Essential Event On Practising Social Work With Refugees and Asylum Seekers


Saturday November 19th 2016

BASW (British Association of Social Workers)

SWAN (Social Work Action Network) and UNISON

invite you to a conference hosted by and in partnership with London South Bank University:  

Social Work with Refugees and Asylum Seekers:

Defending Our Values, Developing Our Practice

LSBU, London Road, SE1 0AA


Keynote speaker: Lord Alf Dubs


Plenary sessions/workshops include:

*social work in Greece, Uganda, Calais

*understanding/using the UK law

*working with families with no recourse to public funds

*the psychological impact of being a refugee/asylum seeker

*building solidarity in the workplace

*social work and the Prevent Agenda

Refugees and Asylum Seekers face adversity before, during and after their arrival in the UK. Their complex, varied needs frequently require a wide range of health, housing and social care services with social workers having a key role in working in partnership to ensure appropriate support, where human rights are upheld and universal needs are met. This is particularly difficult with social workers working in a highly charged political environment where a racist backlash against refugees makes making a difficult situation worse.

Speakers include those who are/have been refugees/asylum seekers and practitioners who are at the forefront of this work, in the UK and internationally. Drawing on their experiences they can provide the latest advice, analysis and resources in this important and complex area.

The conference is for social workers and social work students in children’s and adult services and for asylum seeker/refugee organisations providing social work services. Also for those planning and commissioning social care provision for asylum seekers and refugees. It will be particularly useful for those who have relatively little experience of providing support for this group.


Fighting the Mega-Prisons: Privatisation Endangers Lives

SWAN offers solidarity to MANCHESTER NO PRISONS and asks you to read the following written by them:

‘British prisons are currently recognised as undergoing one of the most serious deteriorations of conditions in living memory, recently exposed as being the most violent ever recorded. In this article about the damning autumn 2015 inspection of Leicester Prison, the government is quoted as saying it will spend £1.3billion on improving the prison estate over the next five years. In reality, in November 2015 the British government announced plans to build 9 new mega-prisons across England and Wales. Far from resolving any of the prison estate’s serious underlying structural issues, these massive, minimally staffed facilities are only going to subject greater numbers of vulnerable people to their abusive conditions.

The location and construction company of the proposed new Manchester prison are still unknown, but like all of the nine new mega-prisons earmarked for construction across the country, it will be privately funded, built and run.  The rationale behind the policies of building such large private prisons (holding more than 1,000 prisoners) is that they are relatively cheap and can operate on lower staff numbers (who are on lower wages) than public sector prisons.  The escalation of the privatisation of the penal system is damaging both for staff and prisoners: there are higher recorded incidents of harm, violence, injury and death in private prisons and much greater sense of insecurity, stress and fear among all.  It places profits above the care of people.  It is time we said no to such damaging policies.  No Prisons Manchester.

Manchester No Prisons is a grass roots abolitionist organisation that is fighting against the planned mega-prison in Manchester and the expansion of the Prison-Industrial Complex generally.  The group was formed in April 2016 and is currently active in both interrogating Greater Manchester Combined Authority [GMCA] regarding their plans for the location and building of the new prison and building a local anti-prison campaign. 

Please join us: 

For more info:

