This assignment will discuss the historical developments and origins of social work in Britain during the 19th century. It will assess the impact of both external and internal forces during this time period, specifically examining how these forces contributed to the establishment of the social work agenda. The functionalist and Marxist conflict perspectives will be utilized in examining the developments and origins of social work. Ultimately, the assignment will conclude with an evaluation on how the influences of the 19th century are relevant to social work practice today.
According to Deacon et Al (1997), George (1998), and Barns et Al, the existence of social work is predominantly determined by its emergence from a social context. Despite external influences such as globalization and pressure to compete in the international economic market, which impact how social policy is enforced, it remains true that social po...
licy is linked to a specific society or community. To comprehend the origins of British social work, it is crucial to recognize the prevailing socio-political and economic climate during a particular historical period.
Harris and Mcdonald (2000) as well as Harris and Yueh- Ching Chou (2001) discuss the various aspects of social work. Jordan (1984:13) questions whether being a social worker primarily involves helping and caring, or if it also includes official, bureaucratic, legal, and potentially coercive powers and responsibilities. Social work emerged in the mid-nineteenth century as a response to poverty during a period of economic prosperity in Victorian society. This era witnessed significant advancements in trade, industry, finance, agriculture, forestry, and fishing. The success of the privileged individuals during this time was attributed to their personal hard work.
According to Henriques (1968), poverty wa
not seen as a societal issue and individuals were blamed for their own poverty. The concept of poverty was not given much attention by the law and it was believed to be the result of individuals' own actions and an unfortunate requirement. Historically, the COS (Charity Organisation Society) is considered to be the originator of social work. One important aspect of the COS was its emphasis on individual casework, a method that is still apparent in contemporary social work. This approach can be traced back to Victorian London where the prevalence of poverty, crime, and begging was widespread.
In these environments, genuine people in poverty were in need of help. Holman (1986) further explains that the COS recognized and acknowledged that the poor law system was inadequate and actually worsened the situation of the poor. Most importantly, the significant growth of other charitable organizations replicated responsibilities with the main COS and had an impact on the poor individuals. These two factors disillusioned and demoralized people from engaging in empowering programs. There was no distinction between deserving and undeserving, which led people to become complacent and rely solely on poor law/charity for support instead of striving for independence. As a result, family structures weakened, and this affected society as a whole because families were separated in the workhouse.
According to Middleton (1971), cited in Holman (1986), the Poor Law not only destroyed families but also had a detrimental impact on the most important unit of society, resulting in irreversible damage to personalities. Welshman et al argue that the implementation of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and the establishment of Workhouses were initiated to address societal
changes and introduced the principle of less eligibility. The previous Poor Law, which relied on local parishes for relief and was based on an agricultural context, proved to be inadequate and ineffective in meeting current social needs and demands. However, Blaug (1963) counters by stating that the Poor Law demoralized the working class, spurred population growth, and paradoxically perpetuated poverty despite its efforts to alleviate it. This is attributed to the shift from agriculture to industrialization and urbanization.
The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was created by a decentralized rural society during the Industrial Revolution. This society had limited resources and techniques in government and administration, impacting their performance and work quality. The principle of less eligibility, reinforced through the "workhouse trial," allowed Poor Law Authorities to determine if individuals seeking support were genuine and would willingly enter the harsh workhouse. It is important to note that the role of social work was to assist deserving individuals in need, distinguishing them from those deemed unworthy and destined for the workhouse.
According to Wilson (1977), the gatekeeping role of social work was established to prevent unregulated small charities, which were causing confusion and performing overlapping functions. Woodroofe (1962) further explains that these small charities posed a threat by undermining genuine philanthropic efforts to implement effective measures supported by charity. These charities were accused of entertaining cunning paupers who took advantage of private philanthropic gifts to avoid going to the workhouse. Therefore, the concern regarding social work emerged as a result of the transformation of philanthropic gifts from the Charity Organisation society, which was involved with workhouse administration. Wilson (1977) comments that this transformation of philanthropic gifts was
deemed necessary due to the chaos and misguided regulations within charity.
