Bob Holman, who died last week following a year-long battle with motor neuron disease, was a lifelong fighter for social justice. A Christian socialist who gave up an academic career to live and work in deprived working-class communities in Birmingham and Glasgow, he was a fierce critic of the massive inequalities created by successive Tory and New Labour governments.
In a period when social work departments and their highly-paid bosses were becoming increasingly divorced from the people they claimed to serve, Bob argued for and practised a real community social work, making him a superb role model to generations of new social workers. He was a good friend to the Social Work Action Network and spoke at the 2011 SWAN conference in a plenary session entitled ‘Big Society? Big Joke!’.
Bob’s commitment to improving the lot of the people he lived and worked beside sometimes led to him having strange bedfellows, most notably Tory minister Ian Duncan Smith. However, Bob did not hesitate to condemn Duncan Smith’s behavior once in office for what he saw as the betrayal of the promises he had made to the people of Easterhouse.
Bob’s political philosophy is perhaps best summed up in the title of a book he edited in the late 1990s, based on interviews with local Easterhouse residents, Faith in the Poor. It was the in intelligence, resilience and creativity of so-called ‘ordinary people’ that Bob saw the best hope for the future. He will be sorely missed.