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A history of social policy changes

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Published: Fri, 12 May 2017

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.

This assignment has used a timeline of government changes and policies as a background to debate the shift from Victorian pauper to the 21st century service user. The divide between poor and rich has always been an issue that all governments have tried to diminish using different policies and laws. However there is still that divide that seems to be increasing. Has much changed since the Poor Law was implemented? Are individuals given more choice and rights now? Will there always be stigma attached and social exclusion that comes from using these words, do they still have the same meaning? This assignment will attempt to answer these questions using references to policy and ideologies of welfare.

The definition of a Pauper according to the Collins dictionary is someone who is extremely poor or historically eligible for public charity.

The definition of a service user is someone who uses or receives health or social care services. (General social care council)

According to Sen, 1999 the term service user was introduced because of gained strength of powerless people during the 1980’s. This term indicates an acknowledgement of the government and public, understanding that service users have a positive role. They still have capabilities and can realise their potential, they are not just individuals who are entitled to help via the services we offer. Although this term was produced by the individuals who use the services it still highlights that they work with professionals and that the power still resides with them. (Adams, Dominelli and Payne, 2009) The National network of service users: Shaping our lives believe that the term service user is positive, it’s an individual who uses the services, they confer power creating a stronger voice and having a greater ability to shape services. (Levin 2004)

The changes in policy from Pauper to service user have been vast. British social policy’s foundation is from the Poor Laws, the first one passed in 1598 the last 1948.

The Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601 provided a compulsory poor rate and helped set the poor onto work. However as the Parish was the basic area of administration laws were enforced differently in that area, meaning the operation of the Poor Law was inconsistent between areas, the beginning of the postcode lottery. The Poor Law amendment act of 1834 modified the existing system that was in place, it was implemented at a higher stage not just at Parish level ,Poor Law unions were introduced the development of the workhouses was encouraged, one workhouse in each union to give poor relief. This act stated that no able bodied person was to receive any other help other than in the workhouse. This law’s primary problem was to make life inside as bad as outside of the workhouse, this was difficult as some would have had to be starved to meet what they met outside. There was a stigma attached though and it was that reputation that stopped everyone from using a workhouse, they produced jail style segregation men and women and even families had to be separated.

As the government thought this was the best way to help the neediest families they saw no problems with this Act. In fact the neediest families still weren’t using the help and going into a workhouse because they didn’t want to be separated. Not unlike families today that still don’t ask for help because of the stigma or because they don’t know or understand the system implemented to help them as much as possible.

It was in 1869 that The Charitable Organisation Society was formed to make charities more effective, they understood that charitable assistance was needed but believed that their aim was to reach all families, they were also unsure of how the money from charities had previously been spent. They set out financial help introducing local committees, these then raised funds and distributed to families in need. Also very similar to many charities today, there are still many families who don’t ask for help because of religion, language, pride or just weren’t told. (Family action)

COS found that it wasn’t just financial help that people needed, so they started to offer emotional and practical help too. When they had many families needing help they knew there volunteers would need training, this became the pioneer in the profession of social work, something that our foundations are based on today. The main foundation of COS was to change policy to help the people suffering the effects of poverty, something that social workers do now, the general council of social workers are still working to help those suffering the most and work towards giving help to those who have unable to find help elsewhere and give social work support as well as signpost to other services that may help them further.

From this time more acts were introduced including the Public health act of 1872. During this time poverty was never really defined they understood what brought it about like unemployment or illness, if they had defined poverty it may have helped introduced different acts to prevent it.

In the 1900’s poverty was ever increasing, the settlement movement started its idea was to establish settlement houses in poor areas with the idea that the middle class would volunteer to live with them, sharing their knowledge and help alleviate the poverty of their poor neighbours. From this movement many initiatives emerged and helped to improve conditions of all poor areas of society and help all individuals. This movement focused on the causes of poverty providing a number of services including education and health services. This settlement movement is another foundation of social work practice today, no we don’t live with the individuals in need, but the whole reason of social work is to use our education and knowledge to alleviate the problems they have and help them emotionally, practically and financially, which is just what these volunteers did. Although some argued that this was normative because some wanted the divide between the poor and higher classes. (Laybourn, 1995) Although this movement was important the more powerful COS submerged as the controversial nature of social work, there was individuals that were not eligible for help these were still at the workhouse, and most of these individuals were women who bore children out of wedlock. Although the settlement movement was also necessary in society in focusing on poverty, it focused on a more structured analyses of poverty and its impact on human behaviour by practising interventions at a community level, which is needed now to help small communities help each other as well as individually. The nature of social work practice then focused on individuals and a significant element of this time is the elimination of hearing client’s voices and the incomparable knowledge of the professionals working with them. Only now is the service user’s voice being recognised again. (Adams et al, 2009)

The Poor Law was the basis of the development of services for the 20th century, including the national insurance act, these new services were introduced to avoid having to rely on the Poor Laws. (Alcock, 2003) The government laid the basis of the future social services, the major concern was that all areas should be given the same services, these new services were provided away from The Poor Law to evade the association. Even though these new ideologies were introduced to provide services to all individuals there was still a stigma attached, even now there is still a stigma attached to the term service user, although governments have changed their policies to use different terms some still have the same meaning.

