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1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Joe Smeeton

A call to arms

The persistent war analogy that has inevitably arisen around tackling Covid-19 has the usual effects of over-simplifying and catastrophising a complex medical, economic and social phenomenon. Yet it also rallies the public to a flag we can all salute. This is a literal flag (around the corner from my home someone has unfurled a homemade NHS flag) and a symbolic one that brings us all out to clap in solidarity about our collective shared values. 

But our heroes have to be available and accessible to consciousness. They are Doctors, Nurses and Ambulance drivers who occupy the ‘frontline’ or ‘vanguard’ of the battle.

As the parent of a Biomedical scientist who has been working 12 hour night shifts testing samples to see who does and doesn’t have coronavirus, with all the accompanying risks of handling it (some of his colleagues have become ill), I am struck by the complete invisibility of that profession in the public eye. However, he is able to rally behind the NHS flag.

What strikes me as a social work academic is the invisibility of social work in this rhetoric. Where are our generals and who is raising the standard for social work? Social Workers and Social Care Workers are shielding potential casualties of this war and building the barricades. Local authorities are managing the logistical operations, building temporary pontoons to bridge professional chasms and ensuring the right resources are in the right place at the right time for the troops. 

I had an email yesterday from a local authority head of Children & Families social work who told me how his social workers were all pulling together and doing an amazing job in good spirits. I also heard yesterday that care workers in Sheffield have moved into the care home to live with the older people they are caring for. I feel proud to be a social worker and wonder why this narrative isn’t being trailed on BBC Breakfast this morning. I emailed them to ask them to look beyond the brilliant work that the NHS is doing and report on the equally fantastic social work and social care contribution. We’ll see if they do but I think they will need human stories and therefore urge social workers to step forward and provide them.

It is not surprising that social workers are reticent to raise their heads above the parapet. Experience has shown us that the press has a battalion of snipers eager to pick us off one by one. However, it feels that now is a time that we should be able to let the public know about the contribution we are making. The social work troops don’t need rallying. They are already out there doing what they need to do. But we do need our professional leaders to tell the world what they are doing. There are no headlines, no press statements, no clapping in the street for social workers – but there should be. 

So come on Chief Social Workers, Directors of Social Services, Social Work England, social work leaders in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, BASW – raise the social work standard and wave it high and long; blow the reveille loudly; lead the anthem for social work and publicly salute your workers.

Joe Smeeton, University of Sheffield

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1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Lucia Marquez Leaman and Tim Fisher

The Friday Story

This project gathers and shares stories that show diverse situations and relationships of people who participate in social care. We connect together conversations with social workers, parents,  care leavers, people of different  backgrounds, from all over London with the aim of finding human situations – ordinary and extraordinary connections. These stories are told in spare minutes between meetings and in long phone-calls that can sprawl over afternoons. As the gatherer of these stories I have been asked to distill the conversations I have into a three hundred word piece of writing – anonymized  – that is distributed by email or put a up as a blog post. This project is not trying to function as a platform for case studies or direct best practice but rather it is an exercise in connecting people to people and recognising their experiences.  Two of the stories below are from a selection that have been written during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. Story 2, however, was written earlier but is reminder of the importance of connections across time and place.

Story 1 Zones

Honor is a social worker operating in London whose work with families have been impacted by the Government restrictions on social contact. She has been conducting some meetings on video platforms but has noted that many of the families she works with do not have the necessary technology to properly engage with online conferencing platforms. Honor spoke individually to members of a family who are isolating together, speaking to them in separate online conversations by video-call. Honor created ‘break out zones’ remotely, in order to listen to the two teenage boys’ concerns without parental intervention. She had previously been making a creative project with the boys which has been halted due to the lockdown. Honor was then able to engage with the mother on the children’s behalf, she conducted the meeting in rooms across the house. She raised concerns regarding the flattening of the conversation, and she worried that she would not be able to read a situation as accurately or ensure that people feel safe. Thus, the meeting was both a success and a learning process.  Although she is worried about the effect of lockdown on her cases she also considers this as a time for experimentation with social services. It is a time that social workers can be creative with how they engage with families and in which they can better prepare the services for times of inaccessibility in the future. Even though she is aware of her limitations she is considering how to be creative with children through different applications, such as the Doodle feature available on many video-conference platforms. Speaking about the lockdown situation in general she has continued her creativity in her personal life, this weekend you will find her building a ‘balcony beach’ to make the most of the sunshine.  

Story 2  Sun-dappled memory 

Faye’s mother was barely 16 when she had Faye prematurely. She was paired with her social worker Patrick shortly after the birth and they bonded instantly. The first thing they had in common was a love of the same music. Patrick found Faye’s mother a bedsit to live in and began integrating her and Faye into his own family. He and his wife were foster parents, so it was a natural transition that Faye’s mother became like their eldest daughter. Faye remembers her mother often going to Patrick’s wife for advice. Faye and her mother visited Patrick’s house often, at least once a week, sometimes having sleepovers with the other children. Faye’s mother arrived in the UK from Jamaica just five years before and Faye remembers when she decided to showcase her culture through food. She cooked her new family fish for dinner, however, this became an amusing challenge as they had never eaten fish that still contained bones. Faye and her mother even called Patrick and his wife ‘mum and dad’ and Faye was treated like family, receiving anything and everything the other children did. The sun-dappled memory she is fondest of has her sitting on the stairs admiring her father comb through his red mullet and moustache in the mirror for twenty whole minutes to make sure they were in good order before he left the house. When Faye and her mother left the UK for the West Indies for ten years they still kept in contact with Patrick’s family and when Faye returned she got back in touch with them. At her mother’s funeral in 2001, Faye fainted and it was Patrick that caught her, an illustration of his supportive role in her life. Now all the siblings are older they reside all over the world and still chat on the phone regularly. Faye has recently found Patrick on Twitter and is excited that there is another platform for them to connect on. 

Story 3 Visualise 

Adede works as a Family Group Coordinator in London, and has been extremely busy since the lockdown started. She had been holding her meetings online and has been surprised by how normal some elements of the meetings have been. At the beginning of the call, families catch up and greet each other as they would have over a tea in an face-to-face meeting. Even though the technology was new and unusual, families have been using it to their benefit by speaking just as passionately as they would normally. Adede believes that food is integral to the Family Group Conference process, as it can be used as a tool to aid difficult conversations. In one meeting, she asked a family if they would like food delivered. They settled on a pizza that was delivered while the meeting was being held by video call. She believes that these thoughtful measures provide the ‘human touch’ to a virtual meeting. In another meeting, there was a disagreement between a father and child, the latest argument in a repeated pattern of conflict between the two. However, this time it happened on camera in front of a full conference call of their friends and family. Their family was able to visualise for the first time the issue that they had previously only heard about, this allowed them to provide reflective feedback addressing what they had now seen first hand. From this experience, they were able to provide a plan that focused on repairing the relationship between father and child before any other steps were taken. Adede feels that the integrity of FGCs has not been compromised and she is excited that coordinators are still able to provide the three parts of the meeting virtually. Adede has stated the core of the meetings has not been lost, the very human emotions that lie at the centre of these meetings still make themselves known, even through a screen. 