Critical Social Work Bristol Event: Initial Report of the Day

A full reflection upon the day will be published soon, but for now, here is the initial report of the event:
“The title was “Critical Social Work: Threats, opportunities and building alliances of resistance.
Feedback suggests that those attending felt both informed but also uplifted by the way that the theme was addressed.  There was clearly a feeling generated that you are not alone in experiencing the social work field as pretty dire at the moment but there are things we can do – if we work together.  
Ray Jones gave a realistically alarming keynote speech about not only how things are but what is planned, as well as some ideas for the ways in which professional and service user organisations can work together to resist these developments.
Then the workshops and other plenary talks and discussions looked at what was feasible in the way of modelling better practice and building alliances of resistance between social workers and service users.  
We had Deirdre Ford, Avril Bellinger and Mark Baldwin looking in some depth at the state of play in social work education at the moment and the way in which developments there mirror those in the broader health and social care field, with privatisation of services and the social work curriculum marginalising the profession and placing service users at risk of receiving no more than residual services when they are in crisis.  
Sarah Etherington, a student social worker from Social Work without Borders provided a welcome opportunity, in her workshop, to think about we can do as a profession in the face of the racism and marginalisation experienced by refugees.  
Marie Porter and Tom & Mark Baldwin provided a well-attended workshop on effective campaigning and resistance.  
Yasmin Ishaq & Annie Jefferies talking about Open Dialogue as a helpful and empowering approach to mental health social work. 
Roger Lewis from DPAC provided not only a wonderful workshop but also gave a blistering plenary talk about the need for social workers and service users to stick together in the face of neo-liberal attacks on disabled people. 
Penny McKissock and Sharon Wiseman from the Southside Project in Bath informed us of ways in which a community organisation can work with and then recruit people from the local community to make a difference in people’s lives. This was a brilliant example of professional and service user alliance working for the good of individuals and the community. 
As with all SWAN conferences, the involvement of a broad range of people interested in social work, and especially the attendance of a number of service users, meant that we were able to have a series of dynamic discussions about the issues and possibilities, even in the plenary sessions.  
There was a fair bit of momentum built up through this event and the steering group are planning to build upon this in the coming months in the south west of England.”
The SWAN steering committee offer their thanks to the SWAN WofE regional group and the University of Bristol for hosting such a powerful event. Any attendees wishing to share their reflections, simply email

SWAN Dundee Join Forces With Stand Up To Racism


“SWAN Dundee have held our first meeting of the term within Dundee University, and are pleased to welcome lots of new faces from the first year BA and MSc students. We intend to formalise SWAN as a University society and are forging links with the local Unison branch as well, so busy and exciting times ahead.

Social Work Action Network were delighted to be invited to speak at and be a part of Stand Up To Racism’s ‘Refugees Welcome’ event in Glasgow this weekend. It was an event attended by hundreds of trade unionists, campaigners and activists in order to send a clear message: refugees are welcome here.

With the SWAN steering committee meeting taking place on the same day in England, Dundee University SWAN member Tom Adamson kindly deputised and spoke about the importance of anti-racism and fighting against oppression and austerity to SWAN and the social work profession as a whole.

Tom went on to detail SWANs recent trip to Calais and follow up trips made by Dundee SWAN – who have returned twice, with further trips planned – to deliver material aid and volunteer their time during the summer.

Tom was elected on to the Stand Up To Racism steering committee at the end of the what was a highly successful day for anti-racists in Glasgow. A huge thank you to him and we look forward to developing ever stronger ties with SUTR.

All are welcome to SWAN Dundee. Get involved locally by contacting Dundee members on facebook @SocialWorkActionDundee,

or nationally through:-

Twitter: @swansocialwork

SWAN Edinburgh Meeting Sept 27th – Open To All


The next SWAN Edinburgh meeting will be at 3.30pm on Tuesday 27th September, hosted in the first floor Practice Suite of the Crystal Macmillan Building, University of Edinburgh (George Square). This meeting is open to service users, social work practitioners, students and academics. Issues to be discussed include the integration of health and social care, and the impact of the Transformation agenda upon social work in communities, upon children and families social work, and also perhaps a reflection upon the Named Person scheme. Other items can of course be brought to the agenda.

These meetings are designed to be reflective, inclusive, supportive, as well as gradually moving toward action. If you want to know more simply email us on

Spread the word! 


Thought-provoking events at the SWSD Conference 2016

Supporting disabled activists to be heard – reflections on the events at the SWSD 2016 Conference in Seoul, Korea, 27-30th of June 2016.

Due to jetlag after a nearly 24-hour journey, I had to catch up with the Opening ceremony of the SWSD 2016 conference (27 June, COEX Centre, Seoul) on twitter, rather than in person. The hashtag #SWSD2016 started to show some content, but only one caught my attention. A colleague from the US, Dr Coleen Fisher, published:  

“Ppl w/disabilities protest #swsd2016 opening ceremony dragged out screaming. Where’s #justice & #dignity for them?” 

