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With reference to changes in government policy and ideologies of welfare, debate the significance of the shift from victorian ‘pauper’ to 21st century ‘service user’ and its impact on social work practice and values.
By charting changes in government policy and welfare ideologies, this essay will discuss the significance of the move from the Victorian ‘Pauper’ towards the 21st century ‘Service User’ and examine how this has influenced social work values and practice. But first, brief consideration must be given to offering a definition of these terms. The Oxford English Dictionary (2009: online) defines a pauper as somebody with no property or means of livelihood; who is dependent upon charity from others; and a beggar. Terminology has changed dramatically and the term ‘service user’ emerged in the 1990s as the generic name for people social workers work with (Pierson & Thomas, 2006: 560). In contrast to ‘pauper’, the Collins Internet-Linked Dictionary of Social Work by Pierson and Thomas (2006: 560) states:
“its popularity has spread among practitioners, managers and social work educators alike as it seems to convey the more contemporary emphasis on those who receive the service having some rights and influence over that service” (Ibid.).
All societies have methods of assisting those in financial difficulties (Payne, 2005: 13) and the 1601 English Poor Law was the first national welfare provision that lasted in one form or another for 350 years (Spicker, 2008: 78). However, in the 18th century, the Poor Law Report demonstrated the current allowance system was demoralising and promoted idleness (Fraser, 2009: 53). This, coupled with a proliferation of paupers and escalating relief costs, led to the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 which heralded the introduction of workhouses, designed to deter everyone but the destitute from applying for support (Thane, 1996: 31). It was hoped by replacing outdoor relief with the workhouse, the faults of the current system would be corrected (Fraser, 2009: 55). Ultimately, it provided a harsh alternative to self-help that the pauper would only accept when destitute; and fearing the workhouse, they would hopefully find employment (Ibid.: 55-56). This was in keeping with the general social philosophy of the time that supposed “men were masters of their own fate and that the individual had within his grasp the power to find his own salvation” (Ibid.: 56). Those requiring assistance were blamed for their position and expected to find solutions to their own self-imposed misery (Sullivan, 1996: xiv). Therefore, the Victorian Poor Law divided the needy into the deserving and undeserving poor; with the deserving worthy of philanthropic assistance whilst the undeserving was punished for their feckless behaviour (Ibid.). In essence, the Amendment Act successfully forced able-bodied men to take responsibility for themselves (Thane, 1996: 33).
Throughout the 1880s charitable responses to suffering grew (Payne, 2005: 36) and the Charitable Organisation Society was established in 1869, aiming to persuade charities to organise resources so they were distributed to those best able to use them (Thane, 1996: 21). The COS was not an alternative to the Poor Law, but the flip side of the same coin (Payne, 2005: 36) and its principles encouraged people to become self-dependent and only helped those with potential to support themselves (Thane, 1996: 21). It provided charity for the ‘deserving’ and hence, left those without potential to become self-dependent to destitution or the Poor Law (Ibid.: 21-34). Furthermore, COS endeavoured to find lasting solutions to people’s problems, without removing them from their environment and pioneered the practice of case-work whereby investigations were conducted into clients’ backgrounds who were then helped if deemed worthy (Ibid.). Much had to be said for this case-work approach, which provided a real attempt to investigate the nature of the people’s problems (Ibid.) and essentially, through the development of this method, created social work (Payne, 2005: 38).
Many people following COS principles in theory found it challenging to abandon those in desperate need in practice (Thane, 1996: 23). Hence, dissatisfaction generated new voluntary approaches, including the Settlement Movement, which initiated modern community work (Ibid.). Residential settlement Toynbee Hall was established in 1884 where graduates would live and work among the poor; a model replicated throughout the country by the end of the century (Ibid.). It aimed for them to utilise their moral example and education to foster social development (Payne, 2005: 37) and its warden Samuel Barnett believed class harmony and material improvement would only improve when the rich regarded the poor as equally worthy individuals (Thane, 1996: 21).
Moving to the twentieth century, following the Second World War, fundamental welfare changes were introduced under the Labour government in accordance with a blueprint proposed in the 1942 Beveridge Report (Bochel, 2008: 192). Subsequently, the period from 1945 until the 1970s is considered:
“One of political consensus on key issues, stemming from a combination of the economic philosophy of Keynes, and the social policy of Beveridge, enshrining the ideas of the mixed economy and the welfare state” (Ibid.).