Lucia Marquez Leaman is a poet and the writer of The Friday Story.

Tim Fisher is a Social Worker and is working with Lucia on The Friday Story project. 

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1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Mark Monaghan

Do Children’s Social Care Staff Need to Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

As a frontline practitioner these are worrying times, never in my 17 years of direct social work experience and over 30 years in social care have I ever seen such sights.

Social work is a people activity. The engagement we have with people is key. Our relationships enable us to cross many boundaries while we attempt to protect and safeguard those most vulnerable within our society.

My colleagues have, and are, continuing to look at creative ways to provide services and ensure that their statutory duties and obligations are met, whilst managers are doing their best to look at the structural processes that are required.

There are major issues that we face, one of which is when do frontline staff get their protection? In unpicking this, I am talking directly about the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the support we give to staff both formally and informally.

While I welcome the Public Health England (PHE) guidance, there is little in relation to discussion of the real practicalities of how do services deliver on their statutory responsibilities? I don’t wish to speak for social workers alone, I have the greatest admiration for all the frontline staff in the NHS and associated services. 

I do not understand whether the equipment is available, and if so, if it is sufficient for what is required. But if it is, why is it taking so long to get it out to people and what  do we do in the meantime?

People are dying and although there is guidance, we need so much more.

All my colleagues are working collectively to meet the pressures on the service, we know that there are some families considered as ‘critical’. These are the children who we are most worried about and are looking at crisis planning to ensure these children are seen to the best of our ability. The restrictions in no way enable us to see or speak to them as we would like to. I myself recently had to see children in a closed McDonald’s car park, with the police wondering what I was doing there.

Staff have their own care to consider and that of their families. I personally have been threatened a few times over the years, but I have only once had the misfortune to think my life was at risk. Now I look at the current situation, see colleagues unwell, scared, crying that they can’t carry out their duties, and managers being asked to do lengthy risk assessments. I am not saying that assessments are not needed, although at this critical time no one should feel bad about not being able to step forward.  Many social workers will of course because we are trained, skilled, conscientious practitioners. Ours is the role that I have often said many others would not wish to do every day and do what is needed as safely as possible. 

I also have another hat, as a member of BASW. I have asked the question as to how a professional organisation is responding to this pandemic and the challenges which there are. Information is present for practitioners, and online meetings and forums are available, which aim to assist and support staff. I now understand that a letter has gone to the government, and while this is to be welcomed, we need to be the strong voice that we are during these difficult times. Both BASW and DfE recently issued guidance on this, which is welcomed, but does it go far enough? 

I am not advocating any form of action that would inhibit our work, but we need to be heard, most importantly we need to be safe. We work in fear on a regular basis, of failure, media, of what we can or cannot do. I urge everyone to take note now and protect themselves. If we do not have, get – buy, if we need it –  the necessary equipment, children, families and society will become a lot less safe. 

If we look at the media, people are dying, children are generally not able to avail of the safe havens of nurseries and schools, so they are not seen as often. I would hate to see a Serious Case Review in the future that in any way blamed social workers unnecessarily for not seeing the children due to COVID-19.

Let us advocate together, politically and strongly with our associations to ensure that we get access to the equipment we need to keep all people safe.

We will overcome this together, collectively and succeed, I dearly hope we will not fail our families or ourselves.

Good luck, stay safe, and continue to do what you can.

Mark A Monaghan, the views expressed are the author’s own.

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1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Michael Clarke

Ignorance is bliss

I am a 24 year old care leaver under the care of social services until June of this year when I turn 25. 

I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2017 and diagnosed with cyclothymia in 2019 just before I moved into my permanent accommodation. I have been working for an organisation who runs breakfast clubs, half term activities & after school clubs in primary schools whilst also attending night classes at college to obtain an English GCSE. 

For the first few weeks of the outbreak I was feeling extremely anxious, my paranoia had been playing up – I was worrying about the uncertainty of work, food, money, family, friends & my community. It lead to me going through tremendous anxiety & depression; my mental health was deteriorating faster than I had ever realised. Considering corona has been the purple elephant in room it’s all everyone has been talking about and as I suspect will continue to be spoken about for a very long time. 

I feel we are at a point where we are relying on science, faith and hope. We are relying on relationships & communication. We are relying on the support of each other. We are relying on the tiniest forms of communication to help get us through this crisis.

For the first week of the outbreak I was working – the fear was everywhere and even parents from our school had appeared on the evening news venting their confusion to the public. There were fewer students then usual – measures were being put in place to prevent the spread of germs and conspiracies were flying high. 

By the start of the following week I had came down with a sore throat, blocked nose, a slight cough & having migraines. I don’t normally visit my doctor for minor colds or flu and I didn’t this time. I just managed with home remedies and lots of bed rest. 

During my time in isolation I have come to a massive understanding that some of your biggest supporters will be the people you don’t even know. 

So, my college safeguarding officer has called me once a week since the outbreak offering a listening ear and an empathetic voice. I’ve found it extremely comforting that even though I’m not there I’m still being checked in on. 

My manager at work has called me once asking how I have been managing throughout the current climate; I was made aware there is a lot of information that no one has yet and we’re all in a state of uncertainty and hearing this relieved a lot of the pressure, making me realise I wasn’t alone. 

I have continued to speak with my therapist via Skype once a week which has also helped me to keep partially on top with how I’m feeling and what it is I need to be working on.

I have been contacted by people during this period; however strange enough they aren’t the people who I would have expected to speak to, they have been random people from social media, people I haven’t interacted with in years, people who I would have expected to have forgotten about me a long time ago. 

The people I’ve spoken to outside my home haven’t been my friends or my family, it’s been the people I meet going to the shops, it’s been my neighbours & the many random people who like me are lost in the chaos.  

I’ve had new people speak to me via social media, some only initiating conversations for the time being, others making a serious positive impact showing effort and consistency, wanting to be involved in my life’s journey and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted.

