Letter: Why I am retiring hurt and angry

March 2, 2001

It was kind of secretary of state for education David Blunkett to write to me on my retirement, thanking me for my contribution to teaching.

I cannot accept his thanks, however, because I have not done a good job.

In my own area of teaching on nursing and social work courses, I have witnessed a tragic decline in standards and morale. Salaries have plummeted. Academics drown in bureaucracy. Student ratios increase yearly. The Department for Education and Employment even employed its own pit bull terrier to tell the country that people, like myself, with a distinguished research record are plonkers.

Our recent research carried out with the Royal College of Nursing indicates that many nurses are unhappy and depressed. Major changes in their work are made without consultation. The whole ethos of collaboration and cooperation built up in the National Health Service is being eroded by the worst excesses of macho management and mechanistic measurement.

My own beloved profession of social work is in shreds. There are 10-20 per cent vacancies in most local authorities, which are recruiting staff from South Africa, Ireland, Romania…

The Daily Mail persistently abuses the profession and the government fails to offer any defence. Worse still, junior ministers snidely imply that there is something in these allegations, wrapped around the term “political correctness”. Apparently I - a former chair of the British Association of Social Workers, brought up in poverty in Sunderland, battered daily by my violent dad who slept rough on the streets of London - know less about ordinary life than Islington fat cats.

It is hardly surprising when people who mess up west coast rail systems, wear red braces in City offices, boom and crash in dotcom services are gonged heroes and icons for this dreadful government.

Some of these icons are people who mismanaged the money we had put into Equitable Life. We have lost some of our investments and had months of worry. They’ll walk off with hundreds of thousands of pounds and get well-paid quango positions, too.

When we worship greed and not public service, it is hardly surprising that the social work profession finds it so very hard to recruit. Money is more important than people. Applications are in free fall on almost all the professional courses. Hardworking field staff are deeply demoralised and have received abuse and insults from official sources rather than praise and understanding. Evidence suggests that nearly half the profession would like to leave.

So I will not accept David Blunkett’s good wishes on my retirement. I blame both him and myself - we should have worked harder and been much wiser.

New Labour will almost certainly get in for a second term, but without my vote. I will go to the polling booth out of respect for those pioneers who fought long for the vote and draw Mickey Mouse on the polling slip. I am part of a disappearing breed - a socialist - and I will have three Tory parties from which to choose come election day.

I had wanted to build a fairer society and that is why I was a member of the Labour Party for 40 years. I have no wish to join in any celebration of greed.

May Blunkett’s retirement come not long after mine.

David Brandon
Emeritus professor
Anglia Polytechnic University   

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