Why social workers are marching 100 miles in protest against austerity
In Austria, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Spain and more than 100 other countries around the world, social workers carried the same messages in the biggest mass action the profession has ever seen.
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW), along with people who use social services, have organised a march from Birmingham to Liverpool to call for an end to the UK government’s austerity polices. Over seven days, starting on 19 April, social workers, service users, carers and others will walk almost 100 miles, visiting food banks and social care settings under threat from funding cuts along the route, to hear from those whose lives have been devastated by austerity.
Social workers marching on the streets is nothing new. Protest and campaigning has long been a part of the profession’s attempts to advocate for a socially just and fair world for all to live in. Even in countries where public demonstrations are outlawed, social workers facilitate ways that communities can work together for change. In recent years, however, we have started to witness a stronger, more vocal and more coordinated international social work profession taking essential messages on policy and sustainability to communities and governments.
Last month’s World Social Work Day saw social workers carrying banners and placards, speaking at community meetings and taking part in delegations with government ministers and UN officials. In Austria, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Spain and more than 100 other countries around the world, social workers carried the same messages in the biggest mass action the profession has ever seen.
For people not familiar with social work, the idea of professionals protesting might come as surprise. It seems incongruous with the everyday work of sensitively supporting families move through times of hurt, pain and trauma with dignity. Of course social workers do this too. But what distinguishes social work from many other professions is that social workers also recognise the need for wider social structures to change in order to help those families – and their wider communities – grow and thrive.
From a social work perspective, acts of solidarity and peaceful protest are not only important to achieve short-term social reform. People working respectfully together to voice dissent and shape their diverse yet shared futures is empowering. Collective action breaks down barriers of social isolation, helplessness and dependence. It demonstrates to individuals that they are not alone, and insists that each and every voice and perspective is valid and important. Protests remind everyone that it is not people who are broken, but the systems that have failed them.
The BASW march is just one part of a wider social work ambition to transform our society for the better. On this march professionals and the people who use social services will share one essential message: build social services around the real needs and aspirations of the communities they serve, and don’t refuse assistance to those who are desperate.
The BASW Boot Out Austerity march takes place between 19 – 26 April. Find out more and get involved here.
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