On a recent trip to the UK, I was asked to talk about the work of the RSW collective at Salford University. I didn’t really want to, I wanted to talk about one of my other areas of research interest, but peeps insisted! As I was soon to learn, this was fuelled by the synchronicities between ANZ and the UK in many areas: neoliberal economic and social policies, punitive welfare reform, an increasing emphasis in child protection policy on removal of children earlier to permanency (with little attention to structural or family conditions), and criticism of social work and education. So people were keen to hear about our little project of resistance.
When you are outside of your own country, you have to take quite a bit of time to describe the context that makes your actions intelligible. These are the slides from my talk, emphasising that the context we are working in is increasingly filled with the twinned themes of: the individualisation of social problems, and responsibilisation of citizens and practitioners. Alongside this, the state is effectively retracting in the social sphere (for example, through the hard-nosed and punitive welfare system aimed at getting people off it, the ongoing reductions in the working for families tax credit system, the stagnation of benefit rates, the CYF review aimed at privatising many more aspects of child protection work, the decreasing health funding in some areas, the lack of CPI paid in NGO contracts since 2008). There is not much public debate beyond the media soundbite about the immense range and depth of social policy changes we have been through in the last five years operationalising these themes. Some alternative journalists, unions, public figures, other academics and advocacy groups have of course made important inroads, but we are all struggling to really make a dent in the public consciousness. Academics are relatively free to try and generate debate about social policy changes compared to others employed in the public service, (or contracted to it) so we are trying to make good use of this privilege (while we still have it). But it is like water on a rock…perhaps having some barely imperceptible effect, or perhaps none at all. So we have to just keep going. And hoping.