Social policy affects the everyday life of every British citizen through their lifetime, it’s determined by the government, and is made up of measures and interventions that are implemented in relation to the needs of society. The definition of what the needs of society are vary. Social policy aims to address the problems society faces and to protect the welfare of the state. The legislations and social policies which are introduced to cover welfare is an influence on what work social workers carry out. There is variances in social policy depending on various factors, eg which political party is in power this is down to parties having different ideological views, and another factor is the state of the economy. The political party elected in a general election form the ministerial cabinet, members of the cabinet all have different roles eg Jeremy Hunt is health secretary therefore he is responsible for the health sector within the UK. It’s the role of the cabinet to introduce and amend legislation within the UK, they do this through parliament. The process of introducing a legislation begins with the white paper this is a formal written proposal which involves an introduction and an outline of the aims of the proposal. If the proposal is accepted it is then called a Bill. The bill is reviewed by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Once both houses have agreed on the bill Royal assent can be granted which allows the bill to become an Act of Parliament.
The main influence on social policy and state welfare is the ideological perspectives of the different political parties; the party in power has the most influence. The ideology of political parties depends on where they sit on the political spectrum, eg Labour sit at the centre left of the spectrum and Conservatives sit at the right. Main ideological perspectives are Socialism, Liberalism, Conservatism, Social Democracy and Marxism. Ideologies regarding welfare from the left tend to be collectivist whereas ideologies from the right tend to be individualist. Collectivist ideologies support welfare and believe in achieving goals together whereas individualist ideologies are traditionally against welfare. Political ideology offers; Values, ideas, visions and theories and are commonly described as a set of beliefs on how society should be ran and how it can be achieved. Ideologies influence how parties understand and determine the needs of society, different parties and ideologies distinguish needs differently.
The state and non-state services began to develop with the ‘poor law’. The Poor Law amendment act took effect in 1834. Prior to the amendment ‘families or individuals seeking welfare assistance, were dealt with under a locally administered system of ‘relief’, often known as the as the ‘old’ Poor Law. The types and levels of assistance offered varied by region, but by the end of the eighteenth century local parishes tended to provide assistance to able-bodied people via what was referred to as the ‘allowance system’.’ (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012, p.18) The old Poor law act began to face criticism by the early 19th century, critics argued that the system was too generous and that it encouraged idleness and it allowed people to take the easy option instead of going out to work. It could be argued that the critics point of views were similar to that of neo liberals and right wing critics of the welfare state. In 1832 a Royal Commission on the Poor Law was undertaken, its aim was to produce proposals for reform. ‘The Poor Law Report had argued that in order to deter bogus, unnecessary applications for relief, the position of those receiving support needed to be made considerably worse (less eligible) than that of even the lowest independent labourer.’ (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012, p.22) In these times ‘needs’ were identified as ‘shelter, food and perhaps some very limited medical care’ (Blakemore and Warwick-Booth, n.d.) Social democracy influenced the poor law.
