THE BLOG

Those Who Can, Protest

13/04/2017 10:54 BST | Updated 13/04/2017 10:54 BST

Depending on which side of the political fence you're on, we're either teetering on the brink of oblivion or the future's so bright we gotta wear shades. In the midst of fake news and social media firestorms about even the most seemingly innocuous comment, it can be hard to know what to think about any issue. Equally, it can be a brave act to express an opinion when you run the risk of being trolled to within an inch of your life, or worse.

'Millenniums' get it in the neck for being apathetic, while the older generation are often accused of being smug and out of touch with the harsh realities facing young people. There are so many opinions out there and we can easily avoid information we don't wish to digest with a simple change of Facebook settings. In the midst of all this, politics is still a thing, even if people believe they don't 'do' politics. Some people want to join protests by commenting online, some people hit the streets with placards and some people do both but if the vast majority is allegedly not bothered, why bother?

Protests are nothing new. Eighty years ago, the writer George Orwell published the result of his journeys through the North of England, The Road to Wigan Pier, which detailed social conditions in economically deprived areas. In April 2017, a group of social workers is walking 100 miles from Birmingham to Liverpool to document the impact of austerity in local communities. Guy Shennan, Chair of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is leading the protest. He has been involved in protests in one form or another for over thirty years and believes we have to keep speaking out about the impact of austerity, even when the Government's narrative has changed to 'just about managing'.

Mr Shennan was inspired by I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach's BAFTA award winning study of a working man's descent into poverty and despair while battling to receive disability benefit, and by the growing movement of social workers pledging solidarity with people who rely on social services. He explains: "Austerity is a political choice, not an economic necessity. There is a growing awareness the financial crisis of 2008 did not require benefits to be reduced or essential public services to be cut. The devastation this has wrought was graphically depicted in the remarkable film, I, Daniel Blake, and social workers know many real-life equivalents of Ken Loach's fictional characters. Every day, social workers see the devastating impact of austerity in the lives of people they work with, yet this is not always so visible to the wider public and we want to draw attention to this devastation."

One of Mr Shennan's earliest protests was in 1983, when he was working in Liverpool as a Community Service Volunteer for a man with cerebral palsy. The charity Scope had arranged for a minibus to London to join a lobby of Parliament to support a Bill which would outlaw discrimination of disabled people. At the time, disability discrimination as an issue was flying under the radar of policy makers. This action in 1983 was part of a lengthy campaign that eventually led to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, some 12 years later.

"Campaigning works but it can take some time", Mr Shennan says, "If there isn't overnight success; don't give up. As social workers, if we want change, we need to form alliances and work together with service users and carers. We should reclaim advocacy and welfare rights work as central features of the social work role. Anyone who is concerned about austerity and its damaging effects is welcome to join us as we walk for social justice".

The walkers have been receiving messages of support from social workers all over the country, demonstrating that austerity's effects have been felt across the full range of services, for disabled people, in mental health care, by older people and children's services. Benefit cuts, food poverty, homelessness and inequality are recurrent themes. Regardless of a change of rhetoric from the Prime Minister, last month, the latest Government figures revealed child poverty is at the highest level since 2010. Thirty per cent of children in the UK, around four million, are now classed as poor.

Is protesting about that worth it? Yes; sometimes protests are not about guaranteeing immediate change, sometimes they're about bringing people together in a common cause and sometimes it's worth it to feel you're not alone in your views.

So whatever grinds your gears, express your opinions around the water cooler, hit that keyboard, hit the streets; the fight is always worth it.