomes the Mental Health Charter, an initiative that emerged from previous
annual conferences and has subsequently developed in discussion with a range of  individuals and groups both within and beyond SWAN including service users and practitioners in mental health services.

SWAN endorses the Charter, not as definitive statement but rather as a starting point for discussion and action and a useful campaigning tool for activists to help build alliances of resistance and to contribute to the development of more and better support for those with mental health needs.  

Already conferences/workshops based on or including the Charter are planned in Liverpool, Bristol and Oxford and we hope that others will be able to follow this lead.

You can use the SWAN website or email for comment and/or news. We especially welcome endorsements of the Charter from individuals, teams and/or organisations.

At the conference we heard from a boisterous and imaginative campaign to defend mental health services. For more information, and inspiration, go to

Please read the full charter attached below.

Statement from The Social Work Action Network Ireland on the Direct Provision System in Ireland


We know from numerous studies and organisations campaigning on the issue of direct provision that people living in reception centres experience sub-standard conditions and infringements of their human rights on a regular basis. People living in direct provision are not allowed access to employment, they must subsist on paltry sums of money given to them by the state, their healthcare needs are not safeguarded and they experience higher rates of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder than the general population. For these reasons and others, as social workers within the network who’s duty it is to promote human rights, we pledge to work with all groups who also campaign for an end to this inequitable system.

To provide adequate support to those living in these conditions we need to address the adverse impact of Direct Provision accommodation. The Social Work Action Network Ireland believes that a good beginning would be to create a more humane alternative to Direct Provision and dispersal and give asylum seekers the right to work and access education. To this end we resolutely support the call for an end to direct provision in Ireland.

For more information on the reasons behind releasing this statement please check out the Human Rights in Ireland blog:




SWAN Ireland support the Mandate Youth Network and ICTU Youth protest, “No to forced labour schemes. Yes to real jobs, real pay and a real future”!


Like the youth in other groups in society, young people qualified in the social professions have also been attacked by ongoing austerity. Faced with internship schemes, graduate schemes, forced emigration (Approximately 177,000 young people have emigrated from Ireland since 2008), poverty, unemployment, mental health issues and more, young people across all sectors and walks of life are bearing the brunt of government policies that have hit the poorest most and hit the riches least.

This protest is a chance for young people in Ireland, and those who stand in solidarity with them, to voice their strong opposition to the continued scapegoating of this generation. Instead of investing in the future generations through meaningful investment in jobs, increased investment in health services, proper housing policies and a proper safety net in the form of social welfare, the Irish government continue to enforce strict austerity policies which result in no jobs, no pay and no real future for young people in Ireland.

We urge any SWAN Ireland members, who can, to please join this protest on April 12th and march in solidarity with the other groups present.

In the words of Mandate Youth Network, “There is an alternative. Tax wealth and provide a real future for Ireland’s youth”.

Meeting point: Central Bank, Dame Street, Dublin 2.

Time: 3.00pm




SWAN Ireland support Young Workers Network event “Take a Stand Against Bad Bosses”


This interactive workshop will examine the ongoing issues of zero hour contracts, low pay and precarious work, effecting young workers in Ireland and will strategise how young workers and those who support them can take a stand against these injustices.

As a group currently being targeted by a proposed “graduate scheme” through the Child and Family Agency, newly qualified social workers can particularly empathise with the need for this workshop. We are strongly opposed to this graduate scheme (and other exploitative schemes like Gateway and JobBridge) in that;

  1. It represents a move to ‘drive down’ salaries within the social work sector and would put in place a new layer of ‘cheap labour’ within the profession.
  2. It will prompt other social work employers to also reduce starting salaries for newly qualified social work professionals.
  3. It is seeking to undermine the terms of condition of employment negotiated by our trade unions.
  4. It will prompt many newly qualified social workers to emigrate.

These issues echo the main themes identified for discussion at the upcoming Young Workers Network workshop. We therefore encourage as many Social Work Action Network Ireland members as possible, to attend the workshop and to begin to strategise with other youth groups, to build alliances, build solidarity and build ideas for collective actions and responses to these common issues effecting us all.

