Issued by The Social Workers Group of THE SOCIALIST MEDICAL ASSOCIATION 13 Prince of Wales Terrace, London, W.8
Published by Today & Tomorrow Publications Ltd., at the same address price 1/6
Undated, probably 1965
Why so many social workers?
Over the last 30 years, and particularly since the war, there has been a steady increase in the number of social workers employed in both the statutory and voluntary social services. Estimates suggest that there are at least 11,000 men and women engaged in full-time paid social work, excluding health visitors and youth and community leaders. Yet many of the social services are under-staffed. All over the country, the demand for social workers far exceeds the supply. Moreover, the volume of work is increasing to the extent that, in every branch of social work, social workers are having to respond to demands that are far beyond their powers to deal with satisfactorily.
This shortage of trained personnel is, of course, not confined to social work. But socialists think it is necessary to clarify the reasons for this constant call for more social workers, and to distinguish between the obvious need for more midwives and teachers, for children must be helped into the world and later taught, and the demand for more social workers, who are chiefly concerned with personal and social problems of breakdown and stress.
The employment and training of more social workers involves rising costs for the social services and a higher absorption of the country’s manpower and resources. These are economic questions. The fact that more social workers are required, ostensibly to help and support people who are unable to deal with the stresses of life, prompts inquiry into the factors which produce the stress situations and into the very nature of society itself. These are political questions.
One of the purposes of this pamphlet is to take a political look at what lies behind the demand for more social workers.
It describes briefly, the development of social work as a profession, the duties of each main group of social workers and the training and professional standards for social work. It discusses, in more detail, some of the factors at work in present-day society which have a significant bearing on the structure and use of the social services and on the role of social workers.
How social work became a profession
The 19th Century
Social work in this country developed out of the economic and social conditions of the last century. In the 19th century very few people understood, or were prepared to admit, that the ” vast ocean of poverty” (“Beatrice Webb, My Apprenticeship) which existed at the time was due to the exploitation of the working class for the purpose of accumulating wealth. Other explanations had to be found, and the one which was most favoured was that poverty was due to individual failure, and that the Poor Law and indiscriminate charity made things worse.
The Poor Law, based on the 1834 principles, was so harsh and deterrent that only as a last resort could its relief be accepted. To obtain treatment in a Poor Law hospital a patient had first to become destitute and therefore a “pauper.” There was no sick benefit nor unemployment pay. The only other source of help was charity. Most self-respecting people could only hate charity almost as much as the Poor Law; hence the tendency arose for individual gifts to go to those who had become demoralised and were prepared to use cadging and mendicancy.
In this situation, there arose in the ‘seventies the movement which crystallised in the establishment of the Charity Organisation Society (now the Family Welfare Association). The aim of its founders was, by applying “scientific method,” to prevent overlapping of charitable gifts, and to help the individual to overcome what they termed his inadequacy, which, in their view, was the cause of his poverty.
This task entailed detailed investigation of the circumstances of every “applicant” to ensure that financial help went only to the “deserving,” as well as to determine the most effective way of helping him. The C.O.S., however, found that it had set itself problems which it could not solve. For the ocean of poverty was so vast that the “deserving” included far too many whose poverty was so chronic that no short-term charitable help could relieve it, and who, after searching inquiries had been made, had then to be left to the Poor Law.
Poverty, the Poor Law and philanthropy were in the mid-nineteenth century clearly political questions. But the C.O.S., by “replacing the habit of unthinking charity by a doctrine repellent in its apparent hardness” made it “impossible for politicians to become associated with it.”( “Beatrice Webb, My Apprenticeship.) This is one of the main reasons why the legend has grown up that social work has nothing to do with politics. This view was prevalent at least as long as the C.O.S. dominated social work and social work training.
An important section of the early social workers grossly underestimated the economic causes of distress, believed that indiscriminate gifts were the main cause of mass misery, and opposed all state provision, holding the view that ” the State shares with indiscriminate charity the distinction of being a mighty engine for evil.”2 At the same time, others were associated with campaigns for social reform by legislation, with campaigns against Landlordism and sweated labour, for extending social amenities, for the break-up of the Poor Law, and for planned social security.
The great advances of the 20th century, however, were due not so much to the campaigns of individuals as to the growth in influence of the Labour and Trade Union Movement. The impact of the years of depression in the 30’s made untenable the theory that the individual citizen was responsible for his poverty and that it could be tackled by individual effort. The state has been forced to take increased responsibility for meeting the basic needs of the people. Full employment after the Second World War has made possible a rising standard of living for wage-earners. A new principle has been introduced since the war by which benefits and services of all kinds are available, as a right, to everyone, irrespective of class or income, though full implementation or universal acceptance of this is still obstructed by the conservative forces in Society.