I was horrified and needed to know more.

Colleen also posted the web address for the organisation. I have no knowledge of Korean (and google translate doesn’t do as good a job as one would like), but their web page led me to their twitter account. One of their most recent posts was one from their facebook page, with a video showing one of the Solidarity Against Disability Discrimination (SADD) female protesters carried out of the COEX auditorium by four men. She was out of her wheelchair and screaming.  

How can this happen? In a room full of social workers from across the world, why would no one stop this? The Guardian reported that one of the colleagues did speak up at the discussion which followed – ‘at a conference which has a theme ‘dignity and worth for all people’ how can this happen?’, the colleague asked. Ruth Stark, IFSW President was reported to have answered that it was a demonstration by people wanting to be heard – a message also highlighted in the IFSW report launched at the Conference. “We heard the demonstration, we saw the demonstration, we need to work out how people can be heard without having to do it in such a way as we heard happen today.”.

The leaflet distributed at the protest (also tweeted on the day) clarified that the SADD are in a continuous fight to force the government to abolish the Disability Rating System (DRS) and Obligatory Provider System (OPS) and their use as a means for the allocation and provision of social welfare in the Republic of Korea. The former depersonifies people with disabilities and turns them into their disability ‘rating’, based on which (insufficient) personal assistance is allocated. Furthermore, under the OPS, the family is obliged to provide the service first and foremost (and not the state). Big society idea sure does travel. The system keeps both the disabled people and their families in poverty and at risk of loosing their lives.


They stormed the stage when the Conference participants were being welcomed by the Minister of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea, Mr. Chung Chin-Youb. In the past four years, Mr. Chin-Youb refused all of the SADD requests to meet him. Storming the stage was the only way to be heard. 

Four people carrying out the SADD protester weren’t the organisers, but the venue security. Many of the people who were at the venue at the time reported that it was too dark to see what was actually happening and the overall protest too loud to hear the screams. The SADD protest was squashed before everyone could fully grasp what was going on.

What to do after you see a video of someone screaming and being carried out of an opening for a Conference you are due to attend and contribute to? This is a social work event. It was, therefore, my event, too. I felt that, if I were to remain silent, go to bed, attend the Conference the next day, this would be equal to allowing such actions to happen in my name. I shared the video with the SWAN, IASSW and IFSW colleagues via facebook. Vassilis Ioakimidis (a fellow SWAN Steering Committee member also present at the Conference) and I were asked to co-ordinate a response on behalf of SWAN. I contacted SADD via facebook, explaining that I am attending the Conference, am appalled by what I saw and asked them to let me know if we can help ensure they are heard.

In parallel, I started drafting a letter to all of the Conference organisers, requesting an official apology to the SADD protesters and for them to be given a space in one of the plenary sessions to voice their concerns. One of the best ways to ensure people are heard is to involve them in the co-production of all we do. Therefore, SADD could have – should have –  been involved in the Conference preparation, given a stage from the start. That request was also included in the letter. I hoped and continue to hope that what has happened at the SWSD2016 Opening Ceremony never happens again.

I shared the draft with the SADD representatives, Vassilis, and Guy Shennan, BASW Chair (also present at the Conference), so that we could jointly finalise it. Vassilis, Guy and I met the following morning and decided to circulate the agreed letter among other conference delegates for them to add their signatures. SADD representatives got in touch and said they want to hold a press conference at the Conference venue that day (28 June) as well as meet the Mayor, who was due to attend the Conference Social the same evening.

Vassilis also helped get in touch with Ruth Hardy from The Guardian, who was interested in the story. I have put her in touch with the SADD representatives and forwarded all of the accompanying materials about what happened and how we plan to respond. Ruth Stark, IFSW President, suggested for SADD members to meet one of the plenary speakers, Romy Mathys (a social worker who works with HIV-positive women in Switzerland) to negotiate how SADD concerns are to be listened to by the organisers.

