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.
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had a significant impact on economic, political and social life in the United Kingdom (UK) and elsewhere. The neoliberal changes she initiated were continued and intensified by subsequent Conservative, New Labour and now Conservative-led coalition governments in the UK. She left a particular legacy regarding the welfare state and social work, the former being gradually being dismantled, while social work has been transformed into a narrower and more restricted role. Practitioners are now largely concerned with rationing resources and risk assessment/management, with users having to be responsible for themselves and their families. If they do not do this, there is a punitive turn – having their child(ren) removed and adopted. Despite the neoliberal Thatcher legacy, and resultant significant challenges for social work, critical practice is both possible and necessary. It is a practice that engages with the issues that lie at the root of social injustice, namely growing inequality in a neoliberalised world.
In the UK, neoliberalism and associated austerity have dominated social work and welfare provision over the last decade. Consequences include severe financial cuts to social work with children and families, as well as public services generally, and large increases in poverty and inequality. Despite increasing numbers of people in difficulty, the social work and welfare system has become more punitive and presents ongoing threats to social work’s commitment to human rights and social justice. This article examines such developments and includes the views of practitioners. Despite the strength and depth of challenges, it argues that critical/radical possibilities remain for practitioners to work both individually with service users and collectively. Such opportunities need to be taken with a view to working towards a more just and equal society, this being a much-needed antidote to the unequal neoliberal world we currently inhabit.
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.
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.
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).