For me the best support I have received whilst in isolation is the support of communication, having people who genuinely wonder how you’re doing and if you’re okay. I don’t care about all the luxuries and all the extras we get in life, just simply knowing that someone is thinking about me and if push came to shove there would be someone there. 

As strong and independent as I am, a community is only as strong as it’s weakest link and in order for people to survive people need to be focusing on the people most vulnerable right now; whether it means phoning every single person, writing letters, posting food vouchers to people’s homes, getting kitted out in a hazmat suit to go and sit down to have a conversation….. do something to outreach, don’t just like a picture, make comments and initiate conversation. 

There are people struggling without food, without energy, without people, without connections. There are people out there suffering from mental health issues, suffering to get out of bed but how would you know when there is no communication? You’ll never know what a person is going through unless you actually talk. They say we all know something nobody else knows but also everyone  knows something we don’t know, in order to understand what we do and do not know – we need to speak and share our thoughts ideas and feelings.

There are people who are getting sick of their own voices in their heads and all they need is to hear someone else remind them what it means to be human.

So, I can whole heartedly say that the biggest thing that has kept me sane during this period are the ones who have consistently kept me up to date in their daily activities, the people who have given me things to do, the ones who have reminded me of how great the world and I can be. The ones who have taught me things I never knew and showed me a new light. 

I have spent my time in isolation planning how freely I will be living my life when it’s over, I will not be allowing society to construct the way I live. I will embrace the world for what it is and not what people say it is. I will get a ferry to Rome, I will cycle across Europe and experience everything I was made to believe I would never experience. 

I will challenge every obstacle that I face with full speed and power, using all my will and might to overcome anything that tries to prevent me from seeing the world, embracing humanity’s way of existence. Speaking to people from all across the world and learning of how they’ve adapted throughout life’s struggles: unshackling my chains and climbing the mountains for sunset and a new dawn.

Michael Clarke

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1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Nick Burke

The failure of social work to respond to Covid-19

The Covid-19 crisis has thrown into sharp relief many facets on neo-liberal society: the abandonment of free market principles when faced with a real crisis; the sudden appearance of magic money trees when faced with a 30% hit to GDP; the weaknesses of “just in time” supply chains that leave supermarket shelves empty. Social work in the UK has similarly been caught short, and the combination of cuts in support services, performance target tyranny and moralist finger wagging at parental deficit that has fuelled the explosion of care proceedings since 2008 has precisely nothing to say in response to Covid-19. 

The early days of this crisis, in mine and many other Local Authorities, have been characterised by attempts to plough on with “business as usual” casework. Arguments over when to suspend visits to Children in Need where, grotesquely, mortal risks of infecting families and staff are balanced against imperatives to continue the monitoring and surveillance of possible future emotional harm. Government policy has exposed foster carers and children to additional risk because the guidance cites attendance at school as a known protective factor. Social workers have continued to staff the offices of investigatory teams and visit families with no Personal Protective Equipment. And services have reduced to what managers see as the core work: home visits to the top RAG-rated (red amber or green – a crude priority rating device) families in the system with no regard to the continued spread of the virus. 

But what else could Local Authorities really offer? In a period dominated by the bully of the Ofsted inspection and the Sisyphian labour of social administration, social workers like me have to struggle daily to carve out opportunities to actually connect, empathise with and assist families we work with. Local Authorities have been weakened and undermined by New Labour, Coalition and Conservative governments convinced that local government is not sufficiently committed to neo-liberal reforms and modernisation, which means that guidance and policy are more and more centralised. In the sector I work in, post adoption support, the centralised and privatised solution of the Adoption Support Fund distorts the field and changes the way that social workers work with families. In the best cases, social workers can find ways to bring birth families and adoptive families together. In the worst cases they become brokers for individualised therapy for a child living in the vacuum of 1950s retro adoption. Social workers in the latter situation, faced with an inability to access the bureaucratic systems they rely on, are at an utter loss as to how to support families in a crisis such as this one. Their managers, schooled in the performance clinic and the audit, are similarly at sea. In a period like this, neo-liberal social work really has little to offer. 

However, there are dynamics which force social workers to redefine their roles faced with Covid-19. The silence of the social work unions is deafening, but I find myself inspired by the UCU strikes which significantly sped up workers’ capacity to shut down the unis and promote social distancing. When the local universities had shut their doors, we were still crammed into hot-desking environments and faced with management inaction. But this also is generating a newfound militancy and we are reading about actions of workers in France and Italy who are shutting down non essential production. I found myself walking across the floor, telling all staff to cancel all their meetings and visits except imminent child protection concerns, at a time when not one instruction had been issued from management. When Boris Johnson called for working from home, many of my colleagues voted with their feet before any official instruction was given, which was at the end of the following day. This also came with hard arguments: that social workers without laptops or smartphones should still be able to work from home, that the performance targets were no longer relevant, that health and safety were more important than GDPR. 

One of the most positive and liberating experiences for me within this crisis has been the revival of a core social work value overlooked by the official social work bodies with their statements and claims to the moral foundations of our work: the value of solidarity. The solidarity found when ringing round parents and young people stuck at home and trying to find a way through, when at the same time I was self isolating for 14 days. And the solidarity in receiving help from the street mutual aid group I set up whilst also encouraging service users to set up and become involved with such groups themselves. Faced with the redundancy of the professionalised value base of neo-liberal social work, I was finding with delight that the much more pertinent, human values forged in supporting fellow citizens were coming to the fore. 

My own personal experiences of social work in the early days of Covid-19 in the UK have been full of anxiety, but also full of positivity. But that is not the only positive that could potentially come out of this crisis. Neoliberalism has form in benefiting from crisis, as Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine illustrates, but there is a sense in which this crisis on the scale of the 1930s may be too large for the free marketeers. Their absence in offering solutions has been conspicuous and the possibility that Covid-19 may spell a death knell to neoliberalism both economically and politically is one that might bring hope to social workers and service users everywhere. 

So where is social work amidst the crisis of Covid-19 and what are the prospects for a new radical social work to emerge from this crisis? My view is that, in these early days, social work has not been in the area offices but in the mutual aid groups, in the clap to support the NHS and in the mutual feeling of renewed militancy and solidarity in workplaces everywhere which are left to the mercies of their management in making what will turn out to be life or death health and safety policies. As this crisis unfolds, social workers could well start to articulate new community resilience based approaches to helping others amidst Covid-19, taking up and supporting principles of mutual aid and combating the individualist blame culture from the top. Neo-liberalism will no doubt rear its ugly head again once this crisis is over, but the return to previous forms of state social work is by no means inevitable. The Covid-19 crisis may turn out to be the genesis of another kind of social work, one based on solidarity and mutual aid.

