I sometimes have the good fortune of being invited by various organisations to attend conferences and meetings without having to pay the fee of between £200 and £400 for a morning – let alone a whole day. I say good fortune because there is no way I would gain funding to attend otherwise and these events provide me with a window into a world of opulence to which I would have no access.
In recent months, I have enjoyed the beautiful surroundings of many central London venues belonging to Royal Colleges and Royal Societies as well as exclusive hotels and private clubs. It’s a good life. Chandeliers, luxurious carpets, marble pillars, wine, canapés and a range of top quality soaps and lotions in the toilets. Topics have included a range of subjects concerning child care and child protection. I have heard presentations from Lords, Baronesses and politicians as well as civil servants and academics – the top of the tree in policy formation and promotion. I’ve learnt about the work of All Party Parliamentary Groups and Select Committees and witnessed the launch of the latest reports and inquiries.
Although I have many hundreds of contacts within social work, I rarely recognise anyone at these events. The audience usually consists of representatives from the private sector because these events are where ideas and trends in service provision are marketed and promoted within an explicit political context. The academies, private consultancies and social work education and service delivery companies abound. These events are characterised by language such as ‘transformation’, ‘leadership’ and ‘changing children and families’ (rather than changing the oppressive social structures within which they live) and social work aiming to ‘inspire and persuade’. The language used, and the tone with which it is expressed, commonly exposes an absolute lack of social work knowledge or experience. The same speakers do the rounds of most of these events because they speak for their business interests and are often instrumental in organising the programme. They provide glossy brochures and powerpoints with colourful images to accompany their soundbites and almost always tables of evidence that cannot be read, let alone digested, which are used to impress and obfuscate. There are few opportunities for questions and workshops to allow for small group debate and feedback are concepts quite alien to the organisers. The speakers eulogise about each other and restate the same principles as though a statement spoken with an upper class accent signifies a well-researched and well-evidenced policy development. It is smoke and mirrors. Continue reading
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