A major report produced regarding the welfare of individuals was the Beveridge report. This report focused on how Britain could be rebuilt after the war. In 1945 labour was elected and promised to introduce a welfare state. The welfare state involved introducing new services these included family allowances, the national health services and housing acts to name a few. The welfare state was produced to encourage the provision of services for the public not as a response to poverty. (Laybourn, 1995) this is where a major criticism lies within debates regarding the welfare state within current governments. In the 1950’s the provision of welfare state services became problematic, government interventions at the time didn’t help and caused further problems so the Conservative government took over and cut the help given to the poor and sick. This then made the distribution of income more imbalanced and although attempted to make the poor more hardworking and self sufficient it didn’t work.

One report that impacted policy and practice during the 1960’s was the Seabohm report 1968, this report re-introduced poverty. This paper was tasked to review the organisation and responsibilities of the local authority personal social services in England and to consider what changes are desirable to secure an effective family service. (Seebohm, 1968, pg11.) Prior to this report social work was spread across various local authorities and different government sections, because of this the report found that there was inadequacies in the quality of provision and access was very difficult. The report recommended “a new local authority department providing a community based and family orientated service, which will be available for all” When this recommendation was brought into action new social services department were formed. Seebohm did foresee problems which were highlighted in the report, it stated that having separate departments for children and adults would make it difficult to treat the family’s needs as a whole.

Another important Report was the Barclay Report, 1982 that looked into the role of a social worker, in its opening line it states that too much is expected of social workers. It found that it was a profession that was confused about its role and because of intense media scrutiny was struggling with its work load. It found that there was an ongoing need for social workers to fulfil many functions including promoting community networks, working with other services and acting on client’s behalf and to act as resources for all individual who need help. The report did criticise social work departments for “taking a reactive stance towards social problems, dealing with those needs which are forced upon their attention but failing to develop overall plans which link the voluntary, volunteer, statutory and private services in an area into a coherent plan” (p.38) which is still a problem today.

Although these reports have all highlighted how good social work is and how much it’s needed there are so many problems involved in the profession. Firstly because every government have changed the way the work as soon as they get used to it, it changes again, yes the changes could be for the better but are these just changes for changes sake? The labour government have imposed new policies and directives for social work but after 8 years there are still problems within social work some which could be easily acted upon. We will only know if these new policies and new social work task force works over time.

As its been highlighted earlier in this assignment there is still an implication involved in being a service user just as there was being a pauper. Whilst researching the different acts and welfare ideologies that have been introduced throughout the timeline I’ve used I’ve realised that there are more similarities than comparisons between a services user and pauper. They still have problems accessing help and there are many families who still don’t ask for help because of the stigma. However new approaches have introduced service user involvement by defining what help they want and defining the quality of help they receive. A recent report by Beresford, Shamash, Forrest and Turner, 2007 research service users vision for adult service they found that the process of accessing social care was frequently negative for service users, the assessments were very dependent on the quality of the staff carrying it out, which shouldn’t be happening all social workers should work to one high standard it shouldn’t be a lottery of if you get a good one or not. Access to communicating with the social worker was low and that many of the service users questioned had gaps in their services making them feel insecure.

A major problem through history has been a struggle to get good support for these individuals. Whilst researching this topic I realised that service users know what they want and can easily highlight the problems at the minute one report found while welfare bureaucracy has been condemned by governments for a long while service users still identify problems. One individual said that we shouldn’t have to fill out forms to be made to feel like beggars, not unlike The Poor Law and paupers opinions. There is still social exclusion, the poor will stay poor because they have just enough to get by so they won’t stop, think and revolt. But do social workers maintain this, because they help them just enough, finding the quickest thing they can do to help them not necessarily the best way in the long run. New Labour has had so much time to make improvements and rectify social exclusion but child poverty is getting worst.

How much have rights helped service users, many reports have found that they feel more responsible and confident about the help they are receiving when they have been more involved in the decision processes. Although some still feel like they are hidden away from society and when they have more experience of their disability they need to be acknowledged. The report by Beresford et al, 2007 also found that service users would like a watchdog with service users and professionals and they should be the judges of quality.

One dilemma that social workers face is working towards anti discriminatory practice, equality should be the core of provisions of service, and it needs to take into account religion and backgrounds. Yes some progress has been made involving diversity for example the race equality act, still lots of progress needs to be made.

There are many barriers when considering the major historical events that brought about social work and the values it has now. We see that welfare state is a necessary condition of social work flourishing and to defend it or is it temporary in which internationally social work will then erupt from something else. One barrier when understanding which major events affected what social work is today is our understanding of the history of social work, the history isn’t concrete it changes daily. Most of the history of social work comes from COS as its origin and its methods are still used today. However Laybourn, 1997 has found other methods that were used that have yet to be examined this may have been because COS was used in London and this would have an effect on the history, power will always influence history.

To conclude social work has changed significantly and is still very important and we will progress to help all individuals, we need a larger voice though to talk about the problems we face as a profession to ensure that service users and pauper have fewer similarities. I believe that service users have shifted from paupers as they have much more freedom and rights now, yes there are still similarities which need to be focused on to improve our system and we could probably be a better service if problems hadn’t occurred along the way to affect how we work, we also need to refuse to let policies be imposed on us when they don’t improve on what were already doing. Rights are now benefiting service users but we need to ensure it stays like this. Whilst working towards anti discriminatory practice and equality for all we need to ensure our values are the same that we contribute to a fairer society by reducing disadvantage and exclusion and promoting fair access to resources. Many policies and acts have been the bedrock of what social work is today and without them social work would be very different.


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