Nick Burke, Social Worker.

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1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Robin Sen

Politics, social work and Covid-19

March 2020 the month the music died or the month it revived?

The saying goes a week is a long time in politics. These weeks have felt long in all areas of life, but especially in politics. This article focuses on two things related to it: what we should expect of our governance under Covid-19; and the Government’s financial rescue package. 

At the start of March the Prime Minster effectively announced a ‘mitigation’ strategy for Covid-19: ‘For the vast majority of the people of this country we should be going about our business as usual,’ he declared. This laissez-faire approach contrasted with the social distancing and suppression measures most other countries had by then begun to take. On March 11th, David Halpern, brought into Government from the Behavioural Insights Team to help with its messaging over Covid-19 was the first to talk publicly about ‘cocooning’ ‘at-risk groups’, in a BBC interview, as part of a strategy of ‘herd immunity’. That this was the Government’s official strategy was reinforced in a Radio 4 interview with Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, on Friday March 13th. In line with this strategy, on March 12th, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty announced that Covid testing would from then on solely be undertaken on those with the most severe symptoms, meaning we lost the capacity to systematically track the spread of the virus

Then the policy changed. The Health Secretary, who during the election campaign had tried to persuade us that the Tory party’s pledge to have 50,000 ‘new’ nurses in the NHS was valid despite that number including 19,000 existing nurses, wrote an article in a paywalled Sunday newspaper on March 15th, stating that herd immunity was not the Government’s policy aim. Neither he, nor anyone else in the Government, has since acknowledged that it ever had been. A series of increasingly restrictive social distancing measures followed, sometimes, as in the case of school closures, with the Government announcing measures at the end of a week, which it has said were not necessary at its start. In respect of testing, the Government also U-turned: by April 1st, Boris Johnson announced in a video to the nation that he had been saying ‘for weeks and weeks’ that ‘testing is how we will unlock the Coronavirus puzzle’. I can find no record of him having said so in mid-March when the Government’s Chief Medical Officer announced the Government would be abandoning mass testing. 

It is easy to pick holes in the Government’s responses. So let’s acknowledge that this is decision-making under extreme pressure, in a fast-moving situation. There are also extremely hard balances to be struck between the severe restrictions on civil liberty for all, substantial damage to the economic livelihoods of most and the likelihood of death for a notable minority: currently the balance has swung heavily in favour of a suppression policy in most countries to limit infections and deaths, meaning draconian restrictions on normal freedoms. However, questions will re-emerge about this balance the longer the lockdown continue and if there is a second, or more, periods of lockdown. In the UK annually there are 17,000 flu deaths  yet there is no consideration given to implementing any social distancing measure in the Winter period, when they occur. Flu is far less contagious, and kills far fewer people than Covid-19 would, if left to a herd immunity strategy. Nonetheless, the Covid crisis illustrates that we were making some trade off over flu all along, although most of us were unaware of it. 

What we should expect of our political leaders under Covid has some broad congruence with what I think we routinely expect of good frontline social workers and social work managers: they cannot be reasonably expected to make all the right calls in complex, fast-changing, situations. Who could? But we should expect that they use they use their judgement wisely to make decisions that are both defensible and defended in the contexts they face: they should be able and willing to articulate not only their final decisions, but their underlying rationales, to those affected by them; they should transparently share the key data underpinning their judgements; and, where decisions later change, they should be prepared to openly acknowledge that they have, explaining why conclusions have changed. Based on these criteria, the Government has fallen notably short.

We should also be prepared to judge the leadership of our profession by similar criteria. Again, no-one should expect that they have all the solutions to the myriad tricky policy and practice issues this crisis has thrown up, or that all the profession and those it serves will agree with all they do. But we can expect that in this period those in leadership roles use their judgement to remain well positioned to respond to unfolding events relating to social work; articulate the basis of Government positions on social work to the profession, where they are close to Government decision-making processes; and, crucially, use the platform they have to publicly highlight back to Government gaps and issues within current policies impacting on social work practice under Covid. There are some promising signs in this last respect – BASW’s recent open letter to the Government regarding gaps in infection prevention and PPE advice for social workers is a good example of what we might expect. But, there is also more work needing to be done.

The second aspect of the Covid crisis I discuss here is the Government’s financial rescue package. In one of Jeremy Corbyn’s last interviews as Labour leader he argued that the Government’s huge £330bn Covid rescue package proved he was ‘right’. Certainly, the package shows that huge state investment, of the type Corbyn argued for, is economically possible when there is political will. When the Tories first got back in to power in coalition in 2010 they, and the Liberal Democrats, told us that national debt – standing at a little over 60% of GDP – had to be reduced or we would become, like Greece, a bankrupt nation needing to beg for a state bailout. This provided the justification for the unprecedented public spending cuts that that Government inflicted, inevitably hitting those most in need the hardest: family centres, youth work, working age welfare benefits were all notable casualties.  Yet, when net debt now stands far higher – at over 80% of GDP and rising –  the Government has been able to find the capacity to make such significant state investment. The rescue package’s very existence surely buries for good the Tory-Lib Dem claim that there was an economic need for the savage public spending cuts which they inflicted on the country in the name of austerity; the need was only ever ideological.

Be that as it may, the majority of the electorate did not trust Jeremy Corbyn to direct significant levels of state investment in pre-Covid times, for a variety of reasons. Yet, opinion polls do suggest a majority current trust a Tory Government making similar levels of state investment in response to Covid. Has, then, the Covid crisis led to a burgeoning social solidarity where the majority accept the need for greater state investment to meet public need? There are some reasons for hope  – it seems evident that public support for the NHS and its staff during the Covid crisis will make it very hard for the current Government not to invest more heavily in it than its recent predecessors. There also seems basis to believe that the crisis will reinforce the value of health care systems as fully public services. 

There are also several lingering concerns. It is possible that majority support for the Covid rescue package relates to many of the public seeing ‘people like them’ being supported by it, even if we are starting to see the emergence of some ‘blame and shame’ narratives. In contrast, the harshest austerity cuts fell on marginalised groups who could easily be side-lined or responsiblised for their situations. It is estimated Covid deaths in the UK could, at the lower end, be kept to 20,000. This is very significant but less than a sixth of the estimated 130,000 preventable deaths in the UK that austerity cuts caused while we, as a society, watched on. Within the responses to Covid there is emerging evidence that the rights of marginalised groups are being compromised the most – this includes reports that groups of older people and those with learning disabilities have been subject to Do Not Resuscitate orders without proper consultation; analysis showing how the Coronavirus Act has diminished the rights of several groups of people to state social work support; and, the sudden re-emergence of traditional conceptions of family in a way that glosses over the lived complexities for many households under Covid whose lives do not fit the neat idea of what a family household is – amongst them reconstituted families, adults caring for older relatives, older kinship carers caring for children, and parents whose children are in the care system. 

