Social work, as a profession, originated in the 19th century in England. The initial challenge was to identify the decisive role of social work: Advocacy or reaching out with social needs of individuals. This essay attempts to focus on the contemporary role and functions of the social work in its aspects of diversity, complexity and variety of setting especially in the 21st century. It critically evaluates the way social welfare system is being delivered, the ideology behind the change of policies, and how the changes have influenced social welfare in the UK. The main objective is to discuss the issues and challenges relating to the role of the social worker and to value the significance of the development in social work.
Function of Social work in the UK and the Role of a Social Worker
An attempt to explore the role and function of the social worker should address one fundamental question – ‘What is social work?’ Apart from some established ideas of a social work, it is also significant to ask, ‘What is it that represents social work?’, ‘What skills and expertise are expected of social workers?’, ‘What training and education is appropriate/ adequate for social workers?’, and ‘What are the roles of the social worker that might set them apart from other professions?’
Cree V., finds it almost impossible to find a simple definition of social work with which everyone is likely to agree. (Cree, 2003, p.3). Beresford and Croft capture the fluidity of the function and scope of social work. They say, “All the signs are that the roles and tasks of social work have not been and are still not well known to the public or to service users. Studies of public and service user understandings from the 1980s and 2000s both provide evidence to this effect” (Beresford, Adshead and Croft, 2007). As they continue to explicate the reason for this flexibility, they note disengagement between producers of definitions and the users of the same. “The fact that service users may not know what the nature and scope of social work practice resulted in one current text recommending that social workers needed to be much clearer to service users about what they do” (Beresford, Adshead and Croft, 2007)
According to Thompson (2000) 'Social work is what social workers do. This need - based activity is presumed to enhance the scope of the definition of social work. Payne, (2006) says, "The aim of social work, [therefore], is improvement in social life, increasing cooperation among human being and increasing solidarity in society. However the largely convincing and widely used description of the concept is that social work is “a profession which promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being.
Despite differences in approaches, a crucial objective of social work from its outlook is about assisting, supporting and enabling the community. For the very purpose one constancy in the history of social work has been its concern for those who suffer from the negative effects of social inequalities. For many this apprehension with inequality and poverty has become growingly important since it seen to be the rising gap in contemporary societies among the wealthy and the deprived.
In a context of contested concepts, Askeland and Payne (Askeland and Payne, 2001) raise critical question of ‘agency’ to “validate” the characterization of social work. These definitions could emerge from the perspectives of politicians, social workers, policy makers and practitioners. When these groups become agencies of definitions, they are “fuelled by vested interests and media representation” Of crucial significance for this discussion is ‘what represent the prime function of social work’. According to Clark “Social work is committed to rights and justice” (Clark, 2002). Rights and justice here are to be taken as the motif of social work...