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George Cross for NHS is yet further evidence of social work being undervalued

The NHS being awarded the George Cross is yet further evidence that social work does not command the same respect as the health service, social workers have said.

Group of professionals

BASW said that while it is absolutely right that the NHS receives recognition for the incredible work carried out during the pandemic in the form of the George Cross medal, the move will have prompted many equally dedicated and courageous workers in social care – who often work alongside their colleagues in health – to question where is our recognition?

CEO of BASW Dr Ruth Allen said: “Social care staff including carers, care home workers, domiciliary care workers, social workers, approved mental health practitioners and scores of other professionals have been working hard on the frontline in the battle against Covid-19 and taken great risks – tragically in many cases – to keep the population safe and supported.

“With no mention of social care from government today, the news of this award provides further evidence that social care and social work is not regarded – indeed respected one might say – in the same way as the health service is,” added Dr Allen.

The George Cross - the highest civilian gallantry award, has only been bestowed collectively twice before, and today marks the second time it has been awarded collectively by Queen Elizabeth II. The George Cross was awarded firstly to the people of Malta on 15 April 1942 by King George VI and to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the fore-runner of the Police Service of Northern Ireland) on 23 November 1999.

It was awarded to the NHS this week in recognition of 73 years of dedicated service, including for the courageous efforts of healthcare workers across the country battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “Thanks to their devotion and duty our NHS has saved countless lives, and the George Cross is a symbol of the nation’s gratitude. I know the whole of the UK is behind me in paying tribute and giving thanks for everything the NHS has done for us not only in the last year, but since its inception.”

Indeed, BASW agrees that the NHS deserves both praise and honours.

However, social care and social work are often more hidden and less well supported nationally in policy, funding and public regard than some other essential services and BASW has highlighted this disparity many times over the past year, including when social care and social services were underprovided crucial PPE equipment at the start of the pandemic last year, Dr Allen warned.

The social care and social work professions need to be empowered and resourced to work effectively as colleagues and partners with our doctors and nurses, who we hear much more about from both government and in the mainstream media. Government and politicians need to get behind this and speak out, added Dr Allen.

“Social care and social workers – alongside the health service – are fundamental to the UK’s recovery from this pandemic and we need to see this reflected in ongoing pandemic planning, as well as the upcoming Autumn statement.

“If we are to build back better then we need to start with the most vulnerable adults, children and families and ensure we give health and social care the resources and funding to be able to help them, as well as the support they need so they don’t themselves face burnout,” concluded Dr Allen.

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