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  • Author or Editor: Hefin Gwilym x
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Neoliberalism has achieved a hegemonic position within social work, with consecutive governments extending the role of the market in welfare provision. This article explores these developments from the perspective of the political identity of 14 qualified social workers who are members of one of the UK’s parliaments and councils, as well as engaged in political activism. It delineates the development of their social reformist political identity from their earliest days and considers the impact of facing the neoliberal dilemma in social work. The participants engaged in biographical interviews that traced the development of their political identity throughout their life course to date. The findings include: how embeddedness in politically engaged families forged strong political identities; how the skills acquired in social work were extremely useful in their political careers; and how the participants have managed to maintain a strong social work identity and resisted neoliberal austerity measures in their political careers.

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This discussion examines the complexity of the social work profession in the neoliberal era. Government austerity policies and a market and corporate neoliberal state have effectively trapped social work in an ideology that increasingly furthers the authoritarian nature of the profession. This will be discussed by looking at the broader policy, political and economic contexts. It will focus in detail on one specific Conservative government policy document, namely, ‘Regulating social workers’ (DoE and DH, 2016).

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This article addresses the paucity of social work political biographies by suggesting a novel approach of combining constructivist grounded theory and biographical inquiry methodologies as a recommended way of exploring the neglected field of social work political biographies. Both approaches have their roots in the democratic turn in social sciences research in the 1960s, which should increase their appeal to radical social work researchers. Political biographies of social workers are increasingly important at a time of neoliberal hegemony and the desire to see more social work politicians (Gwilym, 2017). It is hoped that the article will help to generate further interest in the neglected field of social work political biographies and encourage other researchers to engage with this field.

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This chapter outlines the developments in social policy, and associated legislation, in Wales that followed devolution, with a focus on those that impact social work practice. It traces the recent history of Wales with its radical political tradition that places an emphasis on social issues and tackling economic disadvantages and inequalities which led to devolution. The collectivist and public sector approach to addressing inequality are highlighted, as is the emphasis on partnership, collaboration and sustainability as approaches. Nevertheless, the challenges that remain, such as poverty and the associated negative outcomes for people are touched on in light of current social and economic conditions.

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The Equality Act 2010 is understood to be an all-encompassing approach to safeguarding defined protected characteristics and is a vital instrument of anti-discrimination legislation. However, following the introduction of the Welfare Reform Act 2012, and the recent decade of ideological austerity, precarity and hunger are now an everyday occurrence for many working-class people, as levels of social protection have been stripped away leaving many vulnerable and in need. The association of class identity has equally been eroded following 40 years of neoliberalism, blurring the lines between the classes, yet simultaneously increasing levels of precarity for the working class. This has been no more obvious than in the increasing queues at food banks, providing a safety-net for the most precarious of the working class.

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The foodbank symbolises a changing landscape of social insecurity and welfare conditionality. Attending to decision making within the foodbank system, this article argues that foodbanks, and their referral-system creates a bureaucratic ‘moral maze’ identifying people as ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’ of help. Maintaining a moral distance, organised religious foodbanks are reliant upon a complex outsourcing of moral decisions and walk a fine balance between supply (donations) and demand (use). Within this article, we argue that the foodbank landscape is akin to navigating a moral maze, and that this creates, and justifies decisions of deservingness.

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