The Social Work Business

By John Harris.
ISBN 0415224888

Social work in the pre-business era, according to this book, was
free to set its own agenda.

Then came the neo-liberal policies of the Conservative governments
in the 1980s and 1990s – through community care policies,
marketisation, managerialism, performance indicators and the

Although the story has been told before, no other book has pursued
this makeover – the complete inversion of social work’s aims – so
rigorously and in such detail.

Along the way the author includes a wickedly accurate picture of
the Central Council for Education and Training’s flailing efforts
to hitch a ride on this particular wave; a sceptical, and probably
justified assessment of the voluntary sector’s role in the process;
and an account of the Labour’s government’s modification – but not
undoing – of the business ethos.

John Harris might have acknowledged the relatively larger space for
public, non-market objectives within New Labour’s social policy.
For example is Best Value only to be understood as a
“quasi-business regime”? Yet, when he presses his argument a little
too far on occasion we have a clearer, more detailed understanding
of the essential direction that the social work profession is

John Pierson is senior lecturer, institute of social work
and applied social studies, Staffordshire University.

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