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Rather unhelpfully The Concise Oxford Dictionary does not define ‘social work’ and merely defines a ‘social worker’ as a ‘person trained for social service’. ‘Social service’ is then simply stated to be ‘philanthropic activity’. In fact, what amounts to social work, helping people with problems and difficulties or in need, has always existed; it was carried out by family, friends, neighbours and volunteers (McLaughlin, 2008). What differentiates social work as a distinct activity is that it is organised helping originating in organisational responses to social changes arising from socio-economic developments in the 19th century (Payne, 2005). It can be viewed as an extension of our natural humanity as we are by nature social, empathetic and thus altruistic, this equating with a Marxist view of human nature. Conversely, social work can be understood as being needed to stifle the baser instincts of individuals who, being selfish and greedy, are less likely to help their fellows especially at times of conflict or when there are scarce resources. Again, it is possible to link this to a Marxist understanding of a current society dominated by greed and selfishness which is inherent in global capitalism/neoliberalism. The Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were influential in the development of social welfare in Britain. They helped reduce the role and power of the churches while simultaneously municipal and charitable provision increased. Charitable provision was greatly influenced by Judeo-Christian ideas and was facilitated by the emergence of a middle class to take on local responsibility. This charitable provision, together with municipal provision, was increasingly inter-connected with arrangements emanating from central government.
Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. (International Federation of Social Workers, 2014) This global definition of social work was approved by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) General Meeting and the International Schools of Social Work General Assembly in July 2014. It updated the previous IFSW definition of social work (IFSW, 2000) which appeared in the first edition of this book. It continues to reflect the day-to-day practice of most social workers, even if it is not always acknowledged. Social work interventions range from psycho-social processes to involvement in social policy, planning and development and include counselling, clinical social work, group work, family therapy and advocacy thereby helping people obtain services and resources in the community. Also included are agency administration, community organisation and social/political action aimed at impacting on social policy and economic development.
However, again as noted in the first edition, following the changes arising from the neoliberalism of recent decades, many of the methods of intervention referred to are rarely used by British social workers (Horner, 2009). This is because ‘in the broadest sense, the purposes of [and the practices] of social work are determined by prevailing political ideologies’ (Howe, 2002, p 86).
At the outset, I well remember the origins of the first edition of this book, and it is worth revisiting some of them here, simply because they retain their relevance. In March 2008 I attended a conference entitled ‘Affirming Our Value Base in Social Work and Social Care’ held at Nottingham Trent University. It was a follow-up to a similar one I had attended there in 2006 and, as previously, it turned out to be an exhilarating day. There were contributions from well-known academics such as Lena Dominelli, Iain Ferguson and Peter Beresford, as well as service users1 and practitioners. There was considerable concern about the direction social work had been forced to take over the previous three decades which had led to de-professionalisation largely because of the growth and influence of managerialism. One result is the increased bureaucracy, which often means intrusively gathering information so that forms and computer exemplars can be filled in. Then there are the performance targets, which are meaningless as far as most service users and practitioners are concerned. Despite all this, most people left the conference with renewed confidence and optimism for the future of social work.
Peter Beresford reminded everyone that Daphne Statham, the former stalwart of the National Institute of Social Work, once said that it is still possible to ‘smuggle in’ good practice despite managerial obstacles. One can still build relationships with service users, work with them at their pace on problems and difficulties as defined by them, treat them with dignity and respect, be non-judgemental and so on.
The importance of managers and managerialism has featured heavily in this book and I make no apologies for this. After all, managers have brought about a fundamental transformation in the way welfare organisations carry out government policy, as well as increasing their own power in the process (Clarke, 1998). Consequently, what social workers do is now largely set and tightly controlled by managers. This change reflects the move away from administering of public services to their management, a process that has been ongoing since the 1970s (Harris and White, 2009a). It stemmed from the neoliberal ideology or belief that the market was superior to the state in every way and that public services needed to be managed in ways that were drawn from the private sector. Public sector professionals including social workers, the argument went, could no longer be protected and pampered by the administrative systems of the social democratic welfare state, while there also had to be a rethinking of the view of service users as being passive recipients of professional expertise. Consequently, the extended role and increased power of managers, including their supposed ability to stand up for service users against the assumed entrenched self-interest of professionals, was to undermine the administrative system that had provided the home and base within which welfare state professionalism had thrived.