One influence on political parties and there view of the welfare system is based on the Beveridge report. The Beveridge report is one of the main contributors to the British welfare system. The report was carried out in 1942 post world war 2 by a gentleman named Sir William Beveridge, the report based on social insurance was made up of a summary of principles necessary to banish poverty and proposed cradle to grave security. From his findings he proposed a system of social security which would be ran and determined by the government. From his report he identified ‘5 giant evils’- Want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. Political parties since the Beveridge report was published tend to base their ideologies and legislations round the 5 giant evils that Beveridge identified. The Beveridge report still has an influence on modern day politics. Beveridge’s report ‘established the need for policies of full employment and a national health service.’ Post war social policy led to ‘relatively full employment’ Health care and education were now free to all and housing provision helped alleviate chronic levels of poverty and destitution.’ (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012) ‘Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said British population never had it so good’ (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012)
Another major influence was social democracy and the development of social policy and social work after 1945. Previous to this classic liberalism was the main ideology, they key principal of this was that of the minimal state. ‘Laissez-faire, became the key defining principle of this era’ (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012, p.45). This was until it began to be challenged by philosophers, organisations and activists when they began to question classic liberalism. ‘They challenged the notion that individuals weren’t necessarily responsible for their own misfortunes, drawing attention to evidence pointing to the wider structural, economic causes of social ills.'(Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012, p.45) The social democratic perspective believe that ‘ economic and social problems experienced by service users result, primarily, from structural factors which are beyond their control such as employment ,poverty, poor educational opportunities, low wages and discrimination.’ They also believe that ‘tackling the causes of economic and social ills is primarily the states responsibility. Its economic and social policies should be geared towards expanding opportunities so as to ensure that all are able to achieve their potential. It should also seek to eradicate the ‘barriers’ that prevent marginalised social groups from accessing ‘inclusion’.’ Social democrats believe that ‘the welfare state has a crucial, positive role to play in mitigating the difficulties experienced by service users. The post-war welfare state is seen as a hugely positive development,’ Benefits should be improved and eligibility should be widened in a way that enhances people’s opportunities to secure ‘inclusion’. Social work has a crucial role in enabling service users, and in helping to meet their needs.’ Social Inclusion and exclusion are an important aspect of welfare. (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012, p. 40) Social inclusion is ‘all people feel valued, their differences are respected, and their basic needs are met so they can live in dignity.'(Abetteryukon.ca, 2015) Social exclusion is ‘process of being shut out from the social, economic, political and cultural systems which contribute to the integration of a person into the community.’ (Abetteryukon.ca, 2015) Social democracy led to an improvement in social services after 1945. Social democracy was later challenged by the new right.
The neo-liberal perspective believes ‘well-meaning but morally degenerative interventions have caused the problems they were designed to solve. Overgenerous welfare and overbearing ‘Nanny State’ have indicated a range of dysfunctional patterns of behaviour, encouraging dependency, destroying self help and voluntarism.’ They also believe that ‘It is not the states responsibility to seek to secure the economic/social needs of individuals. It should merely seek to create an environment whereby individuals can secure their own welfare needs through work, or in a private ‘welfare market’. Those unable/unwilling to look after themselves should rely primarily on voluntary/charitable provision.’ They also believe that ‘state welfare has ‘seduced’ service users into a state of dependency, and it needs to be drastically curtailed. A very basic safety net can be provided, but benefits should be cut, means-tested and eligibility tightened. Social workers should cease being politically correct, sentimental ‘do-gooders’ and should concentrate on ‘correcting’ dysfunctional behaviour, instilling appropriate norms and values, and stimulating self-help, hard work and thrift.’ (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012, p.40) Conservatives are traditionally known to have a neo liberal approach as they are on the right of the political spectrum. The liberal approach was most prevalent under Margaret Thatcher, the modern day conservative government do still have neo liberal aspects of their leadership however it could be argued that the conservative party are now a mix of neo liberal and social conservatism. The Neo-liberal approach is a new revised version of traditional liberalism and is a modern version of a tradition laissez-faire attitude. Neo-liberalism is a move away from traditional liberalism that had a laissez faire attitude towards society, they felt that a laissez faire attitude led to more freedom however neo-liberals believe that the state must play a role in the economy if the aims of the government and needs of society are to be met. Under Margaret Thatcher the conservatives promoted individualism- The New right. The election of Thatcher is thought by many to have ended a social democratic era. The changes her government made were significant. Key policies included income tax cuts, privatisation of publically owned industries, the demise of trade unions and work place rights and the introduction of the Help to buy scheme. Cuts led to ‘unprecedented, sustained levels of high employment.’ (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012) This era also had a huge effect on social policy and welfare which created problems for social workers. ‘Significant reductions in the value of social security. Child, unemployment, disability and lone parent benefits were cut, as were housing subsidies and the value of the state pension’ Unemployment and disability benefits- was tightened, the assumption being that many fit and able people were simply choosing not to work’ Conservative ministers used language similar to that used by the architects of the Poor Law amendment Act, claiming that the ‘pain’ being suffered was a ‘price’ worth paying in the fight against welfare dependency.’ (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012) Social workers were affected due to the cuts social services faced. This added to the workload of social workers and it also limited the help they could offer service users.