March 2020 has already proved a pivotal month in the UK’s recent history. Whether we look back on it as a point of renaissance for social solidarity, or a moment when diminished protections for the marginalised were further entrenched, remains to be seen. It will probably not be clear for some months to come. That, in itself, brings an additional ray of hope – that what will be finally won or lost during this time is still yet collectively ours to determine.

Robin Sen, Lecturer in Social Work, Sheffield.

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1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Sarah-Jane Waters

A new Spring

At 8.30 pm on Monday 23rd, March 2020 GMT many in the kingdom sat, people spread across the nations, people in the islands, people displaced further afield. They waited to be addressed, to gain a greater understanding and to receive instruction. Most knew it would be serious as they had been following, some obsessively, the news of their neighbours and seen the havoc, despair and the daily routine of usual life disappear. They had also watched, read and heard of fortitude and selfless determination. 

Last month, it seemed to a large proportion of people unimaginable that the fate of their home could mirror that of other, far-away places. Those who tried to reason and highlight were often labelled negative and alarmist, the sort of people whose personal risk-management strategies erred on the side of paranoia. The Cassandras continued to bubble away trying to tell all who would listen. Few understood why. The official reports appeared only to give the bare bones of sensible advice, surely all took those precautions anyway? “It’s common sense”, “It will be no worse than the seasonal complaints for most of us”, “These events have happened since the beginning of time, it is nature’s way”.

The nations were in the aftermath of disaster after weeks of flooding and storms. Lives, homes and livelihoods had all been washed adrift but as is the way of floods, not all were affected. The public services, already spread thinly and mainly there to act as short-term crisis management, were occupied to resume the accepted official status-quo, to mop-up and to help rebuild. During this time many affected by this couldn’t absorb or access the new, critical warnings as their lives had been functioning minute by minute, day by day.

Other groups of people who too lived life as a daily survival challenge also missed vital information. Their priorities lay in trying to feed, clothe and find shelter for themselves whilst coping with deep buried tests to their existence. There were those who missed the news, those who were too busy, those who had to work under precarious employment conditions to try and keep their households intact; they all had more pressing problems to address.

Most, however, could not imagine that “they would let it happen”. “Not to us, we will be protected by them”, “the NHS can’t be that underfunded, it must be how it’s managed”.

This month, a changing message began to leak out, day by day, advisor by advisor. The people thought about planning; so many felt it necessary to buy as much medicine, food, cleaning products and personal hygiene items they could. They said it was “just in case” but those unable to shop struggled with the lack of essentials, couldn’t get a slot for delivery even if they were able to use internet and had the hardware to place orders. Pharmacists had no stock. Crucial medicines couldn’t be found which in turn added a greater strain on the people and the health service. 

The first official missives directed the people to “wash your hands for twenty seconds”, “keep away from others”, “protect the elderly; keep them at home” and as an afterthought “protect the vulnerable too”. The elderly and the vulnerable were told they must stay at home for twelve weeks and “self-isolate” save trips to exercise or get supplies. Still the people were confused, many felt fine and that it was imperative to carry on in this new normal as they had mouths to feed and homes to pay for. They probably wouldn’t get very sick anyway so surely going out and about would keep a routine and the worry at bay. They couldn’t conceive that their actions could endanger the lives of others or place the health service in serious jeopardy. 

The populace began to receive daily briefings from those who make decisions. The broadcasting service which the people had previously been told was unnecessary responded in a manner to ensure people now had access to more regular information and programmes of a diverse nature as “it keeps the spirit up”. The regular official broadcasts were dynamic; each day brought new directives, some contradictory, some hastily changed by morning, some incomplete and some sensible. More restrictions to freedom were applied with stern suggestions made as to how the people should live. 

As days passed, the people were urged to only buy what was imperative, many questioned how they could know what was imperative. “How long for?”, “What will run out?” they wondered. More confusion occurred when those who could work from home were told to do that. Many couldn’t or wouldn’t, some management couldn’t conceive that their workers needed to adapt and stay at home. 

The first big chastisement was delivered. After days of assurances that schools and childcare facilities would remain open, they were now ordered to close; the children were to be taught at home by their families. The bewildered inhabitants of the kingdom were told they couldn’t socialise but could practice social distancing instead at a distance of two metres apart. Leisure facilities, hotels, restaurants, pubs and cafes must close and people must not congregate. Only people who needed to be in a workplace should go to work, key workers should go to work but the rest should work at home. Many jobs were lost.

Key workers were holding the countries together and more were needed desperately. Some who had lost their living overnight began to consider a new way to survive. The problem was that key worker was a term nobody understood. They assumed doctors would be important but all of a sudden, the nurses, carers, emergency services, cleaners, specific retail staff, warehouse operatives and similar had their merit in society abruptly elevated. Previously they weren’t considered key, and often struggled financially and faced the value judgements of others

Much of the population relied on people to do tasks such as childcare and household management whilst they worked but the people they relied on now had to stay indoors as they were elderly and vulnerable. The core economy of grandparents, the elderly, the sick and the disabled crashed immediately and the people were unsure how they could work at home and teach their children whilst tackling all the other chores around their homes. Some had very small living spaces without gardens and balconies and fretted how they would be able to bear it. 

The morning after this announcement many places in the nations woke to glorious sunshine. Spring had lifted the shroud of anxiety for those who saw the sun. The last directive had said that it was fine, no, good to exercise and open spaces would be accessible. If the people practiced social distancing then all would be fine. Many had not had an opportunity to make the most of their free time for several months as winter had been unusually wet and windy. Mothering Sunday also was celebrated this weekend. The result was that a large number of the population went to places for their recreation and exercise, children played and parents distracted themselves from the, now always, present threat being discussed and deconstructed in every way. “Stay safe” they cheerfully said to the friends, acquaintances and the people they didn’t normally notice. Park cafes opened for the customers to take away what they could, shops opened but noticed that people didn’t want a wide-range of goods and produce. Consumers now had very specific shopping needs.

