It was that sort of thinking that attracted me to social work. From the outside it seemed like it had the potential to change people, to get them away from things doing them harm or turn them from lousy decisions. It looked like maybe it could get stuck into the things around them, the systems and structures and powers that ruin lives and keep them ruined and keep the generations after them ruined. I was looking for a job to help bring change to people and to society at large and to the generations lined up ahead of ours. I was looking for a job that would teach people to fish. Or farm beancurd, which would be more in keeping with my strict vegetarian principles. That sort of thinking was all the rage in the right-on ‘70s and Thatchered ‘80s, radical social work saying everything was shit but would get sorted. Talk to people practising back then you’d think they split their time between getting down and dirty in people’s homes and getting placardy on the streets, with the occasional ten minutes in the office. You’d think they actually believed they could have a part in changing the world, like they had a chance going up against the causes of poverty instead of just looking on and handing out cash for nappies. Looking back, it seems like social work was part of a philosophy. That’s not how it feels right now, not in my office.
There, most of the talk is around fake tans and football and almost-famous nobodies in nothing magazines. There’s barely an ounce of politicking around the place, nothing in the way of morality or agenda. I’m not saying there’s not room for chat or silliness or dicking around in the workplace but I’d like a touch of principle now and again. There’s one guy into this stuff but for most people it’s very definitely just a job. It’s a job they care about, like they care about the people they’re working with, like they care about doing it well. They know it matters. But it’s a job in relation to nothing bigger. That’s not how it should be. Community care workers should be bigging up disability rights and fighting benefit cuts and lousy care provision. Criminal justice workers should be bigging up progressive sentences instead of custodials we know make everything worse. People, it’s time to Zerofy the office! It’s Zero hour! I’m brainstorming catchphrases here. Let’s get Zeroiggy with it!
That last one was pretty good. First, me and this other guy will try and get some interest going in the Social Work Action Network, a progressive pressure group that looks to get social work away from managerialism and more towards right-onness. In fact maybe we’ll go and ask the team leader to pay for us to attend and if that fails maybe we’ll email the service manager two weeks ago and not hear anything back yet. Second, we’ll try and get some interest going in slagging off the bedroom tax which is about to screw over a good share of our service users. There’s a march being organized in a few cities people could take an interest in. This other guy went to a planning meeting a couple weeks back and is dragging me to the next one, and together maybe we’ll get others into it instead of just being laughed at like is happening currently. Third, to take our principles into general future-facing do-goodery, I’ll release The Mighty Gore. As before, he’ll take his inspiring and terrifying message of environmental disaster straight to the hearts of non-believers, striking fear into the hearts I mentioned earlier in this sentence. That’s just bad writing. In the first wave I’ll target the water cooler which gets through several thousand plastic cups a day, the bin in the lunch room which is filled with all manner of recyclables, and the lights in the bathrooms because things always sound punchy in threes. That’s just good writing. With these efforts combined, with this ally working alongside me, and with all the enthusiasm and drive I can muster, I’ll very quickly achieve the thing I was talking about when I started this entry last week and forgot about completely. Let’s get Zeroiggy with it!
Photo credit: The BBC, probably