Ending child poverty: no social worker left behind

Unemployment figures may still look bleak, but there is one occupational group which can be thoroughly relaxed about their future employment prospects. If Ending child poverty: mapping the route to 2020, a policy document accompanying the Budget, offers any glimpse of what the next decade may look like, then rosy times are ahead for social workers (broadly defined, for lack of a better term).

The document does not contain many specific policy proposals, but its overtone is: there is no social ill which cannot be cured if only the right programmes, projects, initiatives, pilots, strategies, support schemes, advice bureaus and partnerships take concerted action. This is a plea for a hyperactive, multi-level, multi-dimensional, multi-intervention approach.   

To be sure, the document contains well-argued passages. The authors point out that almost 18% of British children still live in jobless households, compared with 7% of Danish and 5% of Swedish children. They also note that just over half of the UK’s single mothers are in some form of paid employment, compared with more than 80% of Danish and Swedish single mothers. When they credit in-work support policies for having increased the employment rate of single mothers by 12 percentage points over the past decade, they are probably right.  

But whenever the authors identify the shortcomings of current policies, they immediately ask “How can the government do more to rectify this?”, which makes the paper a one-way street.

For example, they criticise the complexity of the current benefit system and the adverse effects this creates. And then comes the remedy: local practitioners who work directly with families will soon be able to use a new Government produced guide to benefits and tax credits, which will allow staff to advise parents of what support is on offer, who is eligible for it and how they go about claiming.”

The authors also acknowledge that people on housing benefits can sometimes make themselves worse off by taking up work. They then go on to praise a local pilot project, which temporarily tops up people’s housing benefits to compensate for steep withdrawal rates.

If you enjoy hands-on, “more-action-is-required” rhetoric, then this paper is essential reading. 

The issue here for welfare professionals is that the cost of really challenging their structuralist assumptions is just too great. It would go against their education and training and fundamentally call into question their roles as professionals.

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