Free Essay Sample «Neoliberalism: The Third Sector and Social Work in the UK»

«Neoliberalism: The Third Sector and Social Work in the UK»


The development of social work in any country of the world is closely connected with the social policy of the state. In the UK, the change of the nature of social work followed the changes in the social sphere, legislation and security system. Due to the problems and possibilities for their solvation, each state defines the character and forms of social security in its own way. For this reason, there is no uniform social security system, namely, general for all countries of the world.

A social concept of neoliberalism is based on the market interpretation of all types of public relations: each person is considered as a free businessman who organizes own life as an enterprise and each social interaction as a contract. All forms of the relations are the types of sub-market competition, including the relationship of the employees of one company or family members (Rogowsky, 2013; Humpage, 2015). In the UK, the role of the state in social work has experienced a continuous expansion during the whole 20th century, and the attitude to social problems and requirements of the needing segments of the population changed greatly. In comparison, for example, with the USA, the British laws did not limit the state intervention in the solution of actual social and economic problems so rigidly (Corry, 2010, p.11). The UK traditionally had much more powers and more actively influenced the solution of the social problems arising in society. The given essay discusses neoliberalism in the third sector and social work in the UK.

The Third Sector in the UK

Due to increase of the role of public and charitable organizations in the system of social protection of the population, it is necessary to consider the question of the third sector as a new social phenomenon in the modern UK. The concept “third sector” appeared in the world not so long ago. Its formation reflects the tendencies which arose along with the development of the market economy (Corry, 2010, p.13).

The specifics of the non-commercial sector in the UK developed under the supervision of the idea of general wellbeing in the liberal, traditional society, divided into classes, in which the role of the voluntary organizations changed depending on the social, economic or political requirements (Ferguson, 2004; Rogowsky, 2013). At first, the church dealt with the issues of the general wellbeing, namely, granting the social benefits. At the end of the 19th century-the beginning of the 20th century, non-profit organizations carried out the role of the supplement to the state. This sector is non-government, independent and non-commercial, or non-profitable (Almeida, 2011).

The aspiration to the association of all three sectors of the economy seemed favorable for achievement of the possible synergetic effect and more rational use of resources, as well as solution of the issues of social wellbeing (Nyssens, 2008, p. 89). In the UK, the system of the public participation in the decision-making exists in the form of consultations with the public. Such a form of the social partnership allows revealing the requirements of the public. Moreover, the UK has the declared requirements of ensuring the public participation, with the mechanisms developed and regulated by the legislation for the ensuring of public participation, including consultation with the public, such as forum, the panel of citizens, or local partnership, and control over the realization of this public right.

Development of the Public Contract (1998) is one of the most significant events concerning the interaction between the government and public voluntary sector. This document proclaims a new approach based on the effective and long-term partnership. Moreover, there is a group in the UK government headed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which traces the performance and promotes the productive interaction between the government and the third sector (Nyssens, 2008, p. 94).

The UK constantly improves the mechanisms of the participation of public organizations in the work of the government for the purpose of increase of orientation of the realized social services by the requirements of the population (Carmel & Harlock, 2008, p. 158). The main sources of receiving means include a public sector, such as grants and contracts, and public through donations. Large organizations with the revenue of more than ₤1 million function more successfully than smaller nonprofits, the income of which is of fewer amounts. Many non-governmental organizations work at the social work in the UK.

For instance, the National Council for Voluntary Organizations (NCVO) is the organization working for the creation of more favorable conditions of the work of non-profit organizations. The NCVO believes that people and public organizations can make positive changes to the lives of UK residents and wishes to develop the society seeking for the positive changes in the local communities. The mission of the organization is to create such noncommercial sector, the opinion of which would be considered at the solution of socially significant questions. The NCVO sets the task to support the noncommercial sector in order to protect and represent its interests (Ferguson, 2004).

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The Capacitybuilders is the organization, whose work is aimed at creation and development of the optimal conditions for the functioning of voluntary and public organizations. This nonprofit actively cooperates with the government, various power institutes, and other organizations for the achievement of goals. The mission of