When it comes to the ‘social work business’, so far little has been made of this but its importance lies in the fact that neoliberalism takes the view that public services, including social work, had to become more like businesses and operate in ways that were drawn from the private sector, thereby functioning in a context that was as market-like as possible (Harris, J., 2003).
In November 2018, the UN rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston, produced a damning report on poverty in the UK. He argued austerity policies were being used as a weapon against the poor with the government being in a state of denial about the impact of austerity (Alston, 2018; Chakrabortty, 2018). Seven points were made, the first being criticism of the ‘mentality’ behind the cuts and reforms because they had brought misery and torn at the social fabric of the country; compassion for those suffering had been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and callous approach to their situation. Second, universal credit, the government’s ambitious programme to simplify the benefits system was gratuitously punitive in its effects with draconian sanctions and long payment delays driving claimants into hardship, depression and despair. Third, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society were the most negatively affected, with many feeling their homes, jobs and communities were at risk; ironically it was these very fears and insecurities that contributed significantly to the Brexit vote. Fourth, the costs of austerity had fallen disproportionately on the poor, women, minority ethnic, children, single parents, asylum seekers and people with disabilities. Fifth, massive cuts to local authority funding, alongside increased demand for social care, had reduced many local authorities to providing basic services only, and had heralded the closure of libraries, parks, youth clubs and so on. Sixth, although the government’s view was the social security/support system was working and there was no extreme poverty, the individual testimonies Alston had received told a completely different story.
From the position of acceptance to globalisation as an uncontrollablephenomenon … New Labour consolidated the Conservatives’ reforms and pushed beyond them, ensuring that public services, such as social work, were drawn deeper into managerial, market-orientated ways of thinking and practising. As in many other countries, what began as a national project under neoconservative governments became generalised as part of the economic agenda of globalisation. (Harris and White, 2009a, p 3)
The landslide general election victory of Tony Blair in 1997 saw John Major ousted as a government of sleaze and corruption. After many years in opposition, the ‘old’ social democratic, to some even socialist, Labour Party had been rebranded by Blair, Gordon Brown and a few others into New Labour. They had argued that any suggestion of socialism was unlikely to appeal to the new middle classes so a new direction for the party was needed. Despite the electorate’s calls for change, there was no major transformation in terms of political ideology, economic and social policy.
Although New Labour espoused the Third Way, when in power it continued with the neoliberal offensive of the Thatcher and Major governments. Its 1997 general election manifesto stated that policies could not be based on those of 1947 or 1967 (Labour Party, 1997) and, as with Thatcher, there was a repudiation of the social democratic compact. Blair and his guru Giddens (for example, 1994, 1998) argued for the Third Way which did not conform to the ‘old’ left or right wing of politics. In essence, however, New Labour’s ‘new’ ideology involved the embracement of free-market globalisation, with flexible labour markets and flexible workers being the order of the day with the aim of producing a competitive economy that relies on a competitive society in the global economy (Mooney and Law, 2007).
As we saw in Chapter Two, social work never had restricted entry to its ranks, a lengthy period of training, its own body of knowledge and an element of autonomy in regulating members, all of which were common to such as medicine and law. Even at its 1970s peak, it was denied full professional status, despite its attempts to develop new ideas about professional identity not always in keeping with the more orthodox definition of professionalism. For example, radical social workers of the 1970s were simply against professionalism, seeing it as elitist and more concerned about increasing the status and power of social workers rather than service users (Simpkin, 1983). Then again, the profession was formed and dominated by women who were often more interested in involving service users in improving their lives rather than increasing their own status in the process (Dominelli, 2009a).
