Turning the Old Bill into social workers

Do you remember The Bill a soap drama with social commentary about the everyday lives of police officers based at Sun Hill nick a London police station. Sarge was fond of telling young new recruits not to get involved in the lives of people and their problems "We're coppers not social workers are job is to nick villains." Ironically social work students at the same time were coming back from placements concerned that that their experience of juvenile court, child protection and mental health teams made them feel uncomfortably like police officers checking up on people, threatening to take their children away or forcing them in psychiatric hospitals.

This week I read an article that claimed year on year budget cuts to health, social services, housing and the voluntary sector were turning the police into social workers. The police have always been on the front line of mental health services. The police have the power to make an emergency compulsory admission to a psychiatric hospital. Any one behaving oddly in public and it tends to be the police who are called and they are being called a lot more often they say as a result of the cut backs in support workers, drop in centres and psychiatric beds. It's a similar situation with drug and alcohol abuse often it’s the police who identify that an individual needs help not punishment. Add to this domestic violence exacerbated by welfare cuts, the rise in disability hate crime fuelled by talk of,” benefit scroungers” and homelessness on the increase due to changes in housing benefit.

Mean while social workers complain that adult social work has become obsessed with assessment form filling and the job is about rationing services rather than helping people. The pendulum between supporting families and removing children has swung even further towards removing children. Then there are the child sexual abuse scandals. Social workers are increasingly seen by the public and service users as an instrument of the state.

Police officers and social workers share a frustration that public sector cuts are turning them into something they don't want to be.

Blair McPherson ex social worker, former director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk

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