During this period it was assumed societies had progressed, rendering the state responsible for providing universal welfare provision for citizens (Payne, 2005: 50). Subsequently, the state established a range of social services in the new era of welfare capitalism and this social security was regarded as the instrument that would eradicate poverty (Sullivan, 1996: xiii-3). The welfare state was created to put welfare on a new footing (Briggs, 1961 cited in Spicker, 2008: 121) where everyone, not just the poor, had the right to access services (Spicker, 2008: 121). This contrasted starkly to when support was confined to the destitute and deliberately made unpleasant under the Poor Law (Checkland & Checkland, 1974 cited in Spicker, 2008: 121) and this commitment to universalism provided an obvious change from the past (Sullivan, 1996: 54). Moreover, social work was becoming accepted as part of universal welfare provision alongside health, housing and social security (Payne, 2005: 50) and in the 25 years following the war, a gradual professionalizing shift occurred (Lymberry, 2001: 371). Subsequently, following the 1968 Seebohm Report and the 1970 Local Authority Social Services Act, the three existing personal social services were reorganised into unified local authority departments (Sullivan, 1996: 195-196). It was hoped this would “provide a more co-ordinated and comprehensive approach to the problems of individuals, families and communities” (Seebohm Report, 1968 quoted in Lymberry, 2001: 371). Fundamentally, this was a period of proliferation and consolidation for social work with the hope it would contribute towards creating a more equal society (Lymberry, 2001: 371).
This movement to the welfare state from the Poor Law is referred to as the progression to ‘institutional’ welfare from ‘residual’ provision (Wilensky & Lebeaux, 1965 cited in Spicker, 2008: 92). Residual welfare catered for a limited number of people, was provided under sufferance and regarded as a public burden (Spicker, 2008: 92). Furthermore, the Poor Law was punitive in nature, limited liabilities through deterrence and deprived paupers of their rights (Ibid.). Contrastingly, institutional welfare covered the general population’s needs, regardless of their financial circumstances, and offered protection to everyone (Ibid.). It was built on accepting mutual responsibility, considered dependency to be normal, and was based on the premise of a right to welfare and citizenship, (Ibid.). Theoretically, this universalism provided the only way to guarantee high quality of services were available for all and removed the stigma associated with state services (Sullivan, 1996: 54).
During the two decades after the war, governments believed in Keynesian demand management techniques and Beveridges social ideas (Ibid.: 90). However, from the late 1960s these economic policies failed and the UK faced a fiscal crisis of the state (Ibid.). Subsequently, when the Conservatives were elected in 1979, the ideology of the New Right dominated and heralded a change from the post-war welfare consensus (Lymberry, 2001: 372). This period was characterised by Neo-liberal thinking, which fundamentally questioned the state-delivered institutions forming the welfare state, and these beliefs have affected policy-making and the welfare system during recent decades (Ellison, 2008: 61-67). For example, Thatcher’s government was dedicated to rolling back the state and denying mutual commitments among citizens because allegedly society did not exist but comprised of competing individuals instead (Lowe, 1999: 307). They aspired for those dependent on the state to become independent because:
“If those in need were encouraged to look passively to the state for help, they would be denied the invigorating experience of self-help and of family or community care” (Ibid.).
Therefore, the New Right were committed to re-moralising society, just as Poor Law reformers of the 1830s had before them, with a return to Victorian values (Ibid.). This generated a reduction in benefits and conditions stipulated for accessing these were toughened (Clarke et al., 2000: 3). Furthermore, an increasing stigma was attached to publicly provided welfare and it was, in some respects, criminalised by linking US notions of ‘welfare dependency’ and ‘demoralisation’ to UK ideas of ‘scrounging’ and ‘undeserving’ (Ibid.). Fundamentally, welfare had come full circle when:
“Individualism as the motor of economic and social policy in the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s gave way to the collectivism of that classic welfare state only to re-emerge in the late twentieth century” (Sullivan, 1996: xv).
New Right emphasis on the sanctity of marriage and family, the demonization of those who threatened these and their promotion of a social order based on ‘Victorian values’ impacted on social work (Lymberry, 2001: 372). It was forced to abandon its pretensions to providing a universalist service and focus on statutory duties, omitting the preventative remit laid out in the Seebohm Report (Ibid.). Furthermore, it underlined individuals looking after themselves and their families (Bochel, 2008: 194). Subsequently, social work changed after the Barclay Report of the 1980s, which introduced community social work strategies and encouraged local authority social services departments to develop alternative ways of meeting social need (Sullivan, 1996: 196). This approach envisaged moving from the traditional one-to-one focus towards facilitating self-help by communities, social networks, and individuals (Ibid.). Moreover, it heralded the movement of social workers from therapists to enablers, supporting informal carers instead of providing the care themselves (Ibid.).
When looking at New Labour and their ‘Third Way’ approach, a decisive shift has occurred in the role of the recipients of social work services. For example, Blair (2000 cited in Jordan, 2001: 529) intended to change the welfare state from delivering passive support towards active support, promoting citizens independence instead. Taking the middle ground between free-market principles of the Conservative years and old style socialism it meant services would demand more from citizens, requiring people to contribute to a responsible community (Jordan, 2001: 529-530). This tougher approach to welfare is evident in expecting many single parents, the disabled, and those receiving employment benefits to actively seek employment (Ellison, 2008: 67). Additionally, benefits are now less generous and more strictly means-tested than in the height of Keynesian welfare (Ibid.).
