Book review: The Lady from the Welfare by Alison Thompson

Are You the Lady From The Welfare?

Alison Thompson

Pen Press

ISBN 9781906710538; £8.99

Memoirs written by social workers should make for powerful books, writes Rob Fountain.

Working with people in vulnerable situations gives a social worker access to the extremes of the human condition.

Alison Thompson’s reflections on her career are certainly full of anecdotes, revealing the good, the bad and the ugly that pass through a statutory fieldwork office.

What is the audience for such an account, though? Social workers all collect their own stories so, although there may be some interest in spotting “I had one like that”, reading about another practitioner’s caseload is ultimately unfulfilling.

This book, promoted as a defence of a beleaguered profession, appears to be aimed at non-social workers. Readers will certainly gain a sense of the challenges faced by statutory workers and will meet interesting people and situations they may otherwise never encounter.

In pursuit (presumably) of accessibility the depth of explanation is, though, often superficial. Indeed, in several places, the lack of analysis or lazy acceptance of a layman’s interpretation may even reinforce negative views that see defects, not individuals, or view complex organisational decisions as unthinkingly or callously arrived at.

Most interesting is the changing context that Thompson witnessed in her 37-year career. In particular, the experience of generic and specialist teams and the practicalities of covering a rural patch raise issues relevant to current debates about the organisation of social care.

Rob Fountain is head of training at short breaks charity Shared Care Network

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