16 March 2021

Today is World Social Work Day 2021. To mark this day, we invited Martin Sexton, Chair of the Policy, Ethics and Human Rights Committee at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) the professional organisation for social work and social workers, to pen a blog for us on social work and human rights...

Social Work and Human Rights

Balancing conflicting human rights are at the heart of social work. Through their legal responsibilities social workers are involved in child protection (balancing the rights of the child with the right to family life), the compulsory detention of people in hospital with severe mental health problems (balancing the right to liberty with the right to safety for individuals and the community) and liberty protection safeguards (balancing the need for protection and care with the need for autonomy and self-determination).

These protections for the most vulnerable sit within a wider context of a society which should prioritise and strengthen human rights rather than undermining their importance. A blow against human rights anywhere is ultimately a blow against human rights for all of us.   

And the human rights perspective helps everyone, not just social workers, to tackle these challenges - even something on the scale of Covid.  It guides us to ask the right questions, to engage everyone who will be affected by our decisions, and to base them on the best evidence.

Throughout the Covid pandemic, the British Association of Social Workers has tried to guide its members in responding to the unprecedented challenges that they have faced.  Promoting and defending human rights has been a constant theme of that guidance. 

BASW also recognises that Covid may be something new, but the fault lines in our society that the virus has exposed are not.  It is no surprise that this new infectious disease has had the greatest impact on people who are experiencing poverty, those in black and minority ethnic groups, and those living in substandard or overcrowded housing. 

It is equally (depressingly) predictable that the virus has taken a particular toll on people experiencing discrimination and exclusion: people from black and minority ethnic communities, people with learning disabilities, and many older people.

Respect for human rights means recognising that these outcomes have arisen because of the choices that we have made as a society – and that we can (and should) make different choices in future.

BASW will continue to challenge any attempt to water down the human rights protections that we should all have as citizens.  It will keep challenging the inequality and injustice in our society that lead to so many people’s rights not being respected.

And BASW will continue to put human rights at the heart of what it means to be a social worker.

Martin Sexton is Chair of the Policy, Ethics and Human Rights Committee at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) the professional organisation for social work and social workers. You can find out more about BASW here and find out more about our policies relating to Covid-19 here.



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