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How Social Work Has Influenced The 21st Century Social Work Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well being (International Federation of Social Workers). Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environment. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.

In doing their day-to-day work, a social worker is expected to be knowledgeable and skilful in a variety of roles. The role that is selected and used should ideally be the role that is most effective with a particular client, in the particular circumstances.

Social worker may be involved in a few or all of these roles depending on the nature of their job, and the approach to practice that they use.

The purpose of this essay is to identify the establishment, growth and development of social work in Britain, from its origins in the nineteenth century to its position in the twenty-first century.

The Elizabethan Poor Law or Old Poor Law was an Act of Parliament passed in 1601, which created a national poor law system for England and Wales. At the time of passing it was referred to as the 1601 Act for the Relief of the Poor. It formalised earlier practices of poor relief distribution in England and Wales and is generally considered a refinement. Johnson (2007) explains that The Old Poor Law was not one law but a collection of laws passed between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The system’s administrative unit was the parish. It was not a centralised government policy but a law, which made individual parishes responsible for Poor Law legislation.

The impotent poor (people who can’t work) were to be cared for in almshouse or a poorhouse. The law offered relief to people who were unable to work: mainly those who were “lame, impotent, old, blind” The able-bodied poor were to be set to work in a House of Industry. Materials were to be provided for the poor to be set to work. The idle poor and vagrants were to be sent to a House of Correction or even prison. Pauper children would become apprentices.

The act was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed by the Whig government of Lord Melbourne that reformed the country’s poverty relief system. It was an Amendment Act that completely replaced earlier legislation based on the Poor Law of 1601. The Bill established a Poor Law Commission. This included the forming together of small parishes into Poor Law Unions and the building of workhouses in each union for the giving of poor relief. The Amendment Act did not ban all forms of outdoor relief, which was support without going into workhouses until the 1840s where the only method of relief for the poor was to enter a Workhouse. According to Barwell (1994) the workhouses were to be made little more than prisons and families were normally separated upon entering a Workhouse. The Act called for parishes to be put into Poor Law Unions so that relief could be provided more easily. Each union was to establish a workhouse, which met the principle of less eligibility.

In 19th-century England there was a range of occupations and voluntary positions, which had been established as part of the new Poor Law (1834), The Charity Organisation Society (COS), as well as by religious and voluntary societies. Relieving officers had responsibilities in relation to outdoor relief, which was assistance, in the form of money, food, clothing or goods, given to the poor without the requirement to enter an institution such as workhouses. This was an alternative to indoor relief, which required people to enter the workhouse (Rose, 1971). The COS supported the principles of the new Poor Law (1834), who’s aim was to co ordinate the work of charitable giving for the deserving poor.

The 1906 – 1914 Liberal Reforms were acts passed by the Whig government of Lord Melbourne that reformed the country’s poverty relief system. It was an Amendment Act that completely replaced earlier legislation based on the Poor Law of 1601.

The Bill established a Poor Law Commission. This included the forming together of small parishes into Poor Law Unions and the building of workhouses in each union for the giving of poor relief. The Amendment Act did not ban all forms of outdoor relief, which was support without going into workhouses until the 1840s where the only method of relief for the poor was to enter a Workhouse. The Workhouses were to be made little more than prisons and families were normally separated upon entering a Workhouse. The Act called for parishes to be put into Poor Law Unions so that relief could be provided more easily. Each union was to establish a workhouse, which met the principle of less eligibility.

The 1942 Beveridge Report was a government commissioned report into the ways that Britain should be rebuilt after World War Two; Beveridge was an obvious choice to take charge, Woodward (2009). He published his report in 1942 and recommended that the government should find ways of fighting the five ‘Giant Evils’ of ‘Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness’. The Beveridge Report of 1942 proposed a system of National Insurance, based on three ‘assumptions’: family allowances, a National Health Service, and full employment.

The 1944 Butler Education Act changed the education system for secondary schools in England and Wales. This Act was named after the Conservative politician R.A. Butler who introduced the Tripartite System of secondary education and made secondary education free for all pupils. The tripartite system consisted of three different types of secondary school, secondary technical schools and secondary modern schools.

The original structure of the NHS (1946) in England and Wales had three aspects, known as the tripartite system. Fourteen Regional Hospital Boards were created in England and Wales to administer the majority of hospital services. In primary care GPs were independent contractors (that is they were not salaried employees) and would be paid for each person on their list. Finally in community services, maternity and child welfare clinics, health visitors, midwives, health education, vaccination & immunisation and ambulance services together with environmental health services were the responsibility of local authorities.

During the Second World War the issue of black settlers in Britain became an issue, as a result of the war, black workers and soldiers arrived from the colonies to fight in the British army to help with the war effort. At that time there were concern about the social consequences of the arrival of new black migrants, however immigrants from the colonies that the government encouraged were recruited by the British state specifically to resolve labour shortages. Richmond (1954).

After the war, immigration in Britain was on the rise after families of the workers from the colonies came and settled. During the 1970s – 80s research studies on race and council housing were conducted in a number cities like Nottingham, Liverpool and Birmingham, Simpson (1981) concluded that black applicants for council housing waited longer then white people. The study identified that the average black family were larger in size and required larger housing then white people, the council rarely offered 4 bed roomed housing because it was considered to be encouraging large families and the poverty that usually comes with large working class families. This is institutionalised racism, McPherson (1999).

The Race Relations Act 1968 was a British Act of Parliament making it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins. It also created the Community Relations Commission to promote ‘harmonious community relations’.

The Housing Act 1980 was an Act of Parliament passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom that gave five million council house tenants in England and Wales the Right to buy their house from their local authority.