In the end, the SADD press conference went ahead the same day as planned, but with participation of IFSW representatives holding up the SADD protest banners in support. The venue security hovered around, but stayed away. IFSW also agreed to provide them with a space at the plenary before the Closing ceremony.



The next day (29 June), Ruth Allen, the BASW Chief Executive, Guy Shennan, the BASW Chair and I were invited to visit the SADD occupation site at the Gwanghwamun subway station in Seoul. Over the past four years (since the start of the occupation), it has also served as a HQ for their on-going activism. We talked about the perverse cuts and incentives which mark so much of current social welfare world-wide. Their concerns and activism to date is similar to that of the disabled activists world–wide –  from DPAC in the UK, to the disabled activist in Bolivia. Much like the protesters in Cochabamba, SADD activists also hanged themselves from a suspension bridge to  protest not being heard by the relevant government representatives. If we, as social workers, are not fighting for their right to be heard and protesting with them against the current policies and practices – what are we doing? Social justice may be absent from the Knowledge and Skills Statement for Social Workers in Adult Services in England, but not from the international definition of our profession or commitment within daily social work practice world-wide. 





On 30 June, It was wonderful to hear SADD activists speak at the Conference Closing plenary and present a short video about their activism and reasons for it, including deaths of disabled people due to the impact of the current social welfare policies. My greatest surprise came straight after their presentation. While giving his closing remarks, Mr. Heung Bong Cha, Standing Chair of the SWSD2016 Organising Committee, both issued an apology to the SADD activists and called for coproduction and active participation of disabled people, service users and carers in the future international social work events.



This commitment was also emphasised by John Brennan, who spoke at the Closing Ceremony on behalf of the Irish Association of Social Workers, the hosts for the 2018 SWSD Conference in Dublin, Ireland. Thanks to an intervention by the Chair of the BASW International Committee, Jane Shears, the IFSW Statute now also includes a commitment to co-production in all IFSW activities. The IFSW also encouraged the representatives of all social work associations to send a letter to the Embassies of the Republic of Korea in their countries, asking for the abolishment of the DRS and OPS.

All that happened made me think of several things:

1. Despite reports to the contrary,  it takes more than one organisation or individual to achieve any change, no matter how big or small. All that happened during the Conference was very much a joint effort between different individuals and organisations – from Dr Fisher who took time to record and tweet the events, over representatives and leaders of SWAN, BASW, progressive social workers from Asia, to Ruth Hardy from the Guardian and the IFSW. It took all of us, not one of us.

For my part – SADD activists told me what they wanted and stated what they’d like to see happen. I did my best to pass that information on and to pass on return messages from colleagues, journalists and conference organisers to them. That is all I did. I have found out as much information as possible, contacted the people directly, introduced myself, listened and acted only upon the wishes specified by the activists themselves. It is the core of social work I know.

2. First and foremost, it took the bravery and persistent activism of SADD, by any means necessary and at any opportunity. As professionals, we need to learn how to take a lead from them more than we do at present; to understand each and every protest, and provide support so that their concerns can be addressed, for the injustices to be stopped. The injustices which infuse the lives of disabled activists are becoming graver each day, and for ever increasing numbers of people. Hence, their voices and protests are likely to get louder and include all and any means necessary. People are fighting for their very lives and largely met with silence and minimal support. Our profession needs to wake up to that and ensure their fight is our fight, every day. It is not just about the daily encounters within the social welfare system. It has to include a fight to overturn unjust policies and legislation and create those that truly allow us to promote the dignity and worth of people. 

3. We need to be honest enough to admit that, we, as professionals, still get it wrong. Desperately so. Shaping Our Lives have struggled for many years to get IFSW and the SWSD Conference to be more inclusive of disabled people and service users. A common response received was ‘We’re doing it already’.

