No one is an island

As a social worker, what matters to me in the EU referendum

I have been looking at what is likely to happen to social care and to health if we leave the European Union. The British Medical Association have just published a guide to help medics think about the referendum’s implications. It raises some issues that are helpful for social work to consider:

  • Workforce – Eleven per cent of doctors qualified in another European Economic Area state. (page 3)

In social care 75000 or 5.2% of workers were born in the EU outside the UK. A recent report from Independent Age concludes that while care providers may have been able to rely on migrant labour in the past to fill gaps in the workforce, current and anticipated migration policy is putting this at risk. (page 59) I want all people who need it – including, selfishly, my parents and myself – to be able to have good quality, accessible social care, and that requires an increasingly large workforce.

  • Research – With €78.6bn from 2014-20 available to support research across the EU, EU funding plays a huge supporting role in the vast majority of British research institutions. (page 4)

In a recent article for the guardian, Paul Burstow, former Minister for Social Care, also points out that around 20% of the academic workforce are nationals of another EU member state. Social care research is still in an early stage of development, and movement of academics and students around Europe helps knowledge exchange. I am delighted that BASW recently hosted the European seminar on social work in Edinburgh to share expertise. I want our research base to grow and for us to learn from the best of what happens around the continent.

  • Public health - EU legislation has led to significant improvements in the UK’s public health policy…that may not have been delivered by our own governments. (page 9)

Public health is part of social work’s commitment to social justice – enabling all people to have equal opportunities for a healthy life. It also has a great impact on need for social care. The ONS report on inequalities published late last year found that the level of inequality between those living in the most and least deprived parts of England was 16.7 years for males and 16.8 years for females, much greater than the inequality in life expectancy. I want us to do all we can to reduce inequalities and increase quality of life from childhood to end of life.

The BMA report also talks about European trade, shared regulation of drugs and the working time directive as important to medics. In social care we have other areas to think about too:

  • Our Human Rights Act – used for example to enable people to maintain relationships, have humane care and stay at home – flows from the European Convention on Human Rights, and protects us from any current or future attacks on our humanity
  • Nations within the EU work together to address crimes like child abuse and human trafficking
  • The EU is struggling but trying to support refugees, something that the International Federation of Social Workers calls for.

I want countries to work together to uphold human rights and ensure dignity and quality of life for everyone.

Of course, all of these areas could be responded to without the EU; new arrangements could be set up. There are real concerns about ensuring wellbeing here as people move into the country at the same time as services are cut. And I do think that the EU needs to be more accountable and effective with the resources that it has.

However, ultimately I feel that the decision comes down to the kind of country, continent and world we want to live in. Social work is a global profession, with an international code of ethics, founded on belief in the dignity and rights of all people. It is not a profession that sets up boundaries, borders and fences.

Social work is about connections and relationships. And it is the connections and relationships that are the essential reason I want to stay in the European Union.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

(John Donne, 1624)