‘What is to be done?’


The infernal logic of ‘the market’ has undoubtedly created a spirit of despondency, and this clearly infuses Paul Michael Garrett's deliberations on the state and prospects for social work in England and the Irish Republic. Direct and sustained attacks on the well-being of the very elements of the population with whom social work is most concerned are bound to have material consequences, and social work itself will be at the forefront of the task of resolving the problems that this will generate. At the same time, of course, welfare spending is also threatened, and both statutory and non-statutory forms of intervention are being undermined. To use the language of the market, as demand increases inexorably, so supply is being choked off.

The bleak picture painted for us is undoubtedly realistic, and this acts as an important reminder that social work operates in a world widely characterised by inequality and oppression. However, it becomes dangerous if it gives rise to no more than ‘radical pessimism’ (Butler and Pugh, 2004) and a pervasive sense that nothing can be done. Garrett's article tries to rise above this in its final sentences, with a call for a new range of ‘possibilities founded on total opposition’ to the rampant forces of neoliberalism to which we are currently exposed. For social work, as he acknowledges, this task involves challenging structural power bases and the hegemonic capacity of those who set the agenda for practice. The Social Work Action Network in Britain has begun to articulate a contemporary voice of challenge, and offers at least the hope of a new dynamic of change.

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