Equally, while this action was initiated and supported by the SWAN Steering Committee members, we didn’t take time to listen to our disabled colleagues when we were preparing our last UK Conference. The venue we used for the Conference was not as accessible as it should have been. Instead, we took a shortcut to arrange a date for the Conference as soon as possible – and because we all work on SWAN activities in the precious few moments of our free time and (at least at times), at a rush. However, if we don’t take time to own up to it, to see what happened, how it could have been prevented – nothing will ever change. In the current climate, social work practice and many other professional activities are forced to be presented solely as polished, successful, without flaws. In part at least, this is a defensive mechanism; both outcomes and punishments for some of our mistakes have been too severe and affected the entire profession.

I am concerned that this robs us of a chance to learn from each of our mistakes and makes us defensive. Despite many excellent examples, we are yet to learn and embed co-production with people who use social services across our education, research, practice and activism. It is a relevant goal to have, and we should never deceive ourselves that we are already doing it right.

4. This is not the first time I acted upon an injustice I witnessed. But it is one of the precious few times that I was part of an initiative that was successful in it’s limited, small, way. I did not expect any of it. Radical social work and activism within social work can be a Sisyphus endeavour. Despite persisting at it with full commitment and passion, I realised I forgot to expect a win. I have lost the expectation that our actions will have an immediate or even eventual impact. The backlash against social work in the UK is so fierce, it slashed such an expectation – and it is what we need the most. Equally, SADD activists told us how important it was for them to realise that professionals can listen to their claims and show that their fight is our fight, too. No matter how many times we are attacked as a profession or as activists, no matter what severe injustices we try to address, we should never loose hope that our actions will go unanswered or unnoticed. That is far easier said than done, but it is vital for our very survival.

The real battle still continues – the DRS and OPS are yet to be abolished. As SWAN Steering Committee members, we, therefore, urge all our supporters to write to the Embassy of the Republic of Korea and ask for this to be achieved.

We also hope you will join us in all other SWAN activities and create new ones, as we continue to challenge similar oppressive policies in the UK and all other countries where we are active.

– Rea Maglajlic, SWAN steering committee

Greetings From New Zealand! Swan gets truly global…Find out why from our comrades down south.


Kia ora and comradely greetings from Aotearoa New Zealand!


This message is in response to a request by Luis Arevalo to offer a commentary on the state of social work in Aotearoa New Zealand. First of all, good wishes on your 2016 conference. Many social workers in New Zealand follow the work of SWAN with great interest, you are a constant source of inspiration for our own efforts to keep progressive social work alive.

There are many aspects of social work in Aotearoa that would be recognisable to our United Kingdom social work colleagues, and others that are unique to the history of this former British colony. 

Aotearoa has a landmass that is larger than the UK, and a population that is smaller than Scotland. Most of the population is concentrated in a few cities in the North and South Islands with a third living in Auckland City (currently subject to a massive housing bubble, unaffordable rent and house prices, and a rise in homelessness that is reaching crisis proportions).

 New Zealand is well known for its vast, sparsely populated and very beautiful rural hinterland that is home to a thriving tourist trade. Our rural communities are also home to a high-intensity, unsustainable, dairy farming industry (the engine of the New Zealand economy); and to many hollowed out, impoverished and forgotten rural towns and villages.

The contemporary demographics of our population are complex and dynamic. In the last 87 years the population of New Zealand has tripled, and it continues to be a major destination for new migrants with almost a quarter of all residents having been born overseas. Our history is steeped in colonisation and its continuing impact on Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa. Māori form 15% of the population but are grossly overrepresented in many negative social indicators: over 50% of the prison population, and over 50% of the child in care population are of Māori descent. Māori  have higher mortality rates, and Māori suicide rates are almost twice as high as non-Maori. 

 Since the 1980s successive neoliberal governments (of the left and right) have deprecated state welfare. Overall rates of child poverty now stand at 29% and we have an infant mortality rate higher than the OECD average. The present neoliberal, National Party government (led by John Key, a former foreign exchange trader) is currently in its third term of office. In previous terms they introduced a privatised Serco run prison, set up charter schools and a national school curriculum, and transformed our welfare state into a workfare state. In their current term of office they have turned their attention to social services and child protection. 