The Post-War Years
As the widespread poverty of the pre-war years receded under the impetus of post-war reconstruction and as the population adjusted itself to peace, men and women began to be concerned not only with their right to enjoy a reasonable standard of life but with their claim to happiness. A higher degree of personal satisfaction with the non-material aspects of life, which many had experienced in the sense of common purpose in the war against Nazism, was felt to be one of the rewards due to the generations which had suffered before, and sacrificed during, the war years. An increasingly affluent society was expected to bestow not only full employment but an increasingly satisfying life.
The industrial and social relationships of the war years reverted to pre-war styles, and what is now called the “rat race” returned as a dominant feature of economic and industrial life. Personal relationships, however, particularly those of marriage and family life, assumed a new-found importance and were singled out for special attention. There were fears that the concept of family life, so sacred to the establishment, would break down, and social workers were inevitably drawn into what was considered a major problem of the times.
Social workers were particularly receptive to the idea that, with the apparent reduction of the material problems of life, difficulties in human relationships would become their main field of work. Absorbing relatively quickly the theories of psycho-analysis that had dominated social work in the United States for some years, social workers developed a new approach to personal problems. This new approach emphasised the significance of early childhood experiences to adult life and the role of unconscious feelings in some of the more serious personal situations that required help.
The adoption of these ideas was a process not without some misuse of knowledge. There was a tendency to overestimate emotional factors and to under-estimate environmental factors, such as poor housing and unemployment. Nevertheless, the way was open for the application of new knowledge about human behaviour based on the understanding of the interdependence of personality and environment.
The Changing Character of Social Work
The need for social work has not, therefore, been reduced over the years. Its character, however, has changed. Formerly, social workers were nearly all employed by charitable and voluntary agencies, and their function was largely the investigation and relief of economic distress. Now they are increasingly employed by central government and local authorities to assist people to use the services to which they are entitled by right. Investigation into income or character (by questioning employers and shopkeepers) and the application of the means test are no longer part of a social worker’s duties; nor does the alleviation of distress by the application of charity dominate the work, as in the past. New ideas have influenced social policy and brought about more humane and less punitive practices, particularly in the institutional care of children, the elderly and the mentally ill. It remains to be seen, however, how far this process can go, since the universal adoption of such ideas would demand a degree of understanding and toleration of human needs which is quite incompatible with the aims of an acquisitive society, such as we live in today in Britain.
Who are social workers and what do they do?
Professional social workers today are employed in a number of specialised services. Some are involved with individuals, some with families and some with communities. The duties of some are to give general advice and information; others are required to help people who are experiencing serious personal and environmental problems and who need long-term support. Most social workers are involved in helping people in distress or difficulty; some, however, are carrying out work essentially preventive in character and related much more to everyday needs than to situations of crisis. Many of the social services also rely on voluntary workers who may not be professionally trained, but who are generally under the wing of the professional worker.
The professional associations formed in the past to safeguard the conditions of employment and to establish standards of practice and training in each separate branch of social work are now reviewing their aims and moving towards a more united organisation of social workers. The social workers represented in this movement (Numbers relate to the approximate numbers employed in each group) are:
Child Care Officers, who are mainly employed by local authorities. , Their primary duty is to promote the well-being of children, preferably within their own families and, where this is impossible, to provide alternative care and to create suitable conditions for their return home as soon as possible. Children are received into care on a voluntary basis or committed by the Courts. Child Care Officers visit children in residential homes, find and supervise foster homes, arrange adoptions and help with the emotional problems of parents and children. (1,980)”.
Probation Officers, who are servants of the Courts, both adult and juvenile. They are appointed by Area Probation Committees and their work is subject to inspection by the Home Office. Their duties are: (i) to advise, assist and befriend persons who are put on probation or under supervision by the Courts; (ii) to provide after-care for people released from prisons, approved schools or Borstal institutions; (iii) to act as counsellors in matrimonial disputes, referred either by the Courts or by social agencies. (2,380).
Medical Social Workers (previously known as hospital almoners) who are responsible either to Hospital Management Committees or to local authorities. They co-operate with doctors and other members of hospital teams in helping patients and their families to overcome the social stresses which frequently accompany or follow illness. (1,270).
