Key Concepts in Social Work - a personal and philosophical meander


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Social Work is in the social justice business. But what do we mean by social justice? How do overcome the dangers of paternalism and institutionalisation? What do we mean by citizenship? What is the link between needs and rights?

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Key Concepts in Social Work - a personal and philosophical meander

  1. 1. A personal and philosophical meander through the worlds of social work and social care Talk for social work students at Hertfordshire University by Dr Simon Duffy on 2nd April 2014
  2. 2. • What’s wrong with the Professional Gift Model? • What does personalisation really mean? • What’s the difference between personal or individual budgets? • Why invent self-directed support? • What is citizenship and Independent Living? • Why we need rights as well as needs? • What are the keys to citizenship? • What is social work? Exploring the meaning of key words and concepts.
  3. 3. 1. The Justice Problem
  4. 4. Ursula Le Guin Honour can exist anywhere, love can exist anywhere, but justice can exist only among people who found their relationships upon it.
  5. 5. John Rawls All social values - liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self- respect - are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any, or all, of these values is to everyone's advantage.
  6. 6. Equality of income is important, but it is even more important that we treat each other as equals - whatever our differences.
  7. 7. 2. The Institution
  8. 8. At the age of 23 I visited an institution. The experience was life changing. I wondered: • What a dreadful place! • What amazing people! • How come I’ve never met anyone with a disability before now?
  9. 9. The long history of institutionalisation, abuse and the Holocaust reveals that we are capable of great evil, especially when: • We are frightened • We find a scapegoat • We dehumanise our intended victim.
  10. 10. 3. The Phoney Community
  11. 11. Sometimes we just replaced the institution with another institution, but without the park.
  12. 12. Services come as a ‘professional gift’ which the person cannot shape or control.
  13. 13. Maimonides There are eight levels in charity, each level surpassing the other. The highest level beyond which there is none is a person who supports a Jew who has fallen into poverty [by] giving him a present or a loan, entering into partnership with him, or finding him work so that his hand shall be fortified so that he will not have to ask others [for alms]. Concerning this [Leviticus 25:35] states “You shall support him, the stranger, the resident, and he shall live among you.” Implied is that you should support him before he falls and becomes needy.
  14. 14. The power and control given to those who help can become toxic. The challenge for our society is to find out how to support each other without degrading each other.
  15. 15. 4. Innovations & Ideas
  16. 16. Personalisation ! Does that word actually add anything? ! I can’t see that it has a helpful meaning.
  17. 17. Real and valuable innovations emerge as people, inspired by values and visions, craft thoughtful solutions for real problems.
  18. 18. Self-directed support and individual (or personal) budgets was an effort to shift the whole system towards the citizenship model by converting services into entitlements.
  19. 19. In reality the shift towards ‘personalisation’ has been undermined by its ambiguity and by the lack of real power or effective legal rights for disabled people.
  20. 20. 5. Equality, Diversity & Citizenship
  21. 21. We are different and we are equal. And our differences are good - in fact they are essential for a decent society. So why do we find it so hard to reconcile difference and equality?
  22. 22. “How could men be equal in the eyes of God and yet unequal in the eyes of the Psychologist?” ! Michael Young in The Rise of the Meritocracy
  23. 23. Robert Nozick, Anarchy State and Utopia The most promising ways for a society to avoid widespread differences in self-esteem would be to have no common weighting of dimensions; instead it would have a diversity of different lists of dimensions and weightings. This would enhance each person’s chance of finding dimensions that some others also think important, along which he does reasonably well, and so to make a non-idiosyncratic favourable estimate of himself.
  24. 24. We do not have to acquire humility. There is humility in us. Only we humiliate ourselves before false gods. ! Simone Weil
  25. 25. Citizenship is not about having some common property like a certain kind of brain or a passport. Citizenship is the way in which we come together to make sure that we all belong and know we belong.
  26. 26. Aristotle explains that a community is not made out of equals, but on the contrary of people who are different and unequal. The community comes into being through equalising, 'isathenai.' [Nich. Ethics 1133 a 14] ! Hannah Arendt
  27. 27. We create equality between us by creating a universal framework of rights, duties and freedoms. But citizenship demands more than just ‘equal rights’.
  28. 28. We must create practical solutions to support and enhance citizenship for all: 1. Planning 2. Decision-making 3. Money 4. Housing 5. Help 6. Community 7. Relationships
  29. 29. The keys to citizenship are the practical social conditions of self-respect and dignity.
  30. 30. 6. Needs, Wealth & Rights
  31. 31. Needs are important. But many needs cannot be met unless people are able to meet their needs for themselves.
  32. 32. And if we do focus on meeting other people’s needs for them we can undermine capacity.
  33. 33. Pippa Murray has developed a model of ‘real wealth’ or capabilities: 1. Resources 2. People 3. Community 4. Gifts 5. Spirit
  34. 34. You could no more make a city out of paupers than out of slaves. ! Aristotle
  35. 35. 7. Next steps
  36. 36. We are beginning a new phase of thinking and action, one which demands: 1. A focus on real and effective legal rights 2. Less jargon and more commonsense 3. Organised political power to challenge and direct.
  37. 37. Although we keep ‘taking the institution with us’ we can still make progress. The final stage means tackling the institutions of the mind - our prejudices.
  38. 38. Not only must we close down the community institutions we must also start to reduce the problems built into our welfare system.
  39. 39. We need to redesign the welfare system so that it supports and sustains citizenship, family and community for everyone.
  40. 40. Social workers are key agents of positive change. But they will need to develop their role in the coming phase of development.
  41. 41. Social work’s business is citizenship and justice. ! Its field is large and exciting.
  42. 42. Simone Weil Christ does not call his benefactors loving or charitable. He calls them just. The Gospel makes no distinction between the love of our neighbour and justice. In the eyes of the Greeks also a respect for Zeus the suppliant was the first duty of justice. We have invented the distinction between justice and charity. It is easy to understand why. Our notion of justice dispenses him who possesses from the obligation of giving. If he gives, all the same, he thinks he has a right to be pleased with himself. He thinks he has done good work. As for him who receives, it depends on the way he interprets this notion whether he is dispensed from all gratitude, or whether it obliges him to offer servile thanks. ! Only the absolute identification of justice and love makes the co-existence possible of compassion and gratitude on the one hand, and on the other, of respect for the dignity of affliction in the afflicted - a respect felt by the sufferer himself and the others.
  43. 43. For more information: ! Web: ! Twitter: @CforWR and @simonjduffy ! Blog: ! Facebook: centreforwelfarereform ! Campaign: © Simon Duffy. Rights Reserved. Full copyright details at