The COS implemented an inspection and repair of operations and introduced new relief distribution rules to ensure that deserving poor individuals would receive aid to rebuild their lives. According to Woodroofe (1962), the COS aimed to run the Workhouse strictly and efficiently, with paupers designated for charity being sent to the COS, while those designated for the workhouse were sent there. This system aimed to restore the morale of the paupers and maintain control through the Poor Law and charitable organizations. Parry et al (1979) note that membership in the COS was based on strict methods and values, leading to the development of social work. The emerging professional elite also influenced and adopted professional procedures, shaping and determining the operations of the COS.
Appraisals were implemented to assess moral character and behavior, including evaluations of lifestyle, personal history, financial situation, and potential need for additional aid. The collected information was then submitted to the local Charity Organisation Society Committee, which would develop an action plan for the Caseworker to follow. The action plan might involve referring the individual to another charitable organization, reevaluating their circumstances, directing them back to the Poor Law system, arranging individual meetings, or providing reformative intervention.
The philanthropic gift has undergone a transformation from being an unskilled responsibility to becoming an organized professional activity. Shave (2009) emphasizes that the approach to societal work was rebranding individuals to adapt to the new capitalist society they were part of, which created tensions with faith and political relations. The COS insisted on distinguishing the root causes of individual troubles and identifying personal issues with the individual
themselves, in order to intervene more directly in their lives.
The attack continued until World War II when the government intervened directly and implemented social work intervention. According to Walsh et al (2000), significant changes in British society, economy, and politics during the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in new social problems, economic relationships, political institutions, and legislation. All of these were established by the government to ensure stability and control over society. Population growth, urbanization, and employment shifts were the key factors during the 19th century that greatly influenced the origins of social work. The introduction of industrialization led to a transformation in family structures from subsistence work to factory work. As machinery was introduced, jobs shifted from farms to mills.
People were lured to labor in factories and moved to urban areas in search of employment, leading to overpopulation. This shift also transformed the job market, as the decline in agriculture, forestry, and fishing resulted from the rise of manufacturing, mining, and industry—thus, urbanization. Consequently, this factor contributed to the deterioration of social living conditions.
Housing shortage, poverty, crime, overcrowding, sanitation issues, disease outbreaks, labor development, widespread poverty and diseases. The impoverished individuals were unable to provide for themselves. Children experienced malnutrition, abuse, and exploitation. According to Taylor (2008), it was disheartening to witness the denial of children's childhood and their destitution. Some children worked extended hours in factories to contribute to the family's income.
The introduction of the Parliamentary Reform Act 1832 marked a significant shift in political power and societal change. Previously, a small group of elected individuals held the power but often prioritized their own interests over the general population's well-being and public issues.
Their focus was on maintaining law, order, and national security within the country. However, with the establishment of a democratic parliament through this reform act, things began to change. Additionally, traditional authority faced challenges from an emerging class of entrepreneurs and industrialists who posed a threat.
This led to various segments of the population gaining prolonged political power. According to Walsh et Al (2000), as political power spread throughout society, the government's focus shifted from maintaining law and order and the economy to becoming more involved in social welfare issues. However, the government's role primarily extended to regulating and controlling social problem areas rather than promoting social change. This role is described as that of a 'nightwatchman' by Driver and Martell (1998). These findings highlight that there are different approaches to interpreting and explaining the growth and origins of social work as an organized and regulated profession. Seed (1973) identified three basic stages in the development of social work: Individual casework, which originated from COS Woodroofe, (1962).
Lewis (1995) discusses three stages of social work: social disposition, social action, and social welfare. Social disposition was focused on poverty alleviation and aligned with the Poor Law, but it was also linked to the Charity Organization Society (COS). Social action promoted settlement movements in both Britain and America. Parry et al (1979) explain that these three stages are interconnected and have reappeared throughout the history of social work in various forms. Notable figures like Octavia Hill can be associated with both the COS and the settlement movement, as well as with the development of social welfare. Hill stressed the importance of individuality and training, which continue to influence our
understanding of social issues.