Venue: Liberty Hall, Eden Quay, Dublin 1.

Time: 12pm-4pm, Saturday 19th of April.

Le Grand review – the marketisation and outsourcing of children’s social care is the aim

Gove set out his agenda last November when he stated ‘I believe that we have not been either systematic, radical or determined enough in our efforts to reform the system of children’s social care in this country.’ (1) Going on to question why Children’s social care services needed to be provided by local councils.

All the better that Birmingham is a high profile Labour controlled council, that has been politically hamstrung by it’s failure to prioritise and improve services to vulnerable children in the city while simultaneously cutting them.

The well documented difficulties of social care services in the city over more than a ten year period and failure to adequately safeguard children have allowed the Government to appoint a Review Team whose brief included making proposals for alternative arrangements for delivering these critical services.

The Review has been led by Prof Julian Le Grand, and while nominally independent Le Grand has impeccable neo-liberal credentials as a champion of independent Social Work practices under the last New Labour Government and an exponent of competition and market forces within public provision.

The review report presents a complex range of factors contributing to Birmingham’s failure, a combination of political disinterest, institutional and organisational weaknesses leading to poor management and ultimately to poor social work practice with vulnerable children. How exactly the analysis and causes of failure identified within the body of the report supports its recommendations is an open and important question. In a sense it doesn’t matter as the review and its response was always a political exercise.

The Le Grand review report was published last week, and considers a range of options for the future delivery of social care services. It rules out waiting for local improvements by Central Government due to the long history of ‘last chances’ and ‘false dawns’.  Appointing another Council to takeover and run Birmingham’s services is discounted on the grounds that finding another high performing authority of sufficient scale and capacity to takeover Birmingham is unlikely.

The favoured option of the Reviewers is the creation of new arrangements which would retain the role of the Council as the commissioner of social care services who would engage other partners to provide and run those services. The providers could be a new purpose created body or existing private sector or social enterprise organisations. This is favoured as moving to this model would create a clear break from the past and allow for the creation of a new culture and practice.

This model of delivery is faced with two major problems, firstly in Birmingham’s ability to ‘commission well’ and secondly the capacity and ability of other providers to take over the services against the backdrop of the shortage of good quality social workers in the region.
The Review concludes that ‘we need urgently to consider how such capacity can be created or promoted such that the range of options available can be fully explored.’

The Government’s response to the Le Grand Review was to commission ‘a specific study on developing capacity to assist in the intervention options, involving the possible splitting of commissioning from provision.’ The Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson, appointed Julian Le Grand and the other members of the Review team to continue with this second stage piece of work and to report back to him by the end of September.

As an interim measure Edward Timpson appointed a Commissioner, Lord Norman Warner, to oversee the improvement in the quality of social work and the implementation of a DfE action plan in Birmingham with the requirement to report back to the Secretary of State every three months. The Commissioner who admits his knowledge of child protection legislation to be a little rusty will be supported by an expert panel.

The Review recommendations and the Minister’s response can only be understood within a national context and within a series of national changes recently initiated by the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, to move towards the marketisation of social care services, a move which would involve moving statutory responsibilities outside the local authority.

This is an immensely complex task and involves huge political risks. The activity of children’s social care services is bound by statute which gives powers to the state, in the form of social workers and the Family courts that allows them to intervene in families to ensure the welfare and protection of children. This includes for example the removal of children from their birth family and placing them within another family for adoption. Children’s social work is a highly regulated sphere.

The significance of Birmingham is that it is the largest local authority in the country and
if the Government can crack the problem of outsourcing social care services in Birmingham then the rest of the country will fall. Le Grand and Gove’s earlier and similar initiative fell in Doncaster when their proposed children’s trust arrangement failed for legal reasons.

Michael Gove has been a very busy Secretary of State for Education with the launch of the Free schools programme and the massive extension of academy schools during his term of office. His attention has only recently turned to Children’s social care where he is now seeking to transfer some of his arguments and templates taken from his school reform programme, central to this has been the weakening the role of the local authority as a provider and encouraging a diversity of providers within the system.