Family Caseworkers, many of whom are employed by voluntary agencies endeavour to see the family as a unit and who plan their work in relation to each member of the family. They include Family Service Unit workers. Families whose personal and environmental conditions create diverse problems for themselves and sometimes for the community are helped by being given consistent, strong and long-term support, both material and personal. (500+190).
Psychiatric Social Workers, who are specially trained to deal with the social problems connected with mental illness and emotional disorders. They are mainly employed by Hospital Management Committees or local authorities. They work with patients in, or discharged from, mental hospitals, and in psychiatric out-patient and child guidance clinics. (940).
Moral Welfare Workers, who usually work under the auspices of the churches or the Salvation Army. They are particularly concerned with the problems of unmarried mothers and their children. They provide and supervise homes for unmarried mothers and their babies, and undertake educational work. (300).
Since the National Health Service Act of 1948 and the Mental Health Act of 1959, local authorities employ mental health workers who provide after-care for people who are recovering from mental illness, and also undertake the social care of the mentally sick or subnormal person for whom the local authority is responsible; and welfare officers, or social workers whose duties include the care of the aged, the physically handicapped and the homeless. They are responsible for placing old people in residential homes, for home visiting, for providing sheltered employment and equipment for the handicapped, and for many other associated services. (1,300)
While not normally denned as social workers, another important group of workers associated with the family are health visitors. They are members of the public health team, and work in ante-natal and child health clinics. They have a statutory responsibility for visiting the newly-born, and their work covers many aspects of family health, particularly that of the pre-school child. (7,240)
Advice for the citizen arose out of the need for systematic advice and information during the war years. Citizens’ Advice Bureaux have remained to meet a permanent need for information and advice about such questions as Rent Acts, hire purchase, social insurance and family problems. The C.A.B.s work in close contact with local authorities, from which many receive financial aid. (500)
Limitations on space do not allow full reference to be made to the social work of the churches, or to that of a host of voluntary organisations, such as the National Marriage Guidance Council, the National Association for the Mentally Handicapped Child, the N.S.P.C.C., the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and Her Child, and many others which employ paid and voluntary workers who help those who are not provided for satisfactorily, if at all, by the statutory or national services. There are also those who work in youth or community centres, or with children out of school, whose regular contact with individuals and families may frequently prevent breakdown and sustain people in difficult times.
One important distinction, however, between social workers is that, for social work in the children’s, probation, hospital, mental health and family casework services, professional training, undertaken by full-time attendance at a university or college for a degree or diploma, is necessary. In other branches of social work, special in-service training may be given, but this is not as intensive or as comprehensive as that required for the degree or diploma course.
The training of social workers
In the early days, social work was regarded solely as a “vocation” The question of training, and the development of social work as a profession, did not arise until after the First World War. There may be some people who still think of social work as requiring only the exercise of goodwill, kindness and patience to which the “deserving” cases gladly submit. But social workers are presented with problems too complex for a sympathetic approach alone. It is necessary for social workers to have a working knowledge of the mass of social legislation which they help to operate and of the inter-relating functions of all the social services. They must know what the citizen is entitled to receive from the state in the way of benefits and services, and which particular service may help him most. They also need to develop skilled understanding of human motives and behaviour, so as to diagnose the problem and to know what kind of help to give. They should be able to advise on the formulation of social policy, and should have some grasp of social administration. To meet these multiple tasks adequately, specialised training, which must be comprehensive and rigorous enough to lead to a recognised qualification, is required.
Comprehensive training for social work consists of two parts. First, a basic degree or diploma in Social Science, Social Administration or Social Studies. These courses are provided by the Universities, Colleges of Commerce and Colleges of Further Education. The subjects studied include the development and administration of the social services, economics, psychology and sociology. The second part includes experience in working in the social services, and students normally work in a social agency under strict supervision. It is at this stage that the trainee gets first-hand experience in helping people and putting into practice what has been learnt.
There are many social workers who, in addition to the basic training, take further training. This is also provided by the universities and arranged by the employing bodies. Some courses prepare students for family or individual casework, for psychiatric social work, for work with children or with the handicapped. The emphasis in these courses is on human growth and development, on the theory and practice of social casework, on psychiatry and mental illness. It is this further training which equips the experienced social worker for more highly skilled and specialised work, for training and supervising others, and for social administration. The Younghusband Courses now make a considerable contribution in the field of training.
Refresher training, full and part-time, is also offered, and local authority departments are increasingly releasing workers on secondment for new and further training.