However, there were some negative judgments regarding the attacks and legitimacy of providing housing to impoverished individuals and collecting rent from them. The issue of power was emphasized in the circumstances outlined by Wohl (1971). Initially, Canon Bannett supported the COS but later established Tonybee Hall in East London as a means to promote and strengthen social change. This resulted in their responsibilities as social workers, group workers, and reformers. The effectiveness and smooth operation of the COS relied on both Poor Law and charity. In certain cases, hospital medical social workers also took on the roles of social workers and financial administrators.
According to Wilson (1977) and Webber (2001), the COS implemented strategies and structures to ensure the success of their mission and objectives. One of their main tasks was to collaborate with other charitable organizations to prevent conflict and competition. They were successful in establishing a positive relationship with public assistance, charity, and poverty law. It was believed that charity would be the primary resource for assistance, and in extreme cases, individuals would volunteer for work/housing.
COS established an organizational structure that was systematic and consistent to assist those who were in demand. The initial purpose of COS was not to provide charity, but to coordinate other charitable administrations. However, with the development of COS territory commissions, they became well established and took on the role of providing support themselves. The main task of COS was to oversee the process of determining whether individuals qualified for support based on eligibility criteria.
The roots of software pattern today can be traced back to the procedure of investigation, data collection, and systematic examination of individual
circumstances, which are still prevalent in software appraisal today. This has led to the establishment of eligibility criteria in various types of support, including financial aid and efforts to enhance people's well-being and promote independence. However, despite these measures being in place, there was a dilemma of not providing assistance to those who needed it the most but were not recognized as destitute. The work of the COS (Charity Organization Society) has been criticized for being harsh, inaccurate in distinguishing between those in need and undeserving individuals, and providing insufficient aid to address the demand. Webb (1926) argued that the implementation of poor laws and charity assistance based on the COS's principles had little impact on alleviating poverty or the misery of the poor.
Finally, the Council of Social Work (COS) recognized the need for systematic preparation programs, which are now considered an important aspect of societal work. Moreover, there was a growing understanding that providing public assistance is a responsibility shared by both the state and families/individuals. The COS and individual casework were confronted with diverse perspectives and ideas due to the expansion of social work into various areas such as psychopathology and hospital casework, which sought alternative approaches to the traditional COS approach. According to Parry et al. (1979), social work as administration can be traced back to the time preceding the establishment of the COS, when Poor Law Relieving Officers were responsible for carrying out the duties outlined in the Poor Law Act of 1601.
Their role was further stimulated by the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 when they ensured the construction of ''less eligibility '' which was approved by the Report of the
Royal Commission on Poor Laws. Military officers had to ensure relief in whatever form was less attractive than the lowest paid worker. Boards of Guardians administered the Poor Law at local level reporting to a central Poor Law Board which controlled workhouses and regulating issues relating to Poor Law nationally. As the Poor Law Officers needed to carry out assessments, exercise judgement, an understanding of human needs/problems and financial management their quality of work was reported to be of poor quality and inconsistent. It is argued that they would have been better off with some training.
In 1884, a National Poor Law Officers Association was established in order to improve the status of these officers. However, the formation of this association did not change the perception of the public they served. According to Parry et al (1979), the settlement movement initiated by Canonm Bernett in the 1880s can be seen as a precursor to social work as a form of social action. This movement shared several beliefs that were supported and aligned with the COS.
Although they had different practices, both individuals shared the same moral belief in the power of education. They agreed that financial assistance alone was not enough to eradicate poverty from society; empowerment through knowledge and education for individuals and communities was crucial. They also believed that those who were more privileged had a responsibility to support the less privileged. To increase awareness about poverty, its causes, and its impact, they participated in training courses and provided opportunities for education at the university level. According to Gilchrist and Jeffs, the movement was based on three main ideas: conducting scientific research to understand the
root causes of poverty, recognizing education as a means of liberation and expanding opportunities for impoverished individuals, and improving local communities through leadership.