Using the ‘Teach First’ template, Frontline has recently arrived in social work bringing in a third party provider to train a future generation of ‘child protection’ social workers on the job and weakening the role of Universities as educators of future social workers.

In November 2013 the Government introduced regulation that extended the term of Part 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 which was due to lapse and had originally been enacted to allow the Social Work pilots to be set up under the previous Government. The implication of this regulation is to allow the delegation of responsibility for children’s social care services to an independent provider from the voluntary or private sectors.

UNISON charged that this change “will pave the way for wholesale privatisation of these sensitive and critical social work functions, allowing contracts to be won by commercial contractors which do not operate on a social worker led basis and are driven by shareholder profit maximisation.’’ (2)

What happens in Birmingham in the months and year to come will be of national significance in how children’s social care services are delivered in future.

Birmingham’s failure to protect it’s children is undoubtedly a national disgrace requiring of national action.

But what this failure has created is a massive political opportunity for the Con-Dem Government to create a potential framework for breaking up this most complex part of the welfare state.

In brief – Rebutting Le Grand:

Class inequality and Birmingham’s children

‘The city has an IDACI score of 37.4, meaning that 37.4% of children live in areas of highest poverty. Birmingham also has a far higher number of children in low income households (77,510) than any other local authority.’

The weight of children living in poverty and within low income families in Birmingham is identified as a major demand factor contributing towards the pressures on children’s social care services, but beyond that Le Grand is silent.

In a similar way statistical information is provided about the ethnicity of children in the city and their involvement with the Department, at one point the report notes that ‘data relating to ethnicity was apparently out of kilter with the general population of the city’; the specific impacts of the failure of children’s care services on the lives of BME children is not considered.

We know ‘that deprivation is the largest factor explaining major differences between local authorities in key aspects of child welfare, such as the proportion of children entering the care system (becoming ‘looked after children’ (LAC)) or being subject to a child protection plan (CPP).’(3)

Given the extent of child poverty in Birmingham and the role of class inequality, racism and of multiple deprivation, attacking class inequality and racism has to be part of the solution to improving child welfare and outcomes in the city.

Public spending cuts

The underfunding issue identified within the report is removed from any consideration of the impact of four years of austerity and of the public spending cuts imposed on the council by Central Government through its grant settlement. The under-resourcing of these services has been made into a local issue by Le Grand, and while there is an important local aspect there remains the determining national context.

Critically, there is no recommendation from the Review regarding what level of new resources are required to turn around Children’s social care and how and who will fund them.

We need to demand transparency on past and future funding for children’s social care in Birmingham.

Children’s lives – a political problem

How we value children’s lives and as a society care and nurture young people into adulthood is always and must remain a political question.

Le Grand identifies the problem of the ‘Lack of consistent political interest and concern by some of the previous political leaderships of the Council’ contributing to the underfunding and failure of services.

But Le Grand suggests a seemingly technical and organisational fix which doesn’t answer the political problem he poses, but he has other agenda’s afoot.

In regard to the Government Commissioner to whom key Council officers report and who in turn reports to the Secretary of State, he will have a key role in shaping the implementation plan and influence the allocation of resources. He has no direct democratic mandate and no specified relationship to local elected politicians.

The need to fully resource children’s social care is a matter of politics and political priorities. The struggle for better futures for children who come from poor working class and often BME families and who come into contact with the child welfare system should be a political imperative for us.

This is the battleground and local democracy cannot be surrendered to a national Government which has driven many children into ever deeper into poverty through its welfare reforms, made ever more children homeless, and more families dependent for their meals on food banks.

(2). Independent provider plans could lead to ‘privatisation’ of social work, warn experts
(3) Inequalities in Child Welfare: Towards a New Policy, Research and Action Agenda
Paul Bywaters p2. British Journal of Social Work (2013) 1–18

Motions for SWAN Conf 2014

Please send any motions you have related to social work and social justice for the SWAN Conference 2014 Annual General Meeting (Saturday morning of the conference) to:

wheresjane [at]

Please send by Thursday 10th April.

There will also be an opportunity for regional meetings at this year’s conference.