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Emergence of Social Work in Britain Essay


Social work is a profession that aspires to bolster the quality of life and welfare of a certain group, personalities or a community.

It achieves these objectives by indulging in extensive research, mobilizing the community members to participate in bettering their lives, encouraging members of society to rise up to the occasion as regards to eradication of poverty, and eliminating social injustices that violate human rights.

The main objective of social workers is to improve the quality of lives through human growth, communal policy, administration, review of programs, and engaging members of society in global and societal development (Townsend 1957, p. 12).

Social work is a field of study that incorporates theories from other subjects such as finance, culture, medicine, philosophy, politics and psychology.

In Britain, social work can be traced back to the industrial revolution era. At this time, the state witnessed various upheavals that threatened to divide society into half. The gap between the poor and the rich was ever increasing and poverty levels were rising. Due to this, the major focus of the social worker was to eradicate poverty in society.

The field of social work developed lethargically to be what it is in the modern world. Social workers in the UK found themselves fighting social injustices such as racial discrimination, gender based discrimination, homophobia, and inequity based on age. Currently, social work has developed into a fully-fledged field with the subject matter, theories and methods.

During its initial years in Britain, social work focused on preventing problems and reforming life in society (Young & Wilmott 1957, p. 98). Presently, the field has espoused a critical and holistic model in comprehending and intercepting social problems.

For instance, social workers agree that the problem of poverty is not about sickness, infirmity or ethical imperfection that should be cured but it is matter that pertains to the rich and the poor.

This paper will therefore trace the developments of social work as a field of study and profession since the mid 19th century to present. Through analysis, it is established that the field has experienced various historical developments in its evolution. The field was more inclined to social control but it currently empowers members of society to determine their own destinies.

Poor Law system

The poor law system was aimed at assisting the poor in England and Wales. The laws were developed in the 16th century and were in existence until the end of the Second World War. Initially, the laws were intended to help poor individuals who were impotent and had no place to call home.

Later on, the Tudor laws were passed to contain the influence of the vagrants and beggars on the streets. The poor law system can be divided into two major sections that is, the one that was passed during Elizabeth’s regime and the new one passed in 1834. The new law was simply an adjustment to the previous law, which was actually ineffective due to the changing world.

The old law system under Elizabeth lacked implementation because it was left to the church members to run it. The new law modernized the system whereby the government came up with programs aimed at building workhouses for the poor people (May 1973, p. 10). This was made possible through the Poor Law Unions.

In the beginning of the 20thcentury, the poor law system was replaced by the modern systems that could function effectively. For instance, the state established the liberal welfare reforms that could facilitate the development of modern systems. Furthermore, members of society came up with friendly organizations and unions that could provide quality services to the poor as compared to the old system.

In 1948, the government enacted a law that abolished the poor law system mainly because of the complex nature of human problems. In real sense, the new poor law was one of the best policies that targeted the poor at the time (Reynolds 2006, p. 1087). The policy reduced the burden for the poor by declaring that they could not pay taxes to the government.

The poor suffered a lot because the great reform act demanded that each person was to pay taxes to the state. The law established a poor law commission that would oversee the plight of the poor people in the state. Through the law, the small centers that assisted the poor had to be merged in order to provide quality services.

Through the law therefore, small parishes were fused together to form unions. Consequently, the poor were given houses that could distribute relief food and other forms of humanitarian assistance.

Even though the poor law system boosted the standards of living of many, it suffered from financing. The program did not have specific government support that would guarantee steady supply of services. The system depended on the poor rate levies, which were actually insufficient to supply needed services to the poor.

During the Second World War, the workhouses were very important since they were used as health centers. The number of people depending on the poor law system increased as the war persisted in 1921 to 1938 (Pearson 1983, p. 34).

During these years, the system lacked a clear funding program because the government taxed the middle class but the rich could not fund the program through taxation. This angered many leaders leading to the abolition of the poor law system.

Changing Individuals

In the mid 20th century that is, 1950s and 1960s, professionals identified social work as a field of study that had its own theories and principles. This was necessitated by a group of workers who viewed themselves as professionals in this occupation. The professionals published articles and books that served as guides in the field.