Furthermore, the development of anti-oppressive practice signals a change in the attitudes towards the role of users of social work services. Anti-oppressive practice has emerged over the last decade, forms part of the critical social work tradition, and is concerned with transforming power relations at every level in practice (Healy, 2005: 172-178). Theorists believe the social work role is political with social workers holding a privileged status in comparison to service users (Ibid). Therefore, social workers must be critical and reflective in order to not replicate oppressive social relations in practice (Ibid.). Furthermore, it promotes working in partnership with service users with power genuinely shared at both an interpersonal and institutional level (Dalrymple and Burke, 1995: 65 cited in Healy, 2005: 187). Thus, service users opportunities for participation in decision-making should be maximised (Healy, 2005: 187).
Social work has been affected by the unabated advancement of consumer capitalism and service users are expected to be more involved in arranging and managing services (Harris, 2009: 67). The New Right ideas emphasised that citizens had a right to freedom and choice (Ibid.: 68) and recent Conservative and Labour administrations have encouraged citizens to participate in welfare services; utilising market-like approaches to consultation and increased empowerment in decision-making (Bochel, 2008: 194). Efforts have been made to promote service user participation in planning and development with the view that their active role improves health and social care services (Carr, 2004: 2). Furthermore, the importance of individual choice in improving provider effectiveness, the notion of citizens rights and responsibilities and a belief that individuals involvement in decision-making results in solutions that better meet their needs have been underlined (Bochel, 2008: 194-195). This is evident in the Direct Payments scheme, endorsed on the basis of choice and independence, and demonstrates that the state increasingly expects citizens to be competent enterprising, managerial and autonomous individuals (Scourfield, 2007: 108). However, as Scourfield (Ibid.) asserts this raises concerns about dependent citizens and emphasises:
“a danger of using independence and choice as central organizing principles is to forget how and why the public sector emerged in the first place—to ensure that those who are necessarily dependent are treated with respect and dignity, to ensure a collectivized approach to risk, and to ensure that secure and reliable forms of support outside of the market or the family are available”.
Additionally, as Carr (2004: 2) found, the extent to which service user participation leads to improvements in services varies and there is little monitoring and evaluation of the difference user participation is making. Furthermore, despite citizenship, choice, community, social inclusion and autonomy being key to New Labours programme, (Blair, 1998 cited in Humphries, 2004: 95) Humphries (2004: 95) contends Labour’s pursuing of neo-liberal economic and morally repressive policies has degraded public services; punishing and excluding those “regarded as having been ‘given a chance’ but having ‘failed’”. She proposes it is social workers who are expected to implement the surveillance systems that operate these policies and under New Labour a shift has occurred towards social work having an increasingly negative and narrow practice focussed on restriction, surveillance, control and exclusion (Ibid.: 93-95). Thus, social work is concerned with the moralistic side of Labours policies rather than with empowering people instead (Jordan, 2001 cited in Humphries, 2004: 94). Moreover, since 1993, increasingly punitive and repressive measures have been introduced to deter asylum seekers from coming to Britain and if they are granted access they enter an inhumane and inferior ‘welfare’ system (Humphries, 2004: 100). Acts such as the 1993 Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act and the 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act removed those subject to immigration controls from the welfare state (Ibid.: 101) and Cohen (2003 cited in Humphries, 2004: 101) describes the asylum support system as the creation of a modern day poor law based on coercion and lack of choice.
This essay has documented the move from the use of the Victorian term ‘pauper’ to the 21st century term ‘service user’ by looking at shifts in government policy and welfare ideologies and its impact on social work. Looking back, one would hope we have progressed from the Victorian Poor Law that blamed the pauper for their need of assistance and deterred them from accessing support by rendering it as unpleasant as possible. However, when observing the stringent means-tested benefit system and New Labour’s tough approach welfare, ascertaining whether we have moved forward becomes questionable. Zarb (2006: 2), referring to how older couples can be separated due to housing and care allocation, questions whether citizens are still treated like the paupers in the Poor Law era who were regularly split up for not meeting the parishes criteria for support. Furthermore, to finish, Wynne-Jones (2007: online), writing on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website, highlights that today the media still assigns different types of morality to types of poverty:
“The ‘undeserving poor’ are the Asbo kids and the hoodies, the drug-addicted and long-term unemployed. On the other hand, the ‘deserving poor’ look a lot like middle Englanders fallen on hard times”.
Having spent time with a group of troubled young people on a Peckham estate, following the death of Damilola Taylor in 2000, she believes that it is through the stereotyped comedy characters such as Little Britain’s ‘Vicky Pollard’ that Middle England reveals how threatened it feels about the ‘undeserving poor’; utilising comedy as a means of criticising our societies ‘underclass’ (Ibid.). She maintains that as Middle England laughs from the unease that people like this exist on our poorest estates, years on from Damilola’s death, we are still failing those, like the group in Peckham, who are “damaged so badly by life that their only empowerment is to attack others” (Ibid.). Therefore, to conclude, whilst a change in terminology has occurred moving from ‘pauper’ to ‘service user’, it is problematic determining how far attitudes towards those in need of assistance have genuinely changed for the better.
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