Monday began and the key workers went to work alongside people whose employers considered their employees to be key. The numbers of workers travelling to work had reduced but many still classed their employment as critical or the people who ran the businesses they were employed to work in did. Their children were sent to the designated schools and nurseries open for the children of those key workers who couldn’t provide childcare at home. “What choice do we have?” they said. If they didn’t have a car those travelling to work had to use public transport which was now running reduced services. It was cramped and impossible to attempt social distancing. If anyone coughed or look sick, people shuddered. They thought they’d better wash their hands again, just in case.

A group of people were used to being isolated and feeling invisible, they often perceived they had to hide their difficulties or only divulge what was necessary. Some already spent more time isolated at home than the workers, some could work a little, others tried to use their time when they could, to make their lives feel more worthwhile by engaging in activities, despite the turmoil it could cause. They too were trying to make sense of the chaos, separate fact from fiction and understand the information they were given. In this cluster of people, some noticed they were having more engagement from friendly people than usual. Some eagerly welcomed this contact born out of many more bodies at home displaced from the daily grind of commuting and work. Others felt astounded that these people, the people who usually were fortunate to live in the standard, accepted way of the kingdom, hadn’t understood what it would feel like to be uprooted from their normal and stuck indoors. They wanted to give the newly housebound and sick some of the suggestions they had been given. “You must try yoga, it’s a miracle”, “my aunt was housebound and CBT sorted it out”, “exercise cures all”, “change your outlook, change your life, be positive and grateful for what you have”, “Have you tried a juicing diet, it’s good for energy”, “I’d get one of those candles from Gwyneth Paltrow and meditate, what are they called? Ah yes, the light at the end of the tunnel I think” and “you should try to work, it gets you out of the house and will make you far happier”. The people who had spent life isolated before the crisis hoped desperately that it would be clear from now that their lifestyle had never been one of choice.

These people were worried too, as they needed extra help and support.  Whatever the information announcements said they knew that their health care and social care was already precarious, and now they couldn’t see how they could make their arrangements work. The nation where the overall seat of power lay had different ways of organising health and social care to the other nations but official announcements didn’t direct people to information in their home nation, only theirs. The people of this group saw the visible signs of how they would succumb to the tragedy the other countries had tried to warn of if preventative action was delayed.

Some pondered over how it now seemed unreasonable to the recently sick and unemployed to live on the usual sick money and the usual money allocated to people out of work. After all, they had previously been told they were lucky to have even that and often had to spend great energy challenging and explaining why they needed it. They also wondered how the others would cope with the deliberately designed five week wait without money or with the loans they would take, which would make the residual payments difficult or impossible to run their houses or pay their bills. They noticed that the information broadcasts only dealt with the new system for the sick, disabled and unemployed but not the old system which many of them still used. They heard the anguish from the workers who didn’t have an employer and worked for themselves, the people in unstable employment and all who hadn’t counted for help either. They reflected on the people who couldn’t understand the language of the information briefings and the people who the rest of society shunned who possibly hadn’t be told of the grave situation beginning to unfold.

In the meantime, the people who had lives that differed to the gold standard thought about how to be practical, how they would safely feed themselves, practice good hygiene alone, keep warm or get dressed. How will they stay alive without the food deliveries, the medication and the help they needed? 

Then came the big announcement. The first big chastisement hadn’t been effective. The healthcare system was groaning under the strain and it was predicted to get far worse. The people were all to stay at home for most of the time. There were exceptions laid out for those who had to look after the vulnerable and for key workers. The people could leave their houses once a day for exercise, they could leave to get essential supplies. The announcement was an order with consequence for non-compliance.

For many there was a growing realisation that there weren’t groups of people anymore, them and us really didn’t apply. There should never have been a social divide or avoidable fear and avoidable hardship like this. People offered to help others without being designated key workers and anyone who felt they could make a positive contribution did. People consulted with people about what they needed or wanted, they shared what they had. They recognised that they would need similar support should their circumstances change. Many wanted to make sure anyone disadvantaged was helped and a new core economy sprang to life. The difference this time, they said, was that this economy would be driven by compassion, not consumer markets.

Sarah-Jane Waters, Cardiff 

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1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Shabnam Ahmed

Remembering a different way

We all know that organisations can spend a huge amount of resources such as money, time and energy planning a transformation of their services or carrying out restructuring, as us oldies call it, only to find ourselves going full circle and often ending up yet again on familiar ground.  How many of us have gone through service reviews, transformations and restructures and somehow still not felt satisfied?

This is all too familiar to me as a social worker in adult social care, then suddenly, 21 years into my career, a virus comes knocking at all our doors and the whole world is transformed.  The beast known as Corona is fierce; it is strong and it is powerful.  We learn very quickly that to fight this beast we must return to our most primal instinct- survival.  That intrinsic drive to survive, to fight and to protect is the strongest I have ever witnessed in my life time through this crisis.

What emerges almost immediately is an organic restructuring within adult social care, with humanity, love and kindness at its core.  Within days, we start to operate without panels and forms; we liberate social workers to exercise judgement freely to simply help people with what matters to them most at these uncertain times.  Some need food and medicine, whilst others just need a listening ear.  We stop othering as for once we are all faced with the same fear – death and the same hope – survival.  We realise that there is no us and them.  We start speaking to people within our services we have never spoken to before.  Strong partnerships form between the various departments within the council.  Layers of bureaucracy are removed so practical solutions can be exercised without having to wait weeks for them to be rubber stamped.  

We learn that very quickly we have all the resources and skills within the council to transform, adapt and act and there is no need to bring in an external consultant to show us how it is done.  All we need is love, a love that is rooted in a desire to act.

As social workers, working with older people and those who are not in the best of health, like the NHS, we witness death often, and it is never easy.  However, there is something about our current situation which unleashes a different emotion, forces us into a new and uncomfortable zone and level of anxiety.  I believe it is of being faced with your own mortality and potentially, for the first time, truly knowing that no matter the colour of your skin, your bank balance, your job title or how good your English might be, you and the person you are helping are equal targets for the beast.  Your suffering is potentially the same.  This I think has been aptly described by Kessler as Anticipatory grief who added to Kubler-Ross’s stages of loss.

We know that when this beast has quenched its thirst and disappears, our world will be a different place.  What I hope is that we never forget the lessons it taught us.  It enabled us to be the social workers we have always wanted to be and came into the profession to be.  It united us in an intentional way where compassion shaped the decisions and not the rules set by the masters.  For those of us that are still standing in the new world, let us not allow ourselves to build the walls again, to create the divide or look to consultants to come in and show us the way.  Let us remember how Covid19 made us more human and intentional in our practice and question what we really need, to do the work we do.

