On 9 February 2021, EBSWA wrote to the regulators in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and other leadership organisations in social work to raise our concerns about the adoption of beliefs advocated by transactivist lobby groups such as Stonewall and Mermaids. We explicitly pointed to the danger of adopting ideological positions without any attempt to test or verify them, and of having “no go” areas for questioning and discussion. We called on the regulators to
● Review policy and update guidance
● Make available the evidence to support policy and guidance
● Facilitate respectful and considered debate
● To make clear that threats bullying, and intimidation will not be tolerated
We explained that many of our members were unable to publicly identify themselves because of widespread adoption of claims that challenging gender identity beliefs could result in disciplinary action by employers or by the regulator.
Since February 2021, the same month as we raised our concerns with the regulator, there has been a very clear ruling in the Forstater case that gender critical beliefs are protected in law. Any threats, intimidation or discrimination against persons holding and expressing protected beliefs are illegitimate and should not be condoned or supported.
We were therefore surprised and alarmed to learn in August 2021 that SWE had issued a written warning to a social worker for holding and expressing gender critical beliefs. Their investigation was launched based on a complaint by a former colleague that Rachel Meade’s support for gender critical beliefs and organisations holding them were evidence per se of “transphobia” and a breach of the social work code of conduct. The investigators’ own report acknowledged that there was no evidence that Rachel Meade’s beliefs had led her to discriminate against any service user. Holding and expressing views in conflict with claims that gender identity is innate and fixed, and that sex is assigned rather than identified at birth cannot be reasonably held to breach of the Code of Conduct.
We believe that SWE is guilty of a serious error in adopting, or allowing their staff to adopt, unevidenced ideological beliefs as if they were proven facts, and in allowing itself to be used as part of a determined effort to intimidate and silence those of us who do not accept belief in gender identity. In finding against a social worker purely based on her not accepting what are in any case unproven claims about the nature of sex and gender, SWE has betrayed its duty to protect and promote public trust and confidence in social work and has brought the profession of social work into disrepute.
Widespread criticism of SWE’s actions has led them to produce a statement which attempts to explain their position. They state:
“We want to be clear that as an independent public body we are committed both to upholding human rights and to maintaining impartiality– as must social workers on our register who support some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
EBSWA agrees that SWE should uphold human rights and should be impartial in its approach. We also agree that the rights and interests of the most vulnerable people in society are at the heart of social work principles.
However, the necessary inference of the SWE ruling is that they view the rights of transgender persons to have their sense of identity validated will always trump the rights of those who do not claim to be transgender. EBSWA believes that SWE’s advertised membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme is an obvious breach of their duty to be impartial. Stonewall’s denial of the material reality of sex and advocacy for replacing “sex” with “gender identity” in the Equality Act has been criticised for denying lesbian and gay and women’s rights.
This puts SWE in conflict with the Equality Act, which identifies sex and not gender identity as a protected characteristic. Seeking to silence claims that sex is innate and fixed, and gender identity is subjective is clearly a partial act.
SWE reminds social workers that:
“…our professional standards state that their personal views must not impact on their work.”
It seems that SWE has fallen into error in believing that social workers are not allowed to hold or express personal views on the issue of sex and gender without affecting their ability to practice. Social workers can and do legitimately hold and express religious, philosophical and political beliefs. The only requirement is that this should not negatively affect their practice by discriminating against those who do not share them.
Safeguarding children’s welfare and rights is at the heart of social work. Why then has SWE upheld a complaint that supporting a post criticising Mermaids charity is a breach of the code of conduct? Mermaids is a controversial charity at the heart of controversy over the best approach to children who are gender questioning or gender dysphoric. Mermaids has produced no evidence to support its advocacy of extreme and life changing measures in response to children or their parents questioning their sex. There is now a growing body of “detransitioners”, mainly young women, who bitterly regret the life changing drugs and surgery that they were prescribed. EBSWA believes that critical attention to the claims of Mermaids and any other lobby groups advocating extreme measures is entirely justified and necessary for the protection of children. SWE must now consider the ruling of an Employment Tribunal that the Tavistock and Portman Trust’s treatment of Sonia Appleby damaged her professional reputation and “prevented her from proper work on safeguarding”. Sonia Appleby’s concerns about children’s safety in treatment by the Gender Identity Development Service were dismissed, and staff were told not to approach her with their concerns.
Expressing gender critical beliefs and supporting women’s rights to single sex services and sports is not discriminatory or insulting. Indeed, we must recognise social work’s debt of gratitude to feminism, and to generations of women whose work is at the heart of all that is best in social work, which has contributed to building essential women’s and children’s protections and services. Social workers must have the right to support women’s causes and to speak up in support of women’s organisations, rights and protections.
EBSWA believes that there should be an independent investigation of SWE’s governance and how, despite forewarning, they have allowed acceptance of controversial and unevidenced claims about gender and sex to become a condition of registration and the right to practice as a social worker.
EBSWA does not believe that any charity or organisation, or any set of beliefs, is above challenge and above criticism. “No debate” has no place in social work. EBSWA will support any social worker facing investigation merely for holding and expressing gender critical views and supporting women’s rights.
M.Sc., CQSW, Dip. Child Protection
On behalf of the Evidence Based Social Work Alliance, a collective of social workers in practice and social work academics who are working together to challenge the acceptance of gender identity beliefs in social work and more widely.
6 September 2021