Social Services Essay

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Social services are provisions that society makes to support individuals in need. Developed in the west to supplement family care, social services are found across the world and delivered mainly by social workers in various settings (state, voluntary agencies and commercial enterprises) in a mixed economy of care.” Bureaucratized under the new” managerial-ism and market forces, social services cover children, families, older people, disabled people, mentally ill people and offenders. Social workers care for and about people within a tension-filled environment that complicates delivery.

An important issue is what causes need – personal inadequacies or structural factors. The Settlement Movement favored explanations involving structural causes. The Charity Organization Society (COS) originally popularized personal pathology, dividing claimants into deserving and undeserving ones. The former received stigmatized and inadequate services; the latter nothing. This tension continues as ”welfare dependency.” Other sources of tension are: care-control dilemmas; low professional status; charitable giving or societal entitlements; state or market providers; and public or personal responsibility. Professionals and claimants have challenged analyses based on individual pathologies and demanded change through radical social work. Legislative fiat and social policies constrain their aspirations through reduced public expenditures and shifting service boundaries. Social workers’ remit is contested by other professionals who claim this territory and dominate interagency operations.

Marketization privileges private providers and leaves those unable to access the market with stigmatized and inadequate resources. Globalization and GATS (General Agreement on Trades and Services) have intensified the trend in health, social services and education to increase privatization, profit-making opportunities for multinational companies, and personal self-reliance. To divest the state of responsibility for service provision, claimants are increasingly forced to find work. This reflects persistent strains between family, state and community support. State failure in moving people into gainful employment continues under today’s New Deal in the UK and Workfare in the USA. This traps social workers into stretching inadequate resources, balancing personal pathology with social causation, and apportioning responsibilities amongst stakeholders instead of practicing holistically to ensure individuals acquire a valued place in society and access to services.


  • Dominelli, L. (2004) Social Work: Theory and Practice for a Changing Profession. Polity Press, Cambridge.

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