A former Labour Minister has called on social workers to play a much bigger part in boosting the life chances of children and families they work with, in a speech delivered recently at a social work training event.

The speech Alan Milburn makes highlights how little he understands the social work sector and the enormous pressure it is under, and the economic landscape that is currently suffocating working families. That Alan is also chair of the social mobility commission throws into sharp relief just how serious this is.

During the event Alan makes some key points. He says the profession is one of the biggest “under leveraged assets” when it comes to supporting children and families. Whilst the sector is suffering from budget cuts and a dwindling lack of resources, it has also had its fair share of funding which it squandered through poor management, well meaning but ultimately toxic financial incentives and the kind of breath taking incompetence that has resulted in serious case review after serious case review. The social work sector is not an under leveraged asset, it is a barren one which needs to be rebuilt with better training programmes, a solid infrastructure rolled out nationwide and a central mandate that demands only the highest standards from its professionals. All of this has to happen before we can even think about giving the child protection sector greater powers to support parents in need of help.

Alan also told social workers that they have a part to play in “trying to nudge and encourage and support parents to do the basics of parenting. To foster their kids’ abilities, to read to them, to provide some basic opportunities.”

Milburn places the inequalities children from vulnerable and low income families face squarely on the shoulders of their parents. This is a basic mistake which you wouldn’t expect a politician or chair of a mobility committee to make. It’s already widely established that parents who fit into these demographics are usually under enormous strain themselves, and have no time to read to their children for example, often working two or more jobs and worrying first about the basics like feeding their families. This is a point Milburn touches on but he seems blithely unaware that a lack of food in the home isn’t borne out of parents’ laziness to feed their children but an inability to make ends meet thanks to austerity cuts, and politicians more interested in sound bites and scamming votes.

Social workers should not be fooled by this thinly veiled attempt to get them on side. The profession can be a force for good, but it will have to do this through internal reflection and not be lulled into a false sense of security by schmoozing former cabinet ministers whose main interest in the social work sector and its professionals is purely political.

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