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  • Author or Editor: Ian Cummins x
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As with other political philosophies, liberalism should be seen as an umbrella term that covers a range of views, approaches and positions. Neoliberalism, for example, is clearly a form or branch of liberalism. Liberalism has evolved over a period of time. Modern liberalism, for example, would be more suspicious than its forebears of claims of the supremacy of the market. A further complication in examining liberalism is that the term can be applied in both the economic and social spheres. The two spheres are not necessarily compatible. David Cameron was both an economic and a social liberal. The austerity policies that his government followed were partly based on a classic liberal belief in a smaller state. At the same time, he was a social liberal, the introduction of gay marriage being an example of liberal social legislation. Gay marriage does not square with traditional Tory values and policies. This chapter will explore the roots and subsequent development of liberalism, which has been one of the key political ideologies of the last 300 years.

The roots of liberalism can be traced back to the late 16th or early 17th century. It became a clear philosophical school during the Age of Enlightenment. Its emergence as an intellectual tradition is associated with the writings of key figures such as Locke, Rousseau and Kant. Early liberals were opposed to the dominant political forces of feudal capitalism of the period: the established church, absolutist monarchs and the landed gentry. They were committed to an alternative group of ideas, which included freedom of religion, constitutional rule, individual property and free trade.

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From the mid-1970s onwards, neoliberalism has been the most influential political ideology. This influence has been exercised in several ways. In the global North, neoliberal ideas have underpinned the electoral success of politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Following their successes, progressive opposition parties such as New Labour under Tony Blair shaped their policies in response to a new political, economic and social landscape that had been created. In the global South, following neoliberal economic policies became a condition of receiving support from supranational institutions such as the World Bank. Finally, the emerging economies of the post-Soviet bloc followed key elements of neoliberal ideas. Neoliberalism is almost all-pervasive. Harvey’s (2007) book A Brief History of Neoliberalism has on its cover, alongside Reagan and Thatcher, pictures of the Chilean military dictator, Pinochet, and the Chinese Communist leader Deng Xiaoping – testament to the reach, influence and flexibility of this political and economic ideology.

Neoliberalism has at its core a belief in the supremacy of the market. Any interventions that prevent the operation of a free market should be resisted. The electoral successes of parties such as the Tories under Thatcher and Republicans under Reagan have meant that there is a danger that these are seen as inevitable (Stedman-Jones, 2012) – inevitable because they were seen to reflect the alleged fact that there was ultimately no alternative to the market. This is certainly the view that was put forward by Thatcher – ‘there is no alternative’ (Young, 2014) – at the time, and by Conservative analysts such as Sandbrook (2013) and Moore (2014).

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Until 2001, probation officers in England and Wales qualified as social workers. Probation was a social work agency based in the courts and prisons, focusing its work on the rehabilitation of offenders. The changes to probation training were the result of broader moves within criminal justice policy that led to more punitive approaches to offending (Garland, 2001). Social work practice in England and Wales has now been marginalised in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) (Cummins, 2016). In particular, the training and roles of probation officers have changed very dramatically. One of the most significant cultural changes has been the removal of a broader consensus around penal policy that focused on the rehabilitation of offenders and sought to limit the use of imprisonment to the most serious offences. As Simon (2007) notes, progressive political parties have found it difficult to challenge the basic assumptions of the new, punitive approach, which holds that crime is rising and the proper response should be to introduce longer sentences and harsher conditions in prison. The result in England and Wales has been a doubling of the prison population since the early 1990s. The first private prison, HMP Wolds, was opened under the Major Government in 1992. Since then, in addition to the expansion of the use of imprisonment, the private sector has played an increased role in the CJS. As well as running prisons, private companies such as G4S and Serco have won contracts in several areas, for example, the electronic tagging and monitoring of offenders.

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In the context of politics, the term ‘radical’ has been applied to a wide range of figures. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage could be considered radical, in the sense that each is campaigning for a society based on a different set of political and economic relationships and values. However, in politics radicalism has come to be associated with the adoption of revolutionary tactics and approaches. Radicals can come from across the political spectrum. Historically, ‘radical’ is a term that has been most closely associated with progressive politics. The tactics that radicals adopt do not have to be violent; for example, being a conscientious objector and refusing conscription in the First World War was a radical act. The suffragettes were radical in both their aims and their methods (Purvis, 1995). In the current political climate ‘radicalisation’ is the term used for the processes by which individuals become involved in political groups that are committed to the overhaul of political and social structures (Kundnani, 2012). There is an implicit assumption that such radical approaches include a rejection of parliamentary democracy as a means of bringing about lasting and fundamental change. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, radicalisation has largely been associated with terrorism inspired by radical interpretations of Islamic religious texts (Kundnani, 2012). There is not the space here to discuss in depth the use of violence as a political weapon.