The Professional Standards
Besides giving the necessary theoretical and practical knowledge, training also provides the necessary professional standards by which social workers may give the best possible service within the framework of the agency in which they work. Naturally these standards have changed since the last century, and are in marked contrast to those which characterised the social worker of pre-war years. The authoritarian type of social worker who frequently “bullied” the “inadequate” individual or family, who was rarely objective about her judgments, and who found it possible to help only the acquiescent, has given way to a social worker who has been trained to respect the autonomy of others and their right to make their own decisions. Lady Bountiful, who worked out her guilt by wallowing in the miseries of others, is an image of horror to the trained social worker of today.
The Basic Principles
Seven basic principles could be said to constitute the generally accepted standard of professional social work today. These are:
- To allow people who seek help to make their own decisions once they have been helped to bear a stressful situation, so that they retain their self-respect and their sense of individuality.
- To understand that the behaviour of an individual is not due to original sin or to perversity, but is explicable in terms of the individual in the course of his development.
- To understand their own emotional involvement with the people who seek their help and to recognise the importance of their own feelings on their work.
- To develop a scientific attitude towards their work and towards social questions, and to abandon moralistic judgments in the professional setting.
- To be aware of the wider social aspects of individual problems and to assess whether there is some need for some change in the environment or within the individual.
- To respect all confidence in regard to information obtained from people who seek their help and to withhold such information from others unless the permission of the person concerned is given.
- To help the community to develop a sense of responsibility for those who find it difficult to conform to the prevailing social norms.
The Socialist and Non-Socialist Social Worker
All social workers, irrespective of their political beliefs, should be governed in their professional work by these standards. It is perhaps fair to say, however, that the socialist social worker, while sharing with the non-socialist, knowledge about the individual and society and the wish to help others, also believes that individual action for individual difficulties is not enough, and that there is need for change within society itself. The non-socialist may take the structure of present-day society for granted and may feel that, though changes in the material or personal circumstances of the individual are justified, the status quo in general should be maintained. The socialist social worker is more likely to see that the prevention and treatment of individual and social problems are related, in a very fundamental way, to the aims of society, to the issues to which governments give priority, and to the importance that is attached to helping each individual to develop as a fully active member of society.
Unfortunately there is, even among socialists, a tendency to believe that by an expansion or reorganisation of the social services and by the employment of more social workers such problems as delinquency, homelessness, mental ill-health and child deprivation will, in some magical way, be reduced and no longer prick at the conscience of the well-meaning, or demand from governments more radical policies. This assumption is an illusion, for it ignores the way social workers are used in a capitalist economy.
How social workers are used
The war years accelerated the development of state responsibility for the welfare of the citizen. The post-war years saw the creation of the first comprehensive system of health and welfare services and of social insurance to include the whole population, irrespective of economic and social class. Local and central authorities played an increasingly active and important part in providing health and social services, one of the results of which was the employment of many more social workers to implement the statutory provisions.
This development can be regarded as a positive advance in the standards of care for the citizen. Particularly as, in certain instances, carefully regulated statutory safeguards were designed to ensure greater assurance of the welfare of the individual than ever before. Perhaps one of the most outstanding examples of this is in the Children’s Acts of 1948 and 1963, which included provision for the supervision of children boarded out in the care of the local authority, so that there would be no repetition of the tragic O’Neill case of 1945. Procedures relating to the adoption of children have also been laid down with the welfare of the child predominantly in mind.
Increased legislation has also meant that more time of social workers is spent in explaining to the public what their rights and responsibilities are and how they can best make use of the services available to them. Post-war governments have not been willing to carry out publicity on the social services, nor to plan their explanatory material on simple and effective lines. Much time of social workers would be saved if the public were kept as well informed about their rights as they are, for instance, about the products commercially advertised.
Too Many Casualties in the Welfare State
On the other hand, the absence of legislation to control profits on property and land has produced casualties for whom existing legislative provisions were never designed, and which have proved inadequate and punitive. The Rent Act of 1957 and the financial speculation in land have resulted in the eviction of thousands of families. The local authorities have had to take into their care the children of these families. Quite apart from the financial cost which, it is estimated, is upwards of £50 a week for a family of five children, the emotional damage to children separated from their families is incalculable.
