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This chapter discusses the context in which policy engagement on the part of social workers takes place. It identifies four distinctive environments that have been identified in the literature on the policy engagement of social workers. The claim is that these environments offer a necessary context within which policy engagement emerges and that they can enhance or impede the impact of the other types of factors discussed in the PE conceptual framework. The four environments examined in detail are: the welfare regime; policies and problems; the profession; and people (service users).
The concluding chapter pulls together the different components of the policy engagement conceptual framework. It makes the claim that an understanding of efforts by social workers to impact social policy requires us to move beyond individual factors and to look at the interplay between the context in which these take place, the nature of the policy process and diverse motivational factors. In doing so, the policy engagement conceptual framework extends the boundaries of current thinking about the policy engagement of social workers. Drawing on these insights, we discuss the implications of this for social work education, practice and research.
Research on social workers’ policy engagement shows that one of the most important factors linked to their policy role is the support that they get from their workplace. Thus, social workers’ engagement in policy will be facilitated if the dominant values and modes of practice in their immediate work environment, that is, ‘the organizational culture’, allow or encourage them to engage in this type of practice and provide them with the resources, facilities and support necessary to do so. Here, we draw on theoretical knowledge on organisations and on the findings of studies on the facilitating role of organisations in the policy engagement of social workers in order to identify the conditions under which social workers in organisations engage in policymaking and the factors that impact the form that this will take. The chapter explores these themes with regard to social workers in advocacy organisations, service providers and governmental services, particularly those on the local level.
This chapter provides an initial overview of the social work–social policy nexus and the past tendency to view social workers primarily as the implementors of social policies. It then offers a detailed description of more contemporary efforts to explore the policy engagement of social workers by reviewing major trends in research on this subject. The chapter identifies the cutting edge in this literature and underscores the potential contribution of the book to this growing field of research. It concludes with an initial presentation of the policy engagement conceptual framework, which seeks to explain social workers’ engagement in policy and the form that this takes.
As individuals with agency in their role as either professionals or private citizens, the decision by social workers to engage in policy will inevitably be influenced by their motivation to do so. This understanding requires us to explore the factors that are associated with the motivation of individual social workers in different positions to engage in policy-related activities. The chapter looks at various facets of the motivation of social workers to engage in policy. These include the civic voluntarism model, motivation theory, personality traits, institutional motivation and gender and ethnicity.
This chapter provides an infrastructure for understanding the social work–social policy interface and, in doing so, sets the stage for the following chapters, which explore components of the conceptual framework. It discusses the types of social policies that social workers are likely to interact with, the various policy arenas in which social policy is made and the modes of social policy relevant to the policy-related activities of social workers: displacement, layering and conversion. A final focus of the chapter is on the various policy routes that social workers can take to affect policies, two of which social workers engage in as citizens (voluntary political participation and elected offices) and four where they act in a professional capacity (street-level policy involvement; academic policy practice; policy practice; and policy practice through professional organisations). We then discuss the differences between the routes and the implications of these.
This chapter explores the specific institutions in which policy is formulated and the impact that these can have on efforts by social workers to affect social policy. The goal of the chapter is to shed light on the place of institutional opportunities in shaping levels and forms of policy engagement by social workers. The notion of opportunity structures is employed as a conceptual foundation for a better understanding of the relevance of the policy environment for the policy engagement of social workers. In addition, the neo-institutional literature, which underscores the role of norms and rules in determining the policy process, is employed as a way to think about the access of social workers to policy processes. The chapter relates to the national and local levels of policy engagement by social workers, and draws upon examples from various countries to illustrate the ways in which the form of social workers’ involvement reflects institutional facets and opportunity structures in different national contexts.
Rather than being seen simply as social policy implementors, in recent decades there has been increasing recognition of social workers as professionals with unique knowledge and insights to contribute to policy formulation and social justice.
This book offers a path-breaking, evidence-based theoretical framework for understanding why social workers engage in policy, both as professionals and citizens, and the impact of their actions. Drawing on concepts from social work and the political, sociological and policy sciences, the authors set out the implications of this framework for research, education and practice.
And the horizon stooping smiles/O’er treeless fens of many miles. 1
To see the tidal defences and inland channels regulating water and protecting farms and communities is to marvel at the monumental task of transforming 1,500 square miles of wetland into the country’s best arable acres. With a habitat and history quite distinct from the rest of the country, we call this huge area the Fens: drained from the early 17th to the mid-19th centuries, at some cost to wildlife, nature and to a distinctive way of life for its people.
For Daniel Defoe, it was ‘all covered in water like a sea … the soak of no less than 13 counties’:2 a giant sponge absorbing the water flowing into a landscape, once one of Europe’s great deltas and ‘most diverse environments’.3 Today it is interlaced by a network of straightened rivers, parallel channels, small reservoirs, endless long and high embankments, several hundred pumping stations and sluices to hold back water; all this to protect vulnerable and drained farmland, semi-rural communities and, further upstream, Cambridge itself.
Now these flatlands, a food bowl for Britain, often below sea level and leaching carbon into the atmosphere, are degrading as the ground sinks – and the country faces tough choices. Should part of them be returned to a natural state of meadow, marsh, meres (lakes) and meandering rivers – in short, ‘rewetting’, to contain carbon – with the remainder reinforced to protect farmland at a cost of billions over the 21st century? Will the government, when it finally considers the issue, authorize limited funding and make do and mend as best it can? Or are the Fens destined to eventually become a wetland once again, by default if not by design? As we shall see, tentative signs of action are emerging, with a new government task force charged with addressing the challenges in our lowland peatlands – none bigger than the Fens.4
‘My people will abide in peaceful habitation in secure dwellings…’. 1
To renew our land, and rework the countryside, we need thriving villages and small towns: at their best, inclusive places with schools, shops, a post office, ideally a health centre-cum-neighbourhood hub and, of course, a pub. Most of all we need affordable, secure homes for those on low and middle incomes who underpin communities. Think of health and social care staff, shop assistants, those creating local food networks, land managers and farm hands – in greater demand to replace departing EU workers – and teachers, for a start. To achieve all this, as Scotland and Wales demonstrate, we need above all a functioning planning system at the heart of local democracy to assess and deliver community needs – none more important than affordable housing – and meet aspirations.
Behind the enduring images of timeless villages with period homes around manicured village greens – and of more remote spots offering solitude and spectacular scenery by the mountains and the sea – lies a hidden crisis. Rural Britain has, in large part, become the preserve of a moneyed elite, abandoning larger cities – an exodus intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic – while younger people, born in the countryside, are travelling in the opposite direction, often reluctantly, because they can’t find affordable homes.
This is economically illogical. It represents a failure by successive governments to truly value the foundational ‘worth’ of people to communities in a country – deregulating England, in this case – more attuned to asset wealth and perceptions of status, than to strengthening the base on which to build houses, communities and a good rural society – in short, valuing the low-paid people, in jobs we take for granted, who kept the country running during a year and more of a pandemic.