National challenges

National challenges from a service user perspective

Some of the challenges facing social work are long term while others are more immediate. Long term challenges include the problems that:

Social work is an insecure profession because it has low credibility among politicians and much of the media. It has been damaged by social workers having a weak voice and frequently ineffective management. It has come under attack for failing to deal reliably with serious child protection problems over a long period. Because of its limited political power, it has been subject to considerable political and administrative control and the strong influence of ‘new managerialism’, which has weakened its independence and commitment to social justice.

Despite all this social work has been innovative in its approach to research, education and practice and this has been reflected in both its pioneering of ‘anti-oppressive practice’ and user involvement in both research and education.

Increasingly however current cuts in public spending in the name of austerity are having additional damaging effects. Major cuts are taking place in the number of social workers, particularly those working with adult service users, even though these are particularly valued by service users. There are fears that social work with adults is at risk and may not have a future. Provisions requiring user involvement in education and ensuring central funding to support it seem also to be at risk. Reactionary influences pushing for more traditional research approaches and narrower more controlling and medicalised approaches to social work also seem to be growing in significance.

By Peter Beresford, Professor of Social Policy at Brunel University