Social workers are required not only to give help and support in the extensive stress associated with problems which occur when a family unit is broken up in this way, but to take part in the actual transfer of children from their parents to residential care, though S.W.s are themselves fully aware of what this experience inflicts on all concerned. Separation is tragic enough when a parent has died, or has become too ill to look after children, or when children are abandoned; but when it occurs because of the free play of the market in rents, socialists feel that social workers are simply being used to soften the blows delivered by a society in which profit takes priority over family needs.
Another important factor in the increasing numbers of social workers is the use in social work of new knowledge of human development, of the theories of the dynamics of relationships in the family and in groups, and of the learning capacities of individuals.
Social workers are expected to work with each individual with a greater depth of understanding than in past times. To work in such a way as to use what is known about human behaviour and motivation takes far more time than did the methods of the past; more social workers are therefore needed to work with the same number of people, let alone any increase in the population. For example, children were at one time boarded out from one day to the next without preparation. Today, the selection and introduction of each child to the prospective foster-parents and vice versa takes a considerable amount of skill and time, and the responsibility for a successful placing is one that rests primarily on the social worker.
Out of this knowledge has also developed a greater understanding of the need, as far as possible, to accept the physically and mentally handicapped into the community rather than to place them in segregated and closed institutions. More social workers are needed to enable this to happen, though a greater burden falls upon them than needs to, since most of the essential day care services are lacking. Yet, given safeguards, the trend towards desegregation is a sound and humane one.
Then there is what is popularly expressed in current phrases as the “increased pace of modern life” or the stress of “urban living.” This is a factor which certainly affects the extent of the demands upon social workers and therefore merits some consideration in this context. References are constantly made to the “lack of parental control” and to the “breakdown of moral values” as a reason for the apparent increase in delinquency, crime and anti-social behaviour. Higher admissions to mental hospitals, increased rates of divorce and illegitimacy, are held to be other indications that present day conditions of life create “problems” in individuals or families. There is need, it is argued, for more social workers.
Certain features of society today suggest that modern life contains particular elements which press upon the individual and make special demands upon him. To take one example only, in the industrial field some of the effects of this pressure are seen in the increased tempo of production and in the speeding up of productive processes. Many of these allow very little choice to the worker to modify even his movements or to pause as he works. In one of the largest industrial concerns in the country, for example, even the visits of workers to the lavatories are timed and accounted for.
Keeping up the Pace
Higher wages and an increased standard of living are undoubtedly there for those who can measure up to the efforts required, but the deep anxiety about being able to maintain the ” pace ” well into advanced middle age, about redundancy, automation, and provision in, old age, underlie the search for financial security. Social workers have perhaps paid less attention to the working lives of their clients than to their social conditions. Yet, since most people have to work for their living, the part that work plays in contributing both to the stresses and the satisfactions of life cannot be ignored.
But what of the people who are not able to stand the pace, to keep up with the demands of modern production or to compete for employment? The National Assistance Board is assisting over two million people and their dependents who are chiefly in families where the father is absent or chronically sick, families with low incomes, and the old, the weak and the handicapped. Their only hope to maintain an adequate place for themselves in society is to rely on the social services. Yet by doing so they tend to live in a segregated circumstance of physical and cultural impoverishment, only on the verge of, or beyond, what is termed the “affluent society.”
This is inevitable, since a competitive society is based on production for profit, and only invests in man to the extent that he is a source of profit. Social services in a capitalist society would seem to be regarded as essential and important only in so far as they satisfy the need to maintain a certain level of health and literacy for that section of the population which is likely to contribute most to the production of profitable goods and services.
In this context, features of our educational system merit study. Hitherto, social workers have tended to interest themselves insufficiently in what is offered to children in their normal educational experience. The Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education, 1963 (Newsom) should have the serious attention of socialist social workers since the system of education which a society offers reflects its fundamental attitude towards its future citizens.
The terms of reference of this Report cover the education between the ages of 13 and 16 of pupils of average or less than average ability. The large number of children involved is sharply underlined by the title of the Report, “Half Our Future.”
In their findings, the committee quote at length from contributors who expressed their opinion in these terms: “We feel bound to record our impression that many of these less gifted young people are socially maladroit, ill at ease in personal relationships, unduly self-regarding and insensitive, their contact with their peers is often ineffectual, they understandably resent being organised by adults and show little gift for organising themselves.” The Report continues: “These are serious comments, certainly not applicable to all, but not, either, easily to be dismissed. This matter of communication affects all aspects of social and intellectual growth. We simply do not know how many people are frustrated in their lives by inability ever to express themselves adequately, or how many never develop intellectually because they lack the words in which to think and to reason. This is a matter as important to economic life as to personal living; industrial relations as well as marriages come to grief on failures in communication.”