Before the inception of social work, there were workers such as community center wardens, secretaries of boards and developmental personnel on the housing units. Such workers did not have a specific expertise that could identify them with a certain profession. Researchers came up with a report titled Younghusband Report in 1959, which changed people’s perception to the field of social work.

The report borrowed a lot from the social organization of the North America and utilized it as casework. Workers in the field of social work coined the term ‘community organization’ to describe their activities.

However, the workers preferred to use the words community development and community work. The workers went ahead to adopt ‘community development’ as their identity. The workers developed projects aiming at helping the poor to eradicate poverty in society.

In 1966, the society intended to bring about changes as regards to the role of social work. The members of the social work organization set up a research committee under the hospices of Gulbenkain Foundation to investigate the future programs of communities in Britain. Furthermore, the group decided to set up a community Development program through the home office in order to eliminate poverty.

The Gulbenkian report recommended some things that had to be done to stamp out poverty in society. The report suggested that the community had to offer training services in order to recruit more members to help in spreading the message. Afterwards, the group wanted to help the communities to come up with programs, plan for the programs and execute the same programs in order to accomplish certain tasks using available local resources.

Moreover, the report intended to help local people to upgrade their services. These services could be put into effective use and could be available to those in need. The report urged human service providers to relate services to the people.

This would ensure that services provided meet the desires and wishes of the majority in society. In other words, the services could not be indifferent and unresponsive to the needs of the majority. Lastly, these researchers urged human services workers to beware of the changes in society since the modern world was dynamic.

Services designed had to be vibrant as well. From this, the commission suggested that social work had in it a characteristic of direct locality work, warmer relationships between services and the populace, inter-agency harmonization, scheduling and policy invention.

Between 1960 and 1970, poverty was a key feature in Britain mainly because of the effects of the Second World War. Due to this, scholars urged that people had to change their perceptions and values in order to salvage themselves. The government in this case had to involve people in various programs that would benefit them directly.

For instance, the Skeffington Report on planning claimed that the government had to open up society to give each person a chance to try his or her luck. The British government emulated the US system that had been adopted by the democratic government to eradicate poverty. However, the British government underfunded the program, which led to its failure.

Religious bodies for example Bernardo

Religious organizations, such as Bernardo, contributed significantly to the growth of social work in Britain. Such organizations established social entrepreneurs that helped many people, especially the youths to solve their societal problems. The organizations achieved a lot as regards to the social welfare.

Religious leaders and organizations pioneered the formation of various children’s homes and training facilities that provided specialized care to the disabled members of society in Britain. In other words, religious organizations contributed to the growth of youth work and social work practice (Mason 2008, p. 29).

Religious leaders such as Bernardo could rescue troubled children from streets and offer them with specialized services that would enable them to be responsible members of society. Bernardo raised money through an article titled The Revival. The finances could be used to bring together children in tea estates. Through charismatic leaderships and strong characters of religious leaders, donors gave out their monies as aid to religious organizations.

In Britain, most of the schools were funded by religious organizations in one way or the other. In 1944, the state passed a law that recognized the role of religious organizations in promoting social welfare of citizens. The education act made it compulsory for school going children to identify themselves with a certain religion.

This gave school heads an easy way to foster a sense of belonging among students as regards to social welfare (Harper 2003, p. 156). Christianity had participated actively in promoting lives and eradicating conditions that would cause human suffering. Upon this realization, the state moved to pass a law in 1988 termed the education reform act, which required students and other members of society to recognize Christianity as the mainstream religion.

Though most schools did not honor the 1988 act, the government appreciates the contribution of the church in uplifting lives of citizens. Consequently, it has moved ahead to promise distribution of authorized King James Version bible to all students.

Settlement movement

The settlement movement is considered the most important variable that contributed to the development of social policy. The movement started in Britain and spread to other parts of the world in the 19th century. One of the achievements of the settlement movement is the Tonynbee Hall, which was founded by Barnett in 1884 to help people in need of social services.

These settlements served as residential homes for individuals seeking education at an advanced age. Fresh graduates from universities and colleges had the chance to train and exercise their careers at the settlement movement centers. They would engage in activities that would benefit the community in one way or another.

