Social policy, legislative, and organisational context of social work

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“Discuss how an understanding of the social work context enables the fulfilment of the social work purpose.”

Within this essay, the social policies, legislation and organisational context of social work in adult services will be discussed, critically analysed and evaluated.  Adult service covers a vast array of services, including probation, substance misuse, adult protection and disabilities, this essay will concentrate on Adult Mental Health.  The name 'social policy' is used to apply to the policies which governments use for welfare and social protection and the ways in which welfare is developed in a society.  Social work practice is not only about individual needs, it also considers social context.  This social context includes the range of inter-professional agencies contributing to packages of care and protection, as well as the relationships between service users and their families, friends and communities.  Social work is also predisposed by the social and political climate in which it exists.  The roles of social workers and the needs of service users are both influenced and defined by the beliefs, values, policies and laws of society. ()

Social policy in the United Kingdom can be traced back to 1572 where An Elizabethan Act made provision for the punishment of beggars and the relief of the vulnerable poor.  The Poor Law lasted in one form or another for 350 years, based on the residual nature of laissez-faire, and accounts for British social policy to be dominated by the role of government.  This was not the experience of other countries, where welfare more typically developed through a combination of voluntary and mutual provision, later supplemented by government action.  In 1598-1601, The Elizabethan Poor Law was a national Act for England and Wales. It provided for a “compulsory poor rate, the creation of 'overseers' of relief and provision for 'setting the poor on work”. (   The local parish was the basic unit of administration.  There was, however, no general apparatus through which this could be imposed and the Poor Law's procedure was not consistent between areas.  

The changes of the industrial revolution led to the development of the towns, population growth, the first experience of modern unemployment and the trade cycle.  All this caused escalating poor rates.  The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act established a national Commission for England and Wales.  English local government developed around the Poor Law.  1871 saw the creation of the Local Government Board, which stayed in place until 1929 when the Local Government Act allowed The Poor Law Boards of Guardians to be replaced by local authorities.

The Liberal government of the early 20th century put in place the fundamentals of modern-day social services.  Concerns with national efficiency fuelled the desire to provide an infrastructure of public services.  Included would be the large-scale public services, and facilities needed for the country that are necessary for economic activity, including power and water supplies, public transport, roads, and schools, these services were deliberately provided outside the Poor Law, to avoid the stigma associated with being impoverished.

The Beveridge Report of 1942 proposed a system recommending the establishment of a National Health Service, National Insurance, Assistance, Family Allowances, and stressed the importance of full-employment (London School of Economics and Political Science 2000.)  During the war, the coalition government also committed itself to full employment, free universal secondary education, and the introduction of family allowances.  The Labour Government was elected in 1945, and introduced three key acts: the 1946 National Insurance Act, the National Health Service Act 1946; and the 1948 National Assistance Act.  These Acts all came into force on the same day, 7th June 1948.  The 1948 Children Act was another important component (). However, the system was never intended to provide for mass provision or one which anticipated with meeting the income necessities of people who wanted to work but could not, or could only work for rates of pay which tied them to poverty.  It was intended for the minority of cases who fell through the full unemployment benefit trap (Clarke. J. Et al 1994).

Social policy is to a large extent dominated by economic policy, because economic policy determines the amount that government is prepared to spend.  There are two main views of public spending; Monetarist and Keynesian.  Monetarism is based on a view of the economy as self-stabilising and Keynesianism sees government intervention in the economy as necessary for the stability of the economy (Alcock, P 2003 p220)

From 1974–1979 a Labour government was in power.  Known as a left wing party, they believe in welfare, public provision, collectivist and institutional welfare, where as the Conservatives, who were in opposition, are against welfare and public provision and believe in individualist with a residual welfare state.  The political consensus about the purpose of the welfare state began to break down in the late 1970s and intensified during the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher became British Prime Minister.  During the first term of Thatcherism polices introduced where concentrated on monetarism; following the 1983 elections many public companies where privatised. (Giddens 2005)  

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In 1997 labour came into power and reinvented itself as New Labour, and embarked on a course of political reform and modernisation, recognising that old politics were out of line, they moved beyond the normal categories of left and right and embarked on a new approach of centre-left, being able to avoid customary political divides it is known as Third Way Politics. This has continued to the present day with the welfare mix to develop social policies. (Giddens 2005 p436)      

Social Workers are employed in both the voluntary and statutory sector.  The later years of ...

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