The three rules of the COS individualistic attack varied from the COS group and community instruction, emphasizing the significance of working together to alleviate poverty and improve quality of life. Cannon advocated for educated individuals to connect with impoverished communities and gain firsthand experience from them, promoting mutual understanding and community development. However, as the colony movement grew, support from the COS declined. Ultimately, the original ideals of the Pioneer colony movement were altered by professionalism and integrated into other professions.
According to Forsthe and Jordan (2002), critics have pointed out that in the nineteenth century, the single casework practiced was pathologizing and faulting individuals, without considering the broader context of disadvantage and poverty. On the other hand, some argue that social work was ineffective. Brewer and Lait (1980) argue that social work was broad and encompassed various roles and functions, instead of being narrow and more focused. In addition, Woorton (1959) questions whether social work deserves a professional status, as it historically carried out instructions from traditional health and welfare agencies. The blame for social work being disorganized was then shifted to the lack of education and training. This argument has been further expanded due to recommendations from the Barclay report, which called for a broader involvement in social action.
After examining the origins of social work, it is important to develop a forward-thinking model for future practice. According to Mullaly (1997), social work should aim to assist marginalized individuals in adapting to societal demands or changing these structures to suit their individual circumstances.
Payne (1962: 2) further suggests that social work should incorporate three key elements: individualist-reformist, socialist-collectivist, and reflexive-therapeutic approaches. However, Mullaly (1997) argues that even if a social worker adopts a progressive approach, they will inevitably support the society's framework, legislation, and statutory requirements. This viewpoint is supported by Pinker (1982), who states that social workers do not have the authority to act against the system that employs them, and it is unfair to use service users' problems as a means to transform welfare politics.
In essence, two accounts have been utilized to explain the emergence of public assistance at the provincial level in the nineteenth century, as previously discussed. The functionalist approach supports societal policies that aim to solve societal issues and promote stability. This aligns with the events of the 19th century when the government intervened and participated in public assistance as a means to address the requirements brought about by Industrialisation and urbanization. The government had to intervene to fulfill the unmet needs that contributed to social problems within the population.
According to Walsh et Al (2005), critics argue that the government failed to recognize the emergence of societal class relationships, leading to a conflict between classes. The process of industrialization and urbanization in Britain introduced Marxist conflict perspective, which disrupted the social order and relationships. As mentioned earlier, a tradition existed where a select few protected their own interests. This privileged minority owned the means of production, such as mills and other productive establishments. The rest of the population were workers who produced goods that were sold for profit controlled by a small group of employers.
In return for their work, the workers received meager
rewards that were not enough to sustain their well-being. This system is known as Capitalism. The employer and the worker are engaged in a struggle due to the unfair distribution of power and income. As a result of this conflict, public assistance programs were established. The emergence of capitalist economic relationships led to a situation where the employer became more powerful and the worker became powerless. In response, the workers formed labor movements and unions that challenged the status quo, leading to the introduction of public assistance provisions.
According to Walsh et Al (2005), the period described by Anderson (1990) as a "decommodified" period in a capitalist state is characterized by Capitalism transforming all aspects of life into marketable "commodities" that can be bought and sold. This includes the availability of housing, healthcare, education, and leisure, which have become commodities that individuals must be able to afford in order to access. As a result, the concept of strong labor movements arose in order to provide free and decommodified forms of public welfare. This puts pressure on the state to provide welfare and intervene on behalf of its citizens.
The struggle attack argues that province intercession should be decomodified to avoid further category struggle, with a redistribution of wealth and resources funded by revenue enhancements on affluent people. This was mostly seen at the end of the nineteenth century. The essay examines the history and development of societal work, focusing on the main forces that have influenced modern practice. Internal and external forces, such as population growth, riural-urban migration, and the Industrial Revolution, have been identified as key factors in this discussion. Three key principles have emerged in
the context of societal work- individualistic/therapeutic, administrative, and leftist.
These principles continue to exist today as the foundation of pattern. After considering the factors that have influenced the evolution of societal work, it is important to recognize that the field is shaped and governed by the prevailing social, economic, and political agenda at any given time. Above all, the 19th century is known for its significant advancements and origins of societal work.
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