Macho managers are killing my profession

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The Independent Online
I RECENTLY left the social services department in one of the Home Counties after more than 20 years, first as a social worker and then a manager, in protest against the bringing of the internal market into social work. When I started there were three separate departments: children's, welfare and mental welfare. At the beginning of the Seventies, these were amalgamated into one social services department. It was said that these large new outfits would attract a higher calibre of person to run them; what they did in fact was attract men into what had formerly been a largely women's profession.

We had a few men before, but now came a steady flow, in pursuit of the career structures and higher salaries. Many of them only perform social work for a short time, then climb the managerial ladder, there being very little competition from the great mass of female social workers, who carry on doing what they entered the profession for in the first place.

Most social services departments now consist of an army of women whose officers are largely men. And they are men who let down the social workers and clients regularly: instead of vigorous defences or counter attacks in, for example, child abuse scandals, they murmur instantly forgettable platitudes. Many social work clients live in poverty, but who can remember a word from a social work boss when new government measures damage poor people's lives yet again?

The Thatcher government made management the highest calling of all: there are no problems that cannot be solved if they are managed properly. Our male managers adopted the new creed with alacrity: having always retained a slight unease at being in a women's profession, they grasped the opportunity to become macho managers.

The top man in my former department, the director himself, shot the organisation into the internal market system at breakneck speed, with casualties along the way, both in terms of people and social work values. Originally billed as a no-cost exercise, the reorganisation into purchasers and providers is rumoured to have cost pounds 4m.

So now, 'Community Care' having arrived on 1 April, there are small teams of highly paid purchasers and large teams of low-paid providers. The reorganisation was accompanied by a new rhetoric, eagerly picked up from the Government's lead. The word 'quality' was much bandied about, and senior management gave lessons in values. One might have known the handwriting was on the wall at that point. 'Community Care' was sold to a suspicious staff through the use of words such as: 'Now at last our clients are going to have a proper assessment - based on what they really need rather than on what paltry services we have or on how little money we have.'

Now the instruction has been passed quietly down the line that we are not to tell clients what their real assessment is, in case they sue us for not providing it. The new, integrated assessment of need is a chimera.

It is no longer a secret that the Government would like to get rid of publicly financed social services and social work generally - it wants care to be carried out by women again, without their being paid for it. In the same way, the number of qualified nurses could decrease so that more and more of the care is done by lowly paid women.

What price feminism? Does no one realise that women's professions are being quietly dissolved or eroded? And by male managers, who entered social work and created management structures and cultures that were anathema to female workers, while at the same time holding endless committee meetings and seminars on equal opportunities.

The arrival of 'Community Care' heralds the death of social work. Our male managers make perfect undertakers, - deferential, respectful, anonymous.

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