“Bright will shine the fields of England,

Purer shall its waters be,

Sweeter yet shall blow its breezes

On the day that sets us free”.

(George Orwell, Animal Farm)

Shabnam Ahmed, Adult Social Worker 30 Mar 2020

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1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Simon Cardy

Is it time to wind up the National Accreditation & Assessment System?

Social work under COVID-19 means that many issues will now disappear under the radar, or be put on hold, with the expectation that they will all resume when things get back to ‘normal’. 

Some may say that now is not the time to start thinking about what life in social care might look like after corona virus, but what does getting back to normal mean if that also means a resumption of the many follies and blind alleys that make up parts of the government’s social work reform agenda? 

I argue here that one of those follies is the National Accreditation & Assessment System (NAAS),  that not only should NAAS be dropped if and when we return to ‘normal’ but given the crisis under COVID-19, the scheme should be abandoned with the £24 million budget immediately transferred to local authorities struggling to cope with corona virus.

History

The NAAS began in July 2014 when Isabelle Trowler, the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families announced a new post qualifying ‘Approved Child and Family Practitioner’ status  to be ‘an essential requirement for working in child protection’. This has been widened to allow child and family social workers ‘to develop skills and knowledge to improve outcomes for children and families’; to support employers to raise ‘the national standard’;  and to ensure employers ‘better understand their workforce development needs’. 

For reasons that remain unclear, the scheme is limited to children’s social workers registered in England, with no plans as yet to extend NAAS to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland and no proposals to extend it to adult social workers. Neither is it clear what the Post-Qualifying Standards (PQS) – also known as the Knowledge and Skills Statements (KSS)  – that underpin the NAAS test – achieves in any qualitatively different sense that the social work qualifying courses and the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) do not.

Opposition

There is widespread concern about NAAS across the  key social work organisations and the trade unions.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) said the accreditation system was ‘unjustifiably’ costly and marked a further step towards breaking the link between adults and children’s social work.

The Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee (JUCSWEC) questioned why money being distributed to the private sector whilst simultaneously essential public services, which seek to serve local communities and safeguard children, are being cut at an alarming rate?

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said accreditation offered ‘poor value for money’ and the £24m cost of setting up the scheme nationally would be better spent on frontline social work and early help. 

UNISON said that ‘Introducing this test will do nothing to address the fundamental problems that are being experienced across the country. Social workers are overworked, underpaid and poorly supported’ and called on its members to boycott the scheme following a motion at its national delegate conference.

Privatisation

There were some in the sector who thought that various elements of the social work establishment – the College of Social Work, the professional bodies and the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) – would play a central part in its development. The government however had other ideas. It pulled the plug on the College of Social Work – triggering its financial collapse – and awarded a series of contracts to private sector companies who, with very few exceptions, had little or no prior experience  in social work:

  • A £2M contract to a consortium that included consultancy giant KPMG and Morning Lane Associates to develop the initial system and develop the ‘proof of concept’ stages of accreditation.
  • A £3.6M contract to a consortium including consultancy Mott MacDonald to further develop the system  and roll it out across the pilot authorities. Other companies included: Synergy Learning to support technical delivery; React to provide actors; Attenti to provide qualified assessors and Pete Dwyer consultancy as a professional lead and engagement partner. 
  • A £1.3M contract  to Manchester-based AlphaPlus to generate and validate assessment content. A minor role was given to the Princes Trust and the one and only academic institution involved, Kingston University, was included to provide moderation services.

Incentives

In July 2017 the government – sensing it was not winning the argument – announced it would slow down the  timetable and abandoned the aim of having all 30,000 child and family social workers put through the NAAS by 2020.  The scheme also remained voluntary. During 2019 however, some social workers began to report that their employers were offering financial incentives to take part in NAAS despite the fact councils are bound under the 1997 Local Government National Single Status Agreement to avoid selective bonus schemes, market supplements and financial inducements to achieve equal pay for equal value.

Outcomes

The advent of the COVID-19 lockdown has coincided with the end of the phase two of the pilot. 56 local authorities have taken part in the programme to date. They were given a performance target to reach at least 20% of their children’s social worker workforce by the 31st March 2020.

Table 1, shows 53 of the 56 early adopter local authority sites in the NAAS pilot. Only 53 are shown here due to DfE data omission. This was released in reply to MP Emma Lewell-Buck’s written question in the House of Commons on  11th March 2020. Of these just 13 (shown in green) have reached the DfE target of 20% of the workforce by the end of March 2020.

Table 1.  Early adopter NAAS sites (no=53) and percentage of workforce reaching accreditation. 

More interesting is the question of the financial incentives used to circumvent the union boycott by inducing social workers into taking part. Table 2 shows a sample of 16 local authorities.

Table 2.  Survey of 16 Local Authorities showing NAAS financial incentives between 24.2.2020 & 31.3.2020

Local authority(Total no. Children’s Social Workers FTE 16/9/2019*)NAAS accredited by 31/3/2020**

DfE target met by 31/3/2020Incentive Source of Incentive funding
Birmingham Children’sTrust (701.9)85NoInformation refused 
Cornwall Council (246.8)2NoNo  
Coventry City Council(310.1) 32No£400NAAS grant
Derby CityCouncil(152.4)38YesNone 
Dudley(162.8)16No£200 voucher to staff who complete the 
assessment day, regardless of the outcome.  ‘Staff can choose where they 
would like their voucher from.’
NAAS budget 
Herefordshire (93.7)0NoNone 
Nottinghamshire(436)17NoNone 
Sandwell Children’sTrust(206.6)                   3NoNone 
Stoke-o-T(210.4)7No£50 book tokenNAAS grant
Solihull(110.6)9No£100 voucherNAAS grant
Staffordshire County Council(368.5)55No£400NAAS grant
Shropshire(112.8)5No£400NAAS grant
Telford &Wrekin(141.8)11NoNone 
Plymouth City Council(157)59YesNone 
Walsall (179.2)8NoNone 
Wolverhampton(177.2)38Yes£400NAAS grant

*DfE 16.9.2019                **Hansard

The 16 local authorities listed above were asked, using Freedom of Information requests, if they were awarding a financial incentive for social workers either taking part or on completion of the test. This shows that 50% of the pilot sites in this sample were awarding incentives of up to £400, constituting a total spend of £53,250  on the NAAS bonus scheme alone. What has also emerged from the survey is that the DfE have allowed local authorities an option for payments to be made out of the government grant money with one authority reporting that ‘This budget has an allocated portion of money for training, incentives etc’.

