Dr Rory Truell, Secretary-General of The International Federations of Social Workers 2014 World Social Work Day Message.
Each year World Social Work Day takes on new energy and significance. All of IFSW’s 116 country-members are celebrating the contribution of social workers to society, and using the opportunity to advocate common messages to their governments.
‘Social and Economic Crisis – Social Work Solutions’ is the theme for 2014. This relates to the first of four themes in the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development – a bottom up movement that has been developed by social workers globally who wanted to step-up and take action against massive growing inequalities, the worldwide dynamics that perpetuate poverty and oppression.
As social workers we are at the forefront of social consequences and social realities. We experience on a daily basis those policies, which unlock human potential and social sustainability, and those which fail people and strip them of their confidence and futures.
Our experience is that the vast majority of people in difficult circumstances want the best for themselves and their families and to take responsible decisions to make that possible. The problem is that a mixture of social, personal and economic circumstance entrap them in a spiral of problems from which it can be difficult to escape without strong family, community or other networks to support them. We often see how, despite people’s best efforts, small external events, such as illness, unexpected repair bill, or a natural disaster knock people back. This simple and common sense message is at the heart of social work but is often ignored by government policy.
As well as facilitating support of people on the ground, social work also delivers key-messages to governments and international policy organisations based on our practical experience:
- ‘That people cannot be developed by others’. Our frontline experience has taught us that to escape from poverty and oppressive situations, people need to be actively involved in their own futures.
- ‘That the cornerstone of a thriving economy is a stable resourced and educated community’. All to often governments argue that they cannot afford to invest in community, whereas our experience informs us that investing in community attracts results in entrepreneurship, skill development and economic growth.
- ‘People are happier and wellbeing is better for all in more equitable societies’.The massively unequal distribution of wealth causes more social instability, health and crime problems, negatively affecting everybody.
- When people have a ‘collective voice’, they are more able to advocate for their rights and participate in decision-making processes resulting in better wellbeing.
Social workers embed all these concepts in their work in all parts of the world. We challenge the stereotype that blames individuals for allowing themselves to fall into trouble or for being inadequate or dishonest. We know the reality is different, and more complex. People must exercise individual responsibilities but they must be able to do this in a fair and just environment, which supports them.
Writing this message from Cairo it is impossible not to reflect on the social upheavals of recent years. Discussing this with the local social work community it has become very clear that a fundamental sense of personal insecurity caused by the absence of a social welfare system fuelled frustration and political unrest.
What do social workers want? Governments with heart. Politicians who take the trouble to understand the real human experience and to avoid cruel stereotypes and slogans. Policies that recognise the potential in people, and enable their aspirations. Until and after such a time, social workers will play their part; they will continue to facilitate and support people in discovering their confidence and ability to make positive decisions for themselves and their next generation.
Like millions of others worldwide I am proud to be a social worker. Proud to be a part of a profession that acts decisively on its deep understanding human behaviour. We assist people in difficulty and support them and their families to regain confidence, to fulfil their sense of responsible as parents, community members and citizens – and at the same time a profession that also influences social policy and political outcomes. Proud to be member of a profession – making contributions of consequence.