Social workers need to ask whether many of those who today are so unpleasantly referred to as “inadequate” parents were not lacking the help they needed towards personal development as they passed through the lower streams of our secondary schools, where for example, as the Report points out in the section on “Education in the Slums,” 79 per cent of all the secondary schools in their sample had buildings which must be condemned as seriously inadequate. Schools in such areas also faced “desperately unsettling changes of staff” with obstacles to serious learning that this presents.
Undoubtedly, policy in educational matters has wider social implications and the Report voices anxiety lest the relatively unspectacular needs of the boys and girls with whom we have been concerned should be overlooked.”
If social workers are to be truly concerned with preventive action in relation to personal and social breakdown in our society today the profound importance of the quality of the education offered to all our children today must be a matter for serious thought.
The Expendable “Under-class”
Moreover, the social services operate within a class structure in which the non-productive groups are to be found at the bottom. At the top is the managerial, administrative and professional group which, though representing only 5 per cent of the population, nevertheless owns something like 75 per cent of all personal wealth. Then there is the large middle stratum, to which new technological and economic advances have brought raised standards of living and where the new affluence is most apparent. At the bottom is what has been termed the “under-class” of the unemployed, the one-parent family, the aged, the handicapped, the prison population—in fact, all the nonproductive section of the population. These people are “expendable” in the competitive structure of the economy; they represent the “burden on the taxpayer “; and their share of economic affluence is the outcome of what is a continuous struggle to extract, from the profit-making interests, a fairer distribution of national wealth.
The demand for a long-term expansion of the numbers of trained social workers to mitigate the lot of the casualties of the so-called “welfare state” prompts the question as to how far social workers serve as props to mask and perpetuate the underlying injustices and inequalities of an acquisitive society. Do social workers lay themselves open to being termed “social tranquillisers”? Are social workers willing accessories to what Beatrice Webb referred to as “pulling people out of the swamp when they should be draining it”?
Though there is frequently no clear line between the proper and improper use of professional skill, social workers have the right and a duty to question the use to which their insufficient numbers are being put. Should they or the taxpayer accept a situation where medical social workers fruitlessly search for accommodation for elderly patients ready for discharge from hospital, and child care officers frantically telephone for vacancies for residential care for children, often to find a solution which is below the desirable standards and which will produce new problems before long ? Should local authorities, when resources are inadequate, expect conscientious social workers to help their clients by trying to engineer some priority for them, when this means that they jump the queue over others on waiting lists for new housing, hospital beds or old people’s homes? Or do they think it more proper for them to help their clients to do without the services they need?
No Substitute for Services
Professor Titmuss has pointed out that “the effectiveness of’ the social worker and the effectiveness of the social service cannot be divorced.”(Case conference, May 1964: ” The Administration of the Social Services “) Social workers are not a substitute for the service itself, nor can they make an inadequate service work efficiently. Their work is only brought into disrepute and their skills abused if they are expected to shoulder burdens which are beyond their powers. It is essential to distinguish between what is a professional task—namely, to give the best possible service within the framework of the agency or service —and what is a political task—namely, to bring about improvements in the scope and function of the service itself.
Socialists would approve of an increase in social workers to help individuals to develop their potential in a valid and creative way and to take part in research on social problems; but they should oppose the use of social workers to persuade people to tolerate what is clearly intolerable.
A Ceaseless Struggle
There are signs that social workers are becoming increasingly uneasy about some of the tasks expected of them, and concerned that their knowledge and skill are misspent on the prevention and treatment of “crisis” situations produced by the inadequacy of the services, and by the failure of society to provide sufficient care and protection for the population. Social workers, as part of their training, are aware of the strains, both internal and external, that press on the individual as he tries to fulfil himself. They are also aware that, in a society which is capable of producing unprecedented affluence, there is, nevertheless, a ceaseless struggle to ensure that the social services enrich the lives of people and do not perpetuate their impoverishment.
Some degree of frustration, grief and conflict is the natural and inevitable outcome of all individual and social development. But the conditions which give rise to the deprived and underprivileged in present-day Britain are peculiar to an economic system where property-owning and profit-making take precedence over human needs.
Socialists believe that mankind is worthy of an investment commensurate with the wealth that is produced. That is why they believe that a socialist society would plan its social services to support, protect and help the citizen as an integral part of normal, everyday community life. In this setting, social work would have a new meaning, for knowledge and skill could be properly applied as a vital instrument for human progress.