Marxists believe that ‘capitalism is the root cause of economic and social ills. It is an economic system based upon greed, exploitation and insatiable thirst for profit. Businesses rely on the fear of poverty to compel workers to engage in low-waged, exploitative labour. Until it’s abolished genuine, fundamental social and economic improvement is impossible.’ They say ‘The state in Capitalist societies is not a neutral entity that objectively and compassionately responds to the needs of citizens. On the contrary, it always ultimately acts in the interest of business. Social policies are, in reality, geared towards meeting economic needs of businesses rather than the welfare needs of citizens.’ ‘The welfare states (and social work) perform contradictory roles. On the one hand, they mitigate suffering, but on the other they benefit capitalism. Welfare services that genuinely promote well-being should be welcomed, but the limitations of reform must be acknowledged. Social workers should seek to reduce suffering in the ‘here and now’, but they also have a political role to play in fighting for a better society.’ (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012, p. 40) Labour sit centre left of the political spectrum traditionally their ideology would be that they had a social democratic prospective however under New Labour you could argue that they have Neo-Liberal aspects to their approach albeit not to the same extent as the conservative party. Under Tony Blair New labour operated under the approach ‘Third way’. New labour believe that the ‘third way is between Old Left and New Right’ (Driver and Martell, n.d.) The third way aims were defined ‘The Third Way is in favour of growth, entrepreneurship, enterprise and wealth creation but it is also in favour of greater social justice and it sees the state playing a major role in bringing this about.’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/458626.stm New Labours approach was designed to ‘rebuild Britain’ and the encouragement of stakeholders and social inclusion were aspects of the approach, the reform of the welfare state was one of the main goals of Tony Blair’s government . ‘Some argue that Labours policies did represent a renewed social democracy’They point for instance, to the labours introduction of minimum wage, its commitment to the NHS and its pledge to eliminate child poverty as evidence of a social democratic influence. (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012) New Labour targeted Social exclusion, they introduced the Social Exclusion unit. The aim of the unit was to try and prevent social exclusion, reintegrating people into society who may have become excluded and ensure mainstream services are accessible to everyone. The unit has carried out work in areas such as Mental Health, Jobs and Enterprise in deprived areas and a better education for children in care. Between 1997-2004 the social exclusion unit published 29 reports in 5 areas which led to reforms and new legislations being introduced. Under labour Surestart centres were introduced to benefit Children and families who previously may have suffered exclusion
Coalition government made up of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were in power from 2010. The coalition ‘initiated a process of reducing and dismantling welfare rights’ (Cunningham and Cunningham, 2012) It can be argued that under this government Neo-Liberal views became more prominent eg Cameron’s Big society. In this he stated that he wanted to tackle dependency by creating a ‘culture of responsibility’ where communities worked together to solve their own problems and he also wanted to reform welfare services. The Austerity agenda was introduced, the aim was to make reductions in public services to help reduce the UKs deficit and the welfare state. This effected Social workers because it led to cuts in budgets and staff which has an effect on how social workers carry out their work.
Following the coalition, a majority conservative government was elected. In the time since the election the government have proposed cuts to working tax credits, this would have had a huge effect on many hardworking people in the UK. The Lords voted against the proposal which meant it couldn’t be passed. They are also carrying on with the Austerity Agenda with further cuts proposed for already stretched public services. These are all things that suggest that the government are reverting back to Neo-liberal ideology and moving further away from Beveridge and Social democracy. In terms of Social services the government have recently pledged to speed up adoption times and they have also introduced a scheme to help improve failing local social service sectors, these implementations should hopefully help improve social services in the future. Under this government charity implementations such as food banks are busier than ever, it could be argued that this may be down to cuts in welfare provisions.
I conclude Beveridge’s influence on social policy is in decline and is being superseded by a neo-liberal approach. It could be argued that Beveridge’s influence had a resurgence under the labour government of 1997, with funding going into the benefits system and the NHS however following the re-election of the Conservatives, evidence points that Neo liberal ideology is the dominating factor that influences the assessment of needs and provision of services with evidence such as Conservative government proposals to cut working tax credits backing this point.
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