Report from Social Work Action Network conference

17 April 2013

SWAN Conference 2013: Defeating the Politics of Austerity

On 12th and 13th April, around five hundred social workers and social care workers, students, lecturers and service users from across the UK gathered at London South Bank University for the annual conference of the Social Work Action Network (SWAN).

Founded more than eight years ago to challenge the market and managerialism in social work, SWAN has been active in a wide range of different campaigns, including campaigns in defence of asylum seekers, against the privatisation of social care, and against the scapegoating of social workers at the time of the Baby P case. SWAN also has formal links with UNISON, something reflected in the high number of UNISON stewards and activists at the conference.

Opening session of the SWAN conference 2013

Opening session of the SWAN conference 2013

The focus of this year’s conference was on challenging austerity, with the need for SWAN to be actively involved in local and national campaigns emphasised by SWAN National Convenor and Preston socialist councillor Michael Lavelette in his introductory remarks.

Michael was followed by keynote speakers Selma James from the Wages for Housework campaign and also Owen Jones, author of Chavs, who argued for a broad movement to defeat the Coalition and for support for the People’s Assembly against Austerity in London on 22nd June.  Plenaries included powerful contributions from different campaigning organisation including Roger Lewis from Disabled People against Cuts and family members from the Counihan –Sanchez Family Campaign, a family from Kilburn in London with five children who have been made homeless by Brent Council.

SWAN is unique in bringing together those who work in social care services and those who use them to campaign for better services. As a Greek social worker pointed out in the final session, however, that distinction is becoming increasingly blurred, with increasing numbers of social workers both in Britain and in Greece joining their clients on the dole queue.

Despite these attacks, the mood of the conference was positive and optimistic and as well as voting to support campaigns against the bedroom tax and also the Lucy Meadows campaign, named after the transgender teacher hounded to her death by the Daily Mail, conference AGM also voted to affiliate to Unite the Resistance

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