World Social Work Day tomorrow and I thought that Clement Attlee's reflections on the political dimension of the profession sound more relevant than ever. Attlee's experience of working with working-class lads in deprived East London was transformative and it very much influenced his agenda of wide social reforms when he became a Prime Minister.
The paragraphs below were written amost a century ago!
THE SOCIAL WORKER AS AGITATOR
Every social worker is almost certain to be also an agitator. If he or she learns certain facts and believes that they are due to certain causes which are beyond the power of an individual to remove, it is impossible to rest contented with the limited amount of good that can be done by following old methods and agitation to get people to see a new point of view.
The word ' agitator ' is distasteful to many, it calls up a picture of a person who is rather unbalanced, honest perhaps, but wrong headed, possibly dishonest, troubling the waters with a view to fishing in them for his own benefit. This is mainly the point of view of the person who is on the whole contented with things as they are, whose general attitude is that of Lord Melbourne "Why can't you let it alone?" Nevertheless the agitator has a most important part to play in social progress, and the social worker owes him a big debt. The agitator of one age is recognised by the next as a prophet ; our fathers may have stoned him but we whiten his sepulchre.
The great obstacle to all social reform is not so much the opposition of vested interests, though that is formidable enough, but the apathy of the general public, and it is the work of the agitator to keep stirring up the sluggish souls of ordinary men and women, and to present them in as powerful a manner as possible with one particular point of view.
The social worker, however, must have definite views must have formed some clear conception of what kind of society he wishes to see produced and it is, I think, a mistake for him to hold aloof from reform movements.