The first of four factors leading to The 1990 NHS and Community Care Act is the government at the time, from 1979 to 1997 the Conservative party wanted to shift British politics to the right from post war liberalism under Margaret Thatcher. According to Taylor (1972) The Conservatives believed in “self help” so they were in favour of the informal carer where people would care for their own friends and family at home. Margaret Thatcher preached “Laissez faire” An economic theory from the 18th century that is strongly opposed to any government intervention in business affairs, it literally means “leave things alone” Margaret Thatcher wanted to end the idea of the government taking care of you, for people to look after themselves and stop Britain being a “granny state”.

Demography is the study of population looking at things like births, deaths, marriages and immigration. Britain is in a demographic time bomb, its people are getting older as a result of the improvement of sanitation over the last century, which is the highest ever. This means people are living longer; there is a huge increase in life expectancy. As the population grows, the proportion of people aged under 16 has dropped below those over state pension age. Life expectancy at birth in the UK has risen (www.statistics.gov.uk). Pre 1990 Margaret Thatcher had to address questions such as how many more elderly can we home? Who is going to look after them? Who is going to pay for it? The issue of the old Victorian geriatric wards were far too expensive to run and maintain. The demographic issue was another factor that led to the 1990 NHS and Community Care Act.

Before 1990 The NHS and Social Services were considered too wasteful and expensive. Thatcher wanted a “mixed economy of welfare” where independent, private sectors and Social services look after and treat people; she wanted them to compete for business. This is called “Tendering for service” This would save the taxpayer money. Sociological evidence appears to indicate that demographic care would cost, politicians in the 80’s thought community care was a cheaper answer.

Before 1990 the issue that the old Victorian wards were too expensive to run and maintain proved too cost effective however according to Townsend (1961) the government couldn’t just “dump” people in these “warehouses” (p56) Townsend described this as the warehousing model of care where people were stored in these forms of warehouses, after seeing ex workhouses changed to residential homes, he was appalled at the bad conditions and dated buildings. A study of a mental hospital in America described it as a “total institution” which is a place of residence or work where a large number of people in the same situation is cut off from society.

There are many principles to the 1990 Community Care Act; the result of the act was the change from “service led delivery” which was if the government did not have any money to help then people would not receive it, the care providers determined what the client needed and would provide care if it was available to “needs led delivery” where a statutory obligation by the NHS and Social services was to assess and consult service users. The care user would be at the centre of care delivery. Care plans were introduced to monitor progression or worsening conditions. Home based care using domiciliary support services is where people receive in their own home was introduced, informal carers needs was to be recognised and included in assessments of need.

Multi-agency working has been shown to be an effective way of supporting children and young people with additional needs, and securing real improvements in their life outcomes. Wigfall & Moss (2001) define it as a “range of different services which have some overlapping or shared interests and objectives, brought together to work collaboratively towards some common purposes”.

Multi-agency working is easier where the aims of the various agencies coincide and where their targets are mutually consistent. It co-ordinates the work of those involved e.g. when conducting multi-agency assessments of children and young people and it should lead to better outcomes for children and young people as holistic needs are addressed.

In 2003, the government published a green paper called Every Child Matters alongside the formal response to the report into the death of Victoria ClimbiƩ. The piece of legislation was designed to strengthen preventive services by focusing on four key themes:

Increasing the focus on supporting families and carers.

Ensuring necessary intervention takes place before children reach crisis point and protecting children from falling through the net.

Addressing the underlying problems identified in the report into the death of Victoria ClimbiĆ© – weak accountability and poor integration.

Ensuring that the people working with children are valued, rewarded and trained.

There was a wide consultation with people working in children’s services, and with parents, children and young people and following this, the government published Every Child Matters: the Next Steps, and passed the Children Act 2004, providing the legislative spine for developing more effective and accessible services focused around the needs of children, young people and families. Every Child Matters: Change for Children was published in November 2004 and it placed legal responsibilities on workers to work together to protect young people and children. Vulnerable adults are also protected under similar legislation.

According to Seed (1973), three strands in the development of social work exist. The first of these is the focus on individual casework, which originated in the work of the Charity Organisation Society (COS) Woodroofe, (1962). The second is the role of social work in social administration, involving various forms of relief from poverty, which originated from the Poor Law however it was also promoted in some of the work of the COS. The third is the focus on social action, which has been identified with the growth of the Settlement Movement in Britain and the United States.

This essay has addressed many issues and client groups within the social sector, how dealing with them started and how the role of social work has progressed in time.

Taylor, A.J. (1972) Laissez faire and State Intervention in nineteenth century Britain

Barwell, J. (1994) Victorian life. Cambridge

International Federation of Social Workers: http://www.ifsw.org/

Johnson, P (2007) 20th century Britain, economic, cultural and social change.

MacPherson report (1999) on Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager who was stabbed.

Social Trends 2009, National Statistics, http://www.statistics.gov.uk/socialtrends39/

Richmond, A. (1954) Colour prejudice in Britain: A study of West Indian workers in Liverpool.

Rose, M.E. (1971) The English Poor Law 1780-1930. Newton Abbot.

Seed, P. (1973) The Expansion of Social Work in Britain. London.

Simpson A. (1981) Stacking the Decks: A study of race, inequality and council housing in Nottingham.

Townsend, P. (1961) Seen in The Last Refuge by Pierson, C and Francis, G. London, Routledge

Wigfall, V & Moss, P. (2001), More than the sum of its parts? A study of a multi-agency child care network. London, National Children’s Bureau.

Woodroofe, K. (1962) From charity to Social Work in England and the United States. London.

Woodward, K. (2009) Social Sciences. London.


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