The Labour-led coalition government has provided some relative respite from the overt demonising of those who are excluded from what Simon Bridges describes as the “Kiwi way of life”. This way of life, it seems, is epitomised by tax-free speculation in the private rental property market. Is this our communal cultural lode-stone? Unfettered profits from investment in rental properties? Really? Do we really all hold a sacred place for what is a fundamentally exploitative, unequal and unfair practice? Give me strength! It has been pleasant to have a break from all that banality about “good” mum and dad “Kiwis”which John Key was so fond of. The interests of the good Kiwis that Bridges has been talking about are in fact the interests of a privileged class of people. Conservative political parties have erroneously conflated the interests of private property owners with the well-being of us all since early colonial land grab times. It is the cornerstone of political Liberalism after all (Duncan, 2007). It is high time to stop milking the politics of fear in the golf clubs of an imaginary middle New Zealand Simon.
A guest post by Lauren Bartley.
Nine months ago I wrote a reflection on my first few months as a social worker, and the disillusionment I faced in realising social work practice was not necessarily social justice practice. Read it here! The following post is a down-the-track reflection on my thoughts from that time, and on my first year as a social worker in a child and family-focused NGO.
This is a guest blog post by Lauren Bartley: a recent graduate and practising social worker.
I’ve spent the last four years at university banging on about social justice while doing the BSW at the University of Auckland. This was the very reason I began a career in social work, because I had deep sense of the injustice in the world and wanted to do something about it. I prided myself on being an activist, a radical. It became my passion, my defining feature. Early into the degree, I realised that there was a major incongruence between what I thought social work was, or should be, and what it actually seemed to be. By the end of my second year, most of my assignments had the same running theme: that as much as social workers espouse the value of social justice, social workers aren’t actually doing it. I deeply connected with Ferguson and Woodward’s (2009) criticism that social workers tend to “play down the structural factors and to focus on individual and personal issues.” (p.8). I was constantly frustrated and dismayed by how little attention seemed to be paid to the wider factors of colonisation, capitalism and neoliberalism, both in the degree and in the profession, and how little those structural inequalities and oppressions seemed to matter to everyone else. I challenged visiting social workers who presented in class, and was intensely critical of them when they said they had “no time” to address structural issues. Putting plasters on people was all social workers seemed to be doing, and this made me angry. A placement at Auckland Action Against Poverty served to fuel this cynicism, and I came to the point of having a crisis of faith, seriously reconsidering social work as a career.
It is not difficult to be pessimistic about the future of social work in Aotearoa New Zealand at the present point in time. However I want to convey a sense of genuine optimism. Read on and I’ll explain why.
Social work has always been a challenging and conflicted job – that is the beauty of doing it well. It is important to have a critical understanding of the relationship between our practice and its wider context, historically, and in the now. According to Featherstone, White, and Morris (2014, p.36), social work needs…
By Amy Ross (Trade Union Organiser, PSA)
Tuesday’s post by John Darroch explored unionisation as a critical component of social workers being able to realise social change in a practical sense. As a union organiser, social worker and the convenor of the Social Worker Action Network (SWAN) within the Public Service Association (PSA) union this presents a useful opportunity to explore this idea further as well as to elaborate on what the PSA is doing with social workers across Aotearoa.
In my previous post I asked what the social work profession might look like if achieving social change was a key priority of the profession. While the response was positive I’ve had several people ask me about how it is that social workers could be a force for social justice given the substantial barriers which the profession faces. This is a considerable question and one which I don’t think enough attention has been devoted to. My understanding is that most social work literature which talks about social change is either utopian, completely neglecting the practicalities of social work practice, or proposes methods of practices which at their heart are still focused at the micro level.
One of the core tenets of the social work profession is a commitment to social justice. It is widely argued that this commitment to social justice is what differentiates the profession from other professions like psychology or counselling (Marsh, 2005; Wakefield, 1998). This commitment to social justice features prominently in western social work codes of ethics, most of which place an obligation on each and every social worker to be actively combatting injustice and taking positions on matters of government policy (Kleppe, Heggen, & Engebretsen, 2015).
The slideshow below is of my address to the PSA Social Work Action Network conference on 1st and 2nd of September 2016 at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), New Zealand. I talked about the way in which social services are applying an increasingly punitive approach to the most disadvantaged people in our society.
In 2001 Amy Rossiter asked the critical question: ‘do we educate for or against social work‘. She wrote about being
exhausted and beleaguered by a lifetime of being positioned as a “professional helper” by a state that organizes the people’s problems as individual pathologies that are best administered by professionals who are trained not to notice the state. (p.1, emphasis added)
I suspect many social work educators feel the same. And in Aotearoa New Zealand we are being asked to ‘not notice’ the erosion of the welfare state, and ‘not notice’ poverty, homelessness, health inequalities and the institutional racism which pervades Māori experience of state institutions. We are being asked to ‘not notice’ the erosion of political commentary and debates in news media saturated by sport and inane clickbait sensationalism. In this culture it becomes more vital for social work educators to teach students to notice, and to question (Beddoe & Keddell, 2016), and to resist the encroachment of politicians into social work education.
The Modernising Child, Youth and Family ‘Expert’ Panel’s Interim Report is rhetorically powerful at times. The form of the report expands and contracts like a concertina and is replete with what Noam Chomsky (1989) refers to as necessary illusions and emotionally potent over-simplifications. In order to consider the ideological underpinnings of this document it is necessary to dig beneath the surface façade.