It is no coincidence that it was during the social democratic period that social work flourished; it was part of the welfarist project whereby national growth and well-being were seen as involving notions of mutuality and social solidarity, with social problems being ameliorated through the agency of the state including professional intervention by social workers (Parton, 1996b). Leaving aside arguments about whether professionalism itself is a good thing, such developments highlight the increasing professionalisation of social work. There was a concern with knowledge and understanding even though at times that included relying on other disciplines for a knowledge base. In addition, it involved more than just the practicalities of practice, the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of social work.
Rogowski’s second edition of this bestselling textbook responds to the major changes to social work practice since the first edition was published. It is fully revised and updated to include new material that is essential for students and practising social workers today.
Taking a critical perspective, Rogowski evaluates social work’s development, nature and rationale over approximately 150 years. He explores how neoliberalism is at the core of the profession’s crisis and calls for progressive, critical and radical changes to social work policy and practices based on social justice and social change.
This new edition is substantially updated to explore:
• the impact of austerity policies since 2010;
• failures to realise the progressive possibilities which followed the death of ‘Baby P’;
• contemporary examples of critical and radical practice.
It also includes a range of student-friendly features including chapter summaries, key learning and discussion points, and further reading.
The seeds of Margaret Thatcher’s general election success in 1979 were laid in the earlier 1970s by the world economic crisis of 1973. This crisis was activated by a sharp rise in oil prices, but it also reflected much deeper structural problems in the British economy. These included a steady decline in the share of the world export of manufactured goods, together with falling investment and productivity, and rising inflation (Harman, 1984; Ferguson, 2008). The crisis had three main consequences. First, it led to the return of mass unemployment, reaching a total of one million in 1979, higher than it had been since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Second, it led to attacks on the welfare state particularly after the International Monetary Fund pressed Britain to reduce public spending. One result was the closure of schools and hospitals, as well as social work and social services having to be targeted, or more appropriately rationed, to particular service user groups. Indeed, within a few years of Seebohm the selective mentality of the Poor Law had come to prevail over the universalist aspirations of the report’s more radical proponents (Langan, 1993). Third, and most significantly, the economic crisis led to the end of the social democratic consensus. The centrality of Keynesianism, an acceptance of the key role of the state in the management of essential industries, in managing and regulating the economy, and in the provision of welfare, was to end. Monetarism, the forerunner of today’s neoliberalism was to be the replacement, even though this change began with public expenditure cuts introduced by the Labour government of 1974–1979 (Kerr, 1981).
There is a clear polarisation in British society over access to jobs, job security and income inequality. The informational economy around knowledge and service sector skills has concentrated job opportunities and wealth in major cities, particularly London. The drastic wealth disparities in Western societies were also exposed during the global financial crisis of 2007–08. Occupy, the multi-platform, anti-inequality social movement, reiterated this point by declaring that ‘We are the 99%.’ The movement highlighted the concentrating of global wealth in only 1 per cent of the world’s population. As the neoliberal state has been restructured to facilitate global capitalism, rather than social provision, income inequalities have been exacerbated. This chapter outlines how class is another way that society differentiates between large groups of people and how this has changed since the 1950s.
Changes to class composition and identification are the other outcomes of the restructured economy. In 1990 the then UK Conservative Prime Minister John Major expressed his desire for a classless society as this would symbolise social mobility. Seven years later the Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is attributed to have said that ‘We’re all middle class now.’ The comment was a reference to the growth of the service sector as an indication of the post-industrial society that the UK had become. The implication was that we were all wealthier because our employment prospects were changing. This political outlook links to traditional ideas of class based on economic wealth. It also conforms to some sociological analysis that will be addressed later in the chapter, particularly as it links back to arguments about the individualisation of society.