Last year the Productivity Commission published a report called “More Effective Social Services” that is founded on a “social investment approach” attempting to do “more with less”, targeting services on specific user groups, and introducing alternative funding models including “social bonds” (enabling low risk private sector investment in social services). 

 Just last year the government also announced the establishment of an “expert panel” to review Child Youth and Family services (New Zealand’s central government run child protection services). The so-called “expert panel” included not a single social work voice. The “expert panel” has now reported but the practical implications of their proposals are, as yet, unclear. They are, however, likely to have profound implications for the structure of child protection services, the registration of social workers (not yet mandatory), the surveillance of families at risk, the role of the NGO and for-profit sectors, and the future of social work education.  

Another very notable development, and one worth keeping your eye on from the UK, has been the government’s proposals to introduce a predictive risk modelling tool using data held on service users by all government agencies to predict the likelihood that families will maltreat their children. This is a deeply troubling development, reminiscent of the idea of predicting “future crime” explored in the movie “Minority report”. Except, this time it’s for real. Several social work academics from New Zealand and Australia have developed critiques of the tool that are well work reading (see references in the Re-Imagining Social Work blog cited below).

On a more positive note, partly in response to these recent assaults on social work, there have been several progressive developments.

The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) employed a Campaign Coordinator (one Luis Arevelo) who made active use of social media, and street campaigning work, to raise awareness about social issues, especially the connection between the anti-TPPA movement and social work. 
The Public Services Association (the main union for many social workers) has been very active through their own Social Workers Action Network actively campaigning, consciousness raising and organising local networks of social workers to monitor and resist regressive changes:
Several NZ academics combined to form the Re-imagining Social Work (RSW) Collective: a blogging collective formed to challenge the review of Child Youth and Family and to advance a progressive vision for social work practice. The blog has (in 2016 alone) had over 20,000 views from over 10,000 visitors:
Finally, the comrades working together in the RSW collective connected with some other academic colleagues to form an editorial collective for the ANZASW journal Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work. We have founded an international editorial advisory board (including comrades from SWAN) and have transformed the journal into a free, open access journal for all social workers worldwide. We welcome our UK colleagues as readers and contributors, just register online to stay up to date:
Colleagues and comrades, may your conference be a stimulating and inspiring one.
A luta continua.
Yours in solidarity,
Neil Ballantyne
Senior Lecturer (Open Polytechnic of New Zealand) and 
member of the Re-imagining Social Work Collective.

Social Work Reform – our Response and a letter from the Government.

Indeed it raises the probability of further criminalisation of social workers.

You can find a joint response to the Children and Social Work Bill, composed by BASW, APSW, JUC-SWEC, SWAN, SWU and Unison here.

You can also find attached a letter distributed by the government outlining the new policy directions to be achieved with this bill. The letter invites feedback – SWAN suggests we give it! 

After Calais – Report from Dundee Students Event


Last week, Dundee student SWAN held an event where we shared our thoughts and experiences of our recent trip to Calais.  We had 3 main speakers, with plenty of time for Q&A, in what was liberating and insightful event.

It truly felt fantastic to unburden ourselves, as since our return from Calais, all five of us from the Dundee group required a significant amount of time to reflect and digest what we had experienced and bore witness to whilst there. I think I can speak for all of us when I say it was profound and life changing event and it was no surprise to me that before we had even met up again post-trip, 4 of our party had already made plans to return to Calais at various junctures through the summer. During these repeat journeys we will be linking up with Care4Calais, Social Work First and, hopefully, Social Work Without Borders. Fundraising is well under way and donations are coming in fast. We are also making links in our community in the North East, with early conversation held with Dundee Refugee Support.

On the night of the event, one of group, Amy Kenyon, kindly volunteered to host and then illustrate our experiences through a wonderful presentation [attached].

She was followed by a senior lecturer of architecture at UoD, Dr Husam Al Waer. Husam is a Syrian national and he has been living in Dundee since 2008. Husam spoke passionately about Syria, his home town and family and not a soul in the room could fail to be moved by his descriptions of the human effect of war that he described so bravely.

