UK/European passport

J A N E T    W I L L I A M S

128 Janet Williams   128-passport

I came into social work when my interests at school, like the then unpopular idea of gender equality, combined with the topics that fascinated me at university. Human geography followed by an international course on Population Growth Studies introduced me to politics, policy making, economics and the inequalities associated with traditional economic models of development. After university I wanted a job where I could do something constructive about inequality, but couldn’t see myself as a politician.  Problem solved after several discussions with a neighbour; I made the decision to enter social work.

I was a practitioner for 13 years in a UK local authority which invested in developing its workforce and ascribed to social work values and theory. The ideas in The Client Speaks, normalisation and later empowerment became significant drivers across the whole Authority.   In the late 1970s I got involved in deinstitutionalisation for adults with disabilities, involving local people and a newly formed local disability campaigning group.   Next I worked in an experimental mental health project, where workers, service users and carers explored and pushed the boundaries with regard to service users’ control and decision making. We were members of national and international networks, exchanging ideas and practices with movements such as Survivors Speak Out (UK), Democratic Psychiatry (Italy) and Patients’ Councils (the Netherlands). The work was exciting partly because we were constantly being challenged by views that didn’t fit the existing mould. Latterly in Higher Education, as my international social work education networks increased across the UK, Europe and globally (through IASSW), my taken for granted assumptions continued to be challenged. I was able to extend these opportunities to colleagues and students through developing exchanges, international placements, modules and curriculum projects.


I chose a UK/European passport because …

… it symbolises my commitment to international social work (ISW), especially in higher education. There are opportunities for social work stemming from globalisation – technology, cheaper travel and the growing number of texts in English – which means that exchanging ideas, politics and practice between colleagues and students is easier than ever. I was heartened to see that Croisdale-Appleby’ s review of adult social work education in England (2014) started by consulting educators in other countries. But, I was most disheartened when all the internationally related requirements for the Standards, and the Capabilities for social work education disappeared as social work in England was moved into the predominantly health based Professional Council (HCPC). The only international requirements remaining for England are in the academic QAA Benchmark Statements which, ironically now, were introduced in 2003 to ensure that the social work qualification would be recognised in other European countries. UK social work is good, but not so much better than in countries where people routinely question their models with reference to systems elsewhere, or by working or studying abroad.

ISW is not widespread so there is little awareness that policies in the UK often result in poverty and problems elsewhere in the world. I would insist that students routinely refer to the Council of Europe, the United Nations and global social work organisations (IFSW or IASSW) as reference points for policy, research findings and values. Our interconnectedness also needs pointing out from environmental and sustainability perspectives. Sustainable communities, including health, food and energy security, climate and air quality, are as relevant to people in the UK as elsewhere. We are not immune from the financial impact of bad harvests or the impact of mass movements of people.

In the literal sense my passport enables me to ‘step over’ national barriers because it serves to authenticates my identity, it demonstrates the obligations the UK has to me so that I can travel and return home safely. I mostly take it for granted except for the two occasions when I found myself without it. However, passports are the consequence of national barriers.   In 2016, with the highest numbers yet of displaced persons globally (UN), the national barriers to movement such as having the wrong passport have become matters of life and death for many. These movements stem not from chance but from economic systems, natural and political disasters. Tackling the root causes, and responding to the individuals and communities involved, is part of the social work role in many countries. This raises the question of what we should do in the UK, how far do our boundaries for concern and action extend; should we expect practitioners to think as global citizens? Social workers have always been a ‘passport’ to obtaining rights for those whose voices are ignored; should this now include people beyond our borders and the social workers fighting for human rights? I believe so. Social work needs to promote our human commonalities; something to keep in mind as we cut our formal ties with Europe and foresee perhaps a world where countries are becoming more protectionist and inward looking.

2 thoughts on “UK/European passport”

  1. I was very interested in this post and the multi layered meanings of the ‘ passport’ ….I have wrestled with the great benefits of globalisation and the idea of no boundaries and more connectedness against the blatant and subtle exploitation of many by those of us in the western world…as well as inequalities within these western countries…your post made me reflect more on these challenges at a time of huge need for those who are displaced and seeking refuge…


    1. Karen, thanks for your interesting comments.
      I found writing about the passport quite difficult in some ways because, intentionally, it took me into the complexities of globalisation. I believe that social workers should become aware of being part of an international profession, so globalisation needs to be discussed. It’s hard to tie it down and there’s a need for some myth busting. Starting with values – motivation through compassion and acting through solidarity – takes us into politics and economics. There is an inevitability about globalisation but not necessarily in its current form, driven as it is by unregulated capitalism with little regard to redistribution. There are non-globalisation factors that have also been causing social havoc, such as automation. There need not have been increased poverty and economic inequality. Everyone benefits by reducing economic inequalities ( ) and when it is done on a global scale more people can benefit.

      The issue of boundaries is also challenging, I agree, and it takes us into identity. Challenges to our sense of identity associated with national boundaries have increased yet it’s often the areas in the UK with the smallest influx of ‘strangers’ that view it as the greatest threat. There isn’t an option to go back in time so we have to deal with who we are alongside all the other people who are like us, but interestingly different. Social cohesion is more likely when there are decent jobs and decent social infrastructure; not as we are, mid-austerity. I don’t think we can or should give up on globalisation but it’s social workers globally, amongst others, who have the evidence of how it affects people.


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