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Historical Context of Social Work in the UK

By Edited Jan 15, 2016 1 1


Pre-victorian values centered on religious organisations and the role of families.  The old poor law –acts of 1597 and 1601 defined the English poor for next 230 years. There was a distinction between those who could work but wouldn’t and would work but couldn’t.  The Poor Law commission 1832 developed harsher attitude towards the provision of relief.  The New Poor Law of 1834 abolished out relief and saw the establishment of the workhouse.

Social Work in the Victorian Era

In the Victorian era, the late 18th – 19th Centuries saw fundamental change to the economy. There was a difference in the view of social work in the 1950’s between advocates of social casework, and those who suggested a more modest role for social workers (Wilson et al. 2008).  

Social Work: An Introduction to Contemporary Practice
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Social Work in the 1970's and 1980's

The 1970’s saw the emergence of ‘radical social work’ and it’s opposition to individually oriented practice (Wilson et al. 2008).

In the 1980’s, the publication of the Barclay report (1982) was intended to clarify the purpose and function of social workers, whether they were employed in the statutory or voluntary sector (Wilson et al. 2008).  The 1980’s also saw a more top-down process, in which a progressive agenda was promoted by both academics and managers (Hatton, 2008).

The 1990's and Anti-Oppressive Social Work

In the 1990’s, anti-oppressive practice emerged, along with the view of social work as an evaluative process (Hatton, 2008).

Oppression, or the devaluing of people, can be seen on three levels – personal, institutional and cultural.  Personal oppression is rooted in individual beliefs.  Institutional oppression is embedded in the policies and practices of social authority by being enshrined in legislation.   Cultural oppression through the values and norms that a society recognises as acceptable at a particular historical time, which are unlikely to be challenged.   These forms of oppression are interative are likely to feed off each other, and therefore oppression should be dismantled at all aspects (Dominelli, 2008). Discrimination is just one aspect of oppression.   In fact, defining oppression as discrimination could be used as a tool by those who are not oppressed to restrict or deny that oppression is taking place. Oppressive dynamics are based in a world view of superiority and inferiority, and the dynamics of oppression can and should be resisted (Dominelli, 2008).  Therefore, social workers should be proactive in challenging social inequalities, undertaking research and forming alliances with others to eradicate systematic oppression.

Anti-Oppressive Social Work Theory and Practice
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Lena Dominelli is a leading thoerist and thinker on Anti-Oppressive Social Work. This text is extremely understandable and key for any Anti-Oppressive Social Work essay.

The Importance of the Historical Context of Social Work

This historical outline identifies key debates including social work in the statutory sector versus the voluntary sector, the role of the state and specialisation versus genericism in social work (Wilson et al. 2008).



Apr 5, 2013 2:24am
Essential and interesting info, well done!
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  1. Wilson, K., Ruch, G., Lymbery, M. and Cooper, A. Social Work: An Introduction to Contemporary Practice. Essex: Pearson Education Ltd., 2008.
  2. Davies, A. "Celebrating 100 years of Social Work ." www.iass.bham.ac.uk. 1/04/2011 <Web >
  3. Bernard, A., Horner, N., and Wild, J. The Value base of Social Work and Social Care: An Active Learning Handbook. Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2008.

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