The Social Work Business

By John Harris.
ISBN 0 415 224 888   

Social work in the pre-business era, according to this trenchant
volume, was free to set its own agenda and social services
departments, suffused with a social democratic ethos, to shape
their own distinctive policies. Then the business era arrived with
the Conservative governments from the 1980s.

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

Along the way Harris includes a wickedly accurate picture of the
Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work’s
flailing efforts to hitch a ride on this particular wagon; 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

Harris might have acknowledged the relatively larger space for
public, non-market objectives within new Labour social

For example, is Best Value to be understood only as a
“quasi-business regime”? Yet if he presses his argument a little
too far on occasion we have a much clearer, more detailed
understanding of the direction that social work is taking.

John Pierson is senior lecturer, Institute of Social Work
and Applied Social Studies, Staffordshire University.

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