This included activities such as youth training, mature education, practicing social work and seeking some knowledge concerning the law. It can be observed that the structures were very important in promoting communal solidarity and eradicating conditions that would lead to human suffering.

The government was quick to recognize the contribution of settlement movements by establishing the two bodies that would oversee the affairs of the movements. It is therefore a fact that a relationship existed between these settlement movements and national agencies.

Major state organizations and agencies emerged from the settlement movements, such as the British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centers, which was designed from the Federation of Residential Settlements. The agency has developed further through merging with the Development Trusts Association.

Currently, the Educational Centers Association, a governmental organization, is an offshoot of the former settlement movement referred to as Educational Settlements Association. The agency offers educational needs to members of society with advanced ages (Finch 2007, p. 68). During the World Wars, the settlement movements played a critical role, as they offered assistance to those in need.

In 1981, the settlement movements advocated for abolition of discrimination based on race and gender. The movements lobbied the government to come up with policies that would discourage discrimination based on gender and race. Consequently, the movements achieved their objective when the government passed legislation in 1981 barring discrimination based on gender and race.

Seebohm Reforms and Rowntree Report

Seebohm Rowntree was a successful businessperson who believed that he had a responsibility of giving back to the society as one way of showing solidarity. He always thought that giving back to society and helping people in need was his duty. Consequently, the philanthropist established some children’s homes and conducted extensive studies to establish the social state of affairs in Britain.

In 1860s, his father had conducted two major studies concerning poverty in the state. Seebohm was inspired by his father’s report to conduct a private study that took him two years in 1901 (Sennett 2006, p. 65). His study was very important because it differentiated between people who had primary problems from those suffering from secondary problems.

Those families that could not afford basic needs were declared to be suffering from primary problems. Such families needed some help since life was difficult for them. On the other hand, Seebohm observed that families suffering from secondary needs had enough food and clothing but their problem was expenditure.

They could spend more than they could earn. The report noted that while some expenditure was justified, others were unnecessary.

Rowntree’s report offered enough information regarding the lives of people such as their wages, the hours they spend working, their diet, kinds of food consumed, health services received and the housing structure. Furthermore, the report demonstrated that capitalism had failed society and new measures had to be taken to salvage the poor.

For instance, the rate of unemployment was ever increasing and families abandoned the old. After the first study, the government requested Rowntree to carry out an investigation into the land problems in Britain.

His report stated that accumulation of resources among members of society would eradicate poverty. This was to be achieved through availing land to farmers for them to practice small-scale agriculture.

The scholar believed that workers could only be effective if their needs and wishes were met fully (Rose 1990, p. 56). To lead as an example, Rowntree brought about some changes in his own organization.

For instance, he increased the salaries of employees in order to boost their morale. His report claimed that the government had to intervene in order to save the situation.

For this case, each company had to increase wages for employees to improve the standards of living. Employers who failed to implement this policy could be deregistered from their respective fields.

List of References

Finch, J 2007, “Displaying families”, Journal of Sociology, Vol. 41, no. 1, pp 65-81.

Harper, S 2003, “Changing families as European societies age”, European Journal of Sociology, Vol. 1, no. 5, pp 155-184.

Mason, J 2008, “Tangible affinities and the real life fascination of kinship”, Journal of Sociology, Vol. 42, no. 1, pp 29-45.

May, M 1973, “Innocence and Experience: the evolution of the concept of juvenile delinquency in the mid-nineteenth century”, Victorian Studies, Vol. 1, no. 1, pp 7-29.

Pearson, G 1983, Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears, Macmillan, London.

Reynolds, T 2006, “Caribbean families, social capital and young people’s diasporic identities”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 29, no. 6, pp 1087-1103.

Rose, N 1990, Governing the Soul: Shaping of the Private Self, Routledge London.

Sennett, R 2006, The Culture of the New Capitalism, Yale University Press, Connecticut.

Townsend, P 1957, Family Life of Older People: An Inquiry in East London, Penguin, London.

Young, M & Wilmott, P 1957, Family and Kinship in East London, Routledge, London.

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