Why Social Work Academics need to embrace Economics.

We are in the middle of this HUGE debt related crisis, that hasn’t finished by a long shot. This crisis has been used to justify increased financialisation of our economy, and is leading to a situation where child protection is being used wholly inappropriately, while there is deliberate and overt abuse of the control obtained through social policy provision.   The profession was thrown under a bus in 2009,  the attempt to reshape social work as something that should be oblivious to structural inequality have been astonishing.

Creation of maternal poverty is the hairtrigger response to financial instability that is an inevitability in this system, while child protection is weaponised and the troubled families program threatens to merge social work with a punitive benefit system that is directly creating instability in families as a stated aim of policy.

Economics is in the process of learning that we have to understand the economy in a broader sense than the money supply.  In order to broaden their understanding of the impact of debt on stability, economists have to move to looking at the economy beyond the money supply. To understand how stability creates instability one has to understand the complacence that develops in our increased appetite for debt based growth in primary institutions of finance, media and politics. How those institutions relate to the political economy they shape.

Economics is in the process of doing this and so many institutes are establishing centres to examine inequality. The thing these institutes centre round is the need for multi disciplinary research. What they deserately need is an understanding of how disciplines function within institutions and how those institutions (dont) work together.  Explain why the multi agency working regulations are now bigger than ALL the Harry Potter books stood together(probably). The research and work you do, and have done, is becoming very valuable to economists. Even if politicians want it thrown under a bus.

The crisis being created are probably unavoidable but now and indicate a wider unravelling of the post war settlement. But that post war settlement was a bit crap. This may be the time t discuss inequality between institutions and how and why social work was transformed in the way it was and why we didn’t really get that those services were needed for most of the 20th century. The post Seebohm social work experiment is probably not going to survive what is happening intact. Not with child abuse scandals indicating how inequality between institutions was exploited and how inequality in our society meant that didnt seem to be much more than a pecadillo some people had. Our understanding of inequality, and the relationship of inequality with power and abuse and of power, and how that is mapped out in safeguarding duties has evolved substantially.

There is little likelihood of a political solution to this crisis until economics has a new centre position around which to orbit, and it would seem that austerity may seem like the last kicking. But it is just one aspect of a multi faceted crisis and you know fine well why that knowledge is invisible to policy. What you can learn from how austerity was delivered sold and implemented, is how a financial crisis is turned into a social and political crisis and how inequality faultlines were exploited in that process. How instability is created as a result of instability. You can demonstrate the pattern of institutional transformation austerity has accelerated and its impact on inequality. It’s real impact. You dont have to discuss party lines cos you know this is subject to political consensus and predates austerity. Economists needs to know how the institutions they shape function and how crisis have been generated by their blind spots.

You probably understand by now that the chance to change the narratives on these crisis was never going to be taken. Perhaps now its time for you to embrace economics and be ready to contextualise their evident blind spots with what you know. The end of one political and economic settlment is the birth of another, perhaps its time to start stitching together the narrative of our first forays into protecting children, learn from the flaws in the ongoing failure of those institutions and tell economics why it was inevitable that those institutions would be reduced to what they have been. You already know how to deal with crisis and how to learn from crisis. Economics is reaching out to other disciplines, you are required to show why they need to understand how those disciplines work together in they political economy they populate. To reflect on what the current crisis reveals. Its probably best to learn from how austerity is being sold as we approach the financial crisis we have increased the risk of, rather than starting from scratch afterwards…


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