Radical critiques of parliamentary democracy argue that it is based on a sham of equality, in which one person, one vote serves as a cover that hides the real power and inequalities that exist in society.

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This article will argue that Nancy Fraser’s (, ) notion of ‘progressive neoliberalism’ provides a conceptual lens that can be effective in the development of a critical analysis of mental health policy in England and Wales during the period of deinstitutionalisation and community care. Mental health policies that came steeped in an originally progressive discourse of choice, empowerment and wider service user rights were introduced by governments largely committed to the free market. In the UK and US, this produced a contradictory position where moves towards a community-oriented vision of mental health service provision were overseen by administrations that were committed to a small state and fiscal conservatism. There were similar developments in other areas. Fraser (, ) terms this mixture of socially progressive rhetoric and market economics ‘progressive neoliberalism’. Fraser’s model of progressive neoliberalism argues that neoliberalism has colonised progressive discourses. The article outlines this theoretical model and then applies it to the development of community care. It argues that policy responses to the perceived failings of community care focused on increased powers of surveillance, including the introduction of legislation that allows for compulsory treatment in the community. This focus on legislation was at the expense of social investment. The article concludes that the introduction of austerity in the UK has strengthened these trends. For example, The Coalition government (2010–15) introduced new mental health policies such as ‘No decision about me without me’, which emphasised inclusive approaches to service organisation and delivery. At the same time, it followed social and economic policies that increased inequality, reduced welfare payments and entitlements, and cut services. These are all factors that contribute to higher levels of mental distress across society.

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This article will discuss the work of the late cultural and political theorist Professor Stuart Hall (1932–2014). Hall made hugely significant contributions in cultural studies. In addition, he was one of the first thinkers on the Left to recognise the huge seismic shift that the electoral success of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 represented. Hall made a huge contribution to the development of progressive politics. His analysis of the centrality of race, empire and colonialism to the formation of modern Britain and its ongoing significance was a key element in the anti-racist politics of the 1970s and 1980s. These developments were very influential in the development of critical and radical social work perspectives. This article will argue that Hall’s work provides a theoretical and conceptual toolkit for a radical analysis of contemporary politics and culture. Social workers, academics and other practitioners can use this toolkit to develop critical perspectives on social work practice and other aspects of social and welfare policies.

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This book examines the impact of neoliberalism and austerity politics on the role of social work, and welfare provision more generally, in the UK. It considers the social, political and cultural contexts within which social work has developed as a profession and revisits debates about the nature of class and inequality in the country, arguing that the profession is committed to social justice but also the majority of social work takes place with marginalised groups. Drawing on the work of Imogen Tyler and other contemporary critical theorists, the book also analyses the nature of ‘advanced marginality’ and ‘stigma’ and how neoliberalism has created economic conditions which give rise to spatially concentrated areas of poverty and disadvantage. Finally, it discusses the welfare and penal systems during the period of neoliberalism and proposes a new or revised model of a social state based on notions of equality, mutuality and reciprocity.

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The Impact of Neo-Liberalism and Austerity Politics on Welfare Provision
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This book offers a critical, sociological analysis of the domino effect of neoliberalism and austerity politics on the role of social work and wider welfare provision.

It argues that social work should move away from the resultant emphasis on risk management and bureaucracy, and return to a focus on relational and community approaches as the cornerstone of practice.

Applying theoretical frameworks to practice, including those of Bourdieu and the recent work of Wacquant, the book examines the development of neoliberal ideas and their impact on social welfare. It explores the implications of this across a range of areas of social work practice, including work with children and families, working with asylum seekers and refugees and mental health social work.

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This concluding chapter summarises the book’s key themes and offers a number of suggestions about how social work can reassert its core mission and commitment to social justice. It begins with the argument that neoliberalism has to be understood as a political and economic project, noting how neoliberals’ anti-statism is most apparent in attitudes to the welfare state — or, more precisely, payments made to those who are out of work. It then considers the cumulative effect of the government’s austerity policies, the ideological attack on the whole basis of the social contract and the post-war welfare settlement, and the increase in the so-called ‘marketisation’ of the state. It also explains how neoliberal policies followed by a period of austerity has exacerbated inequality and ends by analysing the poverty paradox of social work.

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This chapter examines the development of neoliberal ideas in a context of austerity. It begins with an overview of the key features of neoliberalism, focusing on two key beliefs at the heart of neoliberal ideas: the supremacy of the market (as the most effective means established for the distribution of resources) and a belief in liberty (freedom from state or other interference) as the supreme social and political value. It then considers F. Hayek’s influence on the modern development of neoliberal thought, the nature and role of the state in neoliberalism, and the rhetoric of meritocracy. It also explores the austerity measures introduced by the UK coalition government from 2010 and how they reconstructed and re-engineered the country’s welfare state. Finally, it analyses social work’s place in this new era of neoliberalism and austerity.

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