Lastly, Dr Ian Barron from the Dundee University Social Work department spoke about trauma exposure, the consequences for children and the routes to recovery, in what was both a relevant and insightful presentation.

We have plans to put on the event again, with the same speakers and perhaps the addition of one; as it was felt there was a lot more that could have been said and discussed about the political atmosphere and nature of the debate around immigration and refugees, especially in light of the heartbreaking death of Jo Cox, only days earlier. A lecture theatre will be book in late September, early October and this will hopefully be timetabled for the incoming first year social work students and opened up across SWAN and the University. We look forward to welcoming all comers. 

We believe the time is NOW to make a positive case for ‘Refugees Welcome’ in line with the core principles of our profession, namely: empowerment, integrity and social justice. Refugees are stateless, not hopeless; capable, not culpable. We reject the xenophobic posturing of the right in this debate and seek all progressive forces within our profession to unite. David Cameron thinks the sight of refugees attempting to board trucks at Calais is “unacceptable”, we say the only unacceptability in this whole situation is the lack of support and provision from the central government for people living in horrendous conditions only miles from our shorelines.


Dundee Students

Ex-Practitioner’s View on the Attack Upon Human Rights


Human rights are like the air we breathe and to be deprived of them is death!

Imran A. Mohammed


November 9th 1998 is a very important day in British history because on this day the Human Rights Act received Royal Assent and, on October 2nd 2000 the Act came into force. The Human Rights Act is deeply rooted in British culture and history. The Magna Carta – an English Charter issued in 1215 is the most cited milestone in the history of human rights.


Recently, Navanethem “Navi” Pillay is a South African jurist who served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to 2014. On Monday 25th April 2016, Navi visited The University of Warwick, United Kingdom (UK) and gave the Global Research Priority on International Development’s annual public lecture, ‘Contemporary Challenges for Justice and Development’. As a PhD student currently studying at the university I attended the lecture. Sitting in the front row listening to Navi talk about her remarkable journey in championing human rights was indeed empowering. Her determination, resilience, belief and commitment to strive forward as one would say “when the chips are down” reminded me of my days as a former social worker.


The widely accepted definition of social work is that approved by The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) in July 2014 as:

“Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.  Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.

The above definition may be amplified at national and/or regional levels”.

Ruth Stark, the president of the International Federation of Social Workers stated “Social work is a human rights discipline”. Social workers are reminded daily in their practice of the importance of human rights when working with vulnerable adults, young people and children in our society. For example, when providing housing, shelter, arranging a care package, safeguarding young people and children, and when considering a long-term placement.


The Human Rights Act is a very important piece of law for all social workers and should never be underestimated. Despite the Act being one of the most fundamental pieces of law to challenge unfair treatment of basic rights for all human beings, the Conservative government want to “scrap” the Act.  It seems preposterous, yet, this Government does not seem to be short of surprises! What next I ask? The Government’s decision to replace the Human Rights Act and produce their own version will increase frustration not just among social workers but the general public too. In a time of so much change, surely, now is the time to reflect on important issues, such as tackling austerity and ensuring that the next generation of social workers are instilled with hope and a prosperous future.

In the midst of so many distractions and indeed continued challenges social workers must remain committed. The social work profession that taught me to stand up for I believed in and I will never turn my back on a profession that gave me a voice! It is our responsibility and incumbent on us all, whether we our former or current practitioners to inform ALL about the important work we do and lives we indeed change! Despite the many adversities that one encounters in their practice, one has to remember that our work cannot stop, rather it must continue in making OUR world a better, peaceful place!

There are many that one can draw inspiration from, but, there is indeed, only one such GREAT voice that deserves the last word, and it must go so fittingly to Navi Pillay, as she states:


“Human Rights is everyone’s business”


Imran A. Mohammed

Ph.D. Student at CENTRE FOR LIFE LONG LEARNING, The University of Warwick, United Kingdom

Imran was a former social worker and now a PhD student at The University of Warwick. He is passionate about Human Rights and strongly believes that conversations about people’s basic rights must never stop!