Some local authorities denied these payments amounted to a financial incentive. One council stated: ‘This is not considered an incentive but is regarded as an acknowledgement that social workers have prepared for, took the assessment and met the standards’.

Paying bonus schemes and financial incentives – for one group of workers and not others – is potentially illegal under the Equality Act 2010.  One Council justified its NAAS bonus by arguing it was ‘material factor defence’, which, in legal code, means they think they can legitimately seek an exemption to equal pay.  I suspect in practice this is a device to overcome the fact that NAAS remains voluntary but far less popular than the government would want. To reward some voluntary training schemes for council workers, but not others, breaches the principle of equal treatment.

Conclusion

The accreditation scheme has reached the end of its pilot phase and, if it were not for COVID-19, there would need to be a decision on rolling it out nationally. As this data shows, only 1600 social workers out of 12,500 in the 56 local authority pilots have been accredited. The original aim was for 30,0000 social workers to be NAAS approved by 2020.

So what is the point of NAAS?

I would argue that rather than a flimsy mechanism to raise professional standards on little or no evidence, or a renewal for continuous post qualification in partnership with HEIs, NAAS is better seen as a political device.

First, it is a neo-liberal pathway based on the idea that private sector companies rather than public sector education institutions are better able to deliver educational services. Second, NAAS is designed to weaken the role of higher education institutions and pass more of control into the hands of employers. A trend we are seeing in other aspects of social work education. Third, I am concerned that NAAS may be a ‘Trojan horse’ to replace ASYE, and something social workers will be required to repeat it every two or three years in order to stay in practice.

.

The Chief Social Worker, Isabelle Trowler, recently wrote to social workers, promoting NAAS and asking, ‘What have you got to lose?’By the same token, we should be asking, what we have we got to gain?

Simon Cardy is an Independent Social Worker and Practice Educator.

@simoncardy

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1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Ross Gibson

Unequal lives, unequal deaths

Whilst politicians have been eager to call for national unity, the past few weeks have highlighted the vast disparities that exist throughout the United Kingdom. Despite attempts to suggest that we are all facing the same challenges and difficulties, reality tells us that some sections of society experience the effects of Covid-19 in a profoundly different way from others.   Not only does this result in additional stress and pressure – and increased mortality – for those in the most disadvantaged groups, but is a stark demonstration of the inequalities that are woven into the fabric of our society, and a time when existing support networks of family, friends and the state have been cut suddenly.

Examples of these inequalities are manifest, touching on pretty much every aspect of life.

Although recent steps taken by the Treasury have included levels of financial support that was unimaginable in mid-March, millions of Britons are now facing months – perhaps years – of uncertainty to yet further compound a lost decade caused through the impact of austerity.  One feature of that decade being the exponential growth of zero hour contracts.  Workers on such contracts are left without the protection afforded their colleagues in more permanent, stable employment and now face the unenviable task of enrolling on Universal Credit.  Whilst newly introduced financial supports have been welcomed, there are several gaps in provision which will further enhance chasms between those in stable employment, and those in precarious, fragile employment. I wonder how parents manage to keep their children occupied, entertained and educated – if that is at all possible – when there has been pressure from unscrupulous employers to keep shops open, when people are losing their jobs, and when utility bills will be increasing day by day. 

A family of four living in their own home, replete with a garden, broadband and satellite television will experience this period in a completely different way from a family in privately rented accommodation, living on the fourth floor of a block of flats, with a similarly stressed out family next door and without the ‘luxuries’ previously outlined.  So whilst our first family are afforded additional space, a garden and home entertainment – things that are by no means opulent – the second face a pressure cooker environment where minor irritations are magnified, and where financial worries influence every decision.  The loss of school meals further compounds these difficulties.

It’s easy to say stay at home.  It easy to tell others to stay at home. But when your house is cramped and overcrowded, when you experience fuel poverty, when your kids want to breathe fresh air and when you need space from the inevitable chaos that ensues, it isn’t as easy as that.  Furthermore, in many cases staying at home is the very thing that places them in a perilous position, with domestic abuse, sexual exploitation and neglect.  The human and social capital available to each individual widely varies, leaving some more at risk than others.

Whilst I am not questioning the medical guidelines of staying at home in order to minimise infection, I am mindful of the unintended consequences of driving people to remain within the confines of their home.  I fear that child protection concerns will go unnoticed and unreported, and when this is over there will be a slow realisation of the long term impact that this period of lockdown will have upon children’s wellbeing.  I fear that people experiencing addiction will face unimaginable withdrawal, or feel that they must risk their health further by seeking out solace through substances, and I worry that instances of domestic abuse will increase, but go undetected.  

In education, students of all ages have been expected to move seamlessly from classroom settings to online learning.  This must have been a challenge for everyone, but can you imagine the difficulty for those who not have an up to date device, if one at all?  Or what of those who have no internet access, or those who have limited data allowances?  Or those students who experience additional learning needs?  The haste with which this shift has been made underlines the lack of consideration that is often paid to the less financially stable sections of our society.

Of course, the situation is – as always – more difficult for those living in the developing world, as Kenan Malik has pointed out, and is a reminder of how privileged life in the United Kingdom truly is.  The international response to this crisis will need substantial financial investment from those with the broadest shoulders.  Nevertheless, on these shores those who experience the greatest levels on inequality – the ones who already carry additional burdens – will be the ones who experience the impending hardships most acutely.  But perhaps the aftermath of Covid19 will change things.

Just as Karyn McCluskey has written of her hopes for greater empathy and connection towards prisoners as a result of this pandemic, perhaps this period will lead to greater public and political will to address the vast, insidious inequalities which have been brought to light.  Whilst I am loathe to make comparisons between this pandemic and the 2nd world war, the political direction that the United Kingdom took in its immediate aftermath is something that we ought to aspire to.  Then, despite astronomical debt and a shattered and fatigued population, we were able to take steps that led to; the creation of the NHS, provision of social housing, the repeal of the Poor Law, the introduction of National Insurance, electoral reform, and greater public access to greenspace.  Endeavours of a similar vein to these could have significant benefits when this pandemic is over.  To attain that end, recent adoption of welfare minded policies must not be cast aside, nor must we allow them to be. We ought not ‘do our bit’ over the coming months and years (just as we have since the financial crash of 2008) only to return to the status quo which has did little to serve the wellbeing, welfare and interests of the most disadvantaged groups in society. 

Ross Gibson, Social worker, practice teacher and PhD student.