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This chapter will explore the different but interconnecting facets of insecurity in contemporary Britain; how political and ideological decision making has increased insecurity by introducing policies of welfare conditionality; and the impact this has had on those needing support. The chapter ends with a consideration of social work’s role in supporting individuals, families and groups to manage living with insecurity. This chapter combines a range of issues not often considered together, for example, housing and welfare policy alongside fuel and food poverty. This is an intentional combination that aims to highlight the impact that policies of conditionality across the spectrum of welfare provision have on individuals and families. Often, those experiencing one of these issues are also experiencing multiple disadvantages as a result of welfare reform.

It is important that we first consider what we mean by insecurity in relation to social welfare. ‘Insecurity’ is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the state of being open to danger or threat; lack of protection’ (Oxford Dictionary online). It is poignant, then, that this term is now used to describe the danger or threat of not having substantial warmth, food, work, money or accommodation. The precarity of living in such insecure circumstances can be linked to the increase in welfare conditionality, defined as the belief that

Access to certain basic, publicly provided, welfare benefits and services should be dependent on an individual first agreeing to meet particular obligations or patterns of behaviour […]. Those in favour of welfare conditionality believe that individuals that refuse to behave in a responsible manner […] or who continue to behave irresponsibly […] should have their rights to support reduced or removed. (Welfare Conditionality, nd)

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The role of the contemporary social worker is broad and varied. Practitioners work with a whole spectrum of different people including adults, children and their families, people with mental or physical health issues and those with learning disabilities, to name just a few. Many people may have a complex combination of different issues impacting on their lives. Social workers also support people at times of crisis, for example following life-changing injuries, bereavement or when arriving in the UK to seek asylum. Alongside their varied roles, social workers and their colleagues in the social care field are employed by a range of different organisations. Most people may think about social workers as working for a local authority, carrying out statutory tasks (those required by law), but increasingly, practitioners have been positioned in charitable or voluntary organisations, working with an even wider section of society. This book explores the relationship between social work, in its broadest sense, and the ideological shifts within society. Social work practice does not occur in a vacuum, it is influenced by the context, both political and social, and, simultaneously, social work can influence this context too.

Heywood describes an ideology as ‘a perspective, or “lens”, through which the world is understood and explained’ (Heywood, 2012, p 1). Although simple, this definition allows us to understand that our experience of the world can be seen not as an objective reality, with us as passive observers, but as filtered through a series of perspectives. This approach to understanding the world is referred to as social construction.

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The first part of this book explores five different ideological perspectives or ‘lenses’ and analyses how these influence practice through both government policy and other mechanisms (such as the media). Throughout this volume, the authors refer to political ideology, and this refers to the perspectives or sets of beliefs that have developed into a specific political perspective. This political ideological position then filters the way that people who subscribe to it perceive the world. In relation to social work and social care, this includes opinions on all aspects of society, for example the role of welfare, education, government, employment and the criminal justice system.

Confusion can arise when discussing political ideology in terms of the mainstream political parties both internationally and in the UK, particularly in England and Wales, as the names of the main parties, for example Conservative and Liberal Democrat can indicate an affinity with a specific political ideology. Often, these links are very loose, and/or historic in nature. For example, the current Conservative Party can be seen to have beliefs that align closely with a neoliberal, rather than traditional conservative, ideological perspective. This can lead to divisions between members of political parties. For this book, it is important to be aware that capital letters denote reference to political parties throughout, whereas lower case indicates the ideological perspective.

Social work is an inherently political profession (Fook, 2016); practitioners are often employed by local authorities and other organisations that are funded by government and required to ensure the safety of those who are deemed to be vulnerable or ‘at risk’.

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The second part of this book explores how the different political ideologies presented in the first part influence contemporary social work practice. Each chapter explores a different area of social work provision and encourages readers to think critically about the role undertaken by social workers and care professionals.

Since the creation of the welfare state after the Second World War, local authorities have consistently reorganised the way support is provided. Many factors have influenced these restructurings, including political ideology, child deaths, the media and the economic climate.

The creation of the post-war welfare state in Britain was based on the principle of secure ‘cradle-to-grave’ care for all who required it. The Beveridge Report, published in 1942, identified the ‘five giant evils of society’: want, squalor, disease, idleness and ignorance. The author, William Beveridge, proposed that the development of a welfare state was necessary to eliminate these evils and, following the end of the Second World War, the newly elected Labour government introduced a number of laws in order to develop his proposals and form the welfare state:

  • the Education Act 1944

  • the Family Allowances Act 1945

  • the National Health Service Act 1946

  • the New Towns Act 1947

  • the National Insurance Act 1948

  • the National Assistance Act 1948.

In combination, it was hoped this legislation would ensure that education, health, care and adequate housing were provided to the whole population, alongside introducing measures to protect people financially during periods of unemployment. In addition, the Children Act 1948 established children’s services as a separate provision, soon followed by the creation of local authority mental health departments.

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Political and Ideological Perspectives

It is essential that social work students understand the lasting impact political decision making can have on service users, yet little guidance exists on this subject. This valuable book provides a comprehensive introduction to politics in social work, unifying the themes of political ideology and social construction across several areas of social work practice, including emerging areas of practice. The book:

• Introduces the dominant political ideologies in the UK;

• Examines the impact of these ideological perspectives on different demographic groups;

• Explores emerging areas of growing political interest such as radicalisation;

• Employs case studies and examples from practice to aid student understanding.

Including helpful key points to guide reading at the beginning of each chapter, as well as exercises for seminars and further reading recommendations, this text will be an invaluable resource to all students in social work.

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This chapter is not intended to be a complete history of social work practice with adults – comprehensive historical accounts can be found elsewhere. Rather, this is an attempt to explore how social work practice has reflected and been influenced by politics and ideology since 1945. It hardly needs saying that British society has undergone a complete transformation since 1945 and the social work practice which takes place in this society has been transformed with it. This chapter will provide some of the background to practice: the prevailing political ideologies of these times.

Harris (2008) states that ‘changes to social work are never purely professional matters. They always connect with wider social, economic and political currents.’ In some sense, you might say, the history of political ideology from 1945 onwards demonstrates how social work came to be shaped in the way that it has been. Social work does not take place in a vacuum but in a living, dynamic society. Examining the course of what has taken place in that society since 1945 helps us to move towards an understanding of our current position and will also, hopefully, encourage critique. We certainly don’t wish to denigrate the undoubted successes and advances of 1945 but, as Hall ([1960] 2017) beautifully illustrates, ‘If we find an old people’s home where there are carpets on the floor, we think – ‘Good: this is what it should be like.’ But is it? Suppose we stopped and asked ‘Is that good enough? Is that what old age should look like for the thousands in our institutions?’’ There is no place for complacency, and we believe that the critique of the welfare state is in some senses the critique of social work which takes place within its borders.

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This chapter examines the application of strengths-based approaches in adult social care. It begins with a discussion of the historical development of applying these approaches within adult settings and locates the approach within the context of relevant legislation and policy. It presents the different models applied in practice and provides a critical discussion of the use of the approach in adult social care. It provides a case study from practice and concludes with a list of further reading.

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