‘Examine the claim that recent changes to the nature, structure and function of the Social Work profession reflect broader shifts in government attitudes to the Welfare State.’
Evidence of a close relationship between politics and the delivery of social services can easily be revealed by studying and contrasting recent changes that haveoccurred on both sides. Since the establishment of the structure of modern social services in the sixties, they have seemed to evolve in synchronisation with the different parties which have passed at the head of the government. From the Thatcherite ideology of market liberalism to the pseudo non-ideological philosophy of the “Third Way”, the alterations of policies have always provoked a chain-reactionwhich has not spared the profession of social work. This examination of the nature, the structure and the function of social work and its development aside from rotations in government throughout the last few decades will demonstrate the veracity of Manning’s claim: “Social Policy is inextricably bound up with governments and politics.”
The Seebohm committee was created in 1965 and drewtogether different elements of social services under the control of one organisation run by local authorities. The Welfare and the Children departments became the basis of the Personal Social Services Department which gained more importance after the establishment of two acts in 1969 and 1970 (the Children Act and the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act). This represented the development of thestructure of social services as we know them today. Since then, daily practice of social work in the field has been influenced by the successive political contexts as Kilty and Meenhagan suggest (1995: 446) and the level and the nature of services delivered has been affected by changing policies and redistribution of funding which reflects the interests and perspectives of those in charge ofpolicy-making. For example, when the global economy was in full expansion, costs limiting was a smart move to stay in the competition of economic market. The Conservatives were not famous for sharing the welfare values of post war period, thus in their idea the welfare expenditure had to be cut.
During the 1990s, Michael Heseltine established ‘unitary’ authorities in which the delivery of allservices in a limited and chosen area were gathered under one local council. This had the advantage of bringing coherence and clarity concerning social work. Unfortunately, there was also one non-negligible weakness lying in the fact that often, unitary authorities covered areas of low population. This entailed a lack of expertise among the social workers in those areas, because of the poor variety offorms of needs that social workers would meet within a small population. This example suggests that changes that occur in the higher spheres do have an impact on the profession of social work; here the performance of social services saw itself limited.
After the disappointment of a Labour government which led to an economic crisis and a decade of reforms under the authority of Thatcher, JohnMajor became the leader of the Conservative Party in 1990. Just as it did in the NHS and in Education, the ‘market’ had spread its spores in the social services too. This market liberal notion distinguished providers of care such as hospitals from purchasers, that is, social services and GPs. At that time, local councils changed their shape to be organised in two wide sectors of services: Childrenand Adults; and the NHS and Community Care Act 1990 was established. It had a serious impact on social services and drastically changed the organisation, function and practices of the profession. This act put an accent on people in care and revealed the care-planning process as essential to services. The social services department was designated to be in charge of this process as well as being...