The awful murder of Belinda Rose

Wendy Wilson, social worker and UNISON West Sussex Branch Committee member, writes:

How awful the news was about murdered social worker Belinda Rose. Andrew Harper, a police officer killed while working, received quite rightly pictures and tributes on the front page of many papers and all across the media. His poor family distraught, pictures of his colleagues in uniform around many floral tributes laid by the public for him. A rightful outcry about an appalling killing.

What I find incredible is that just two days later a social worker, Belinda Rose was murdered while working, there was no such outcry, nothing like that for Andrew Harper. It made me think about why this was. Did Andrew’s life have more value? I would like to think it was unintentional. However social workers are so frequently vilified and blamed.

When a child dies no one screams “what were the neighbours’ doing”, “where was the doctor”, “where were the teachers”. No: what we will more likely read will be “where was the social worker”.

When an elderly person dies it will often be blamed on the social worker – “why wasn’t there help”. Never central government for cutting our funding, increasing our work, reducing our numbers.

But that is just the media. I also believe that we need to toughen up our attitude towards the general abuse of social workers. If you call a GP their first recorded message states “we will not tolerate abusive language or behaviour, you will be reported to the police”. Around all of our hospitals are notices about zero tolerance. But within social services we often feel as though we are expected to just deal with whatever is thrown at us. Social workers are obliged to go out on lone visits, and to deal with anger and abuse on a daily basis.

It’s time for our safety and wellbeing to be prioritised. It is not ok to be rude to social workers, or ANYONE ELSE in the public sector, just because we do not wear a uniform. We need the right to work without being frightened of being attacked, verbally or physically. Zero tolerance is just the starting place.

We need to have good publicity as well as the bad, we get more things right than we do wrong, it would help if the council published some of the incredible work that we do.

It’s way past time that social workers and other public sector workers were shown some respect.

The UNISON West Sussex branch will be raising these matters with the Directors of Adults’ and Children’s Services to ensure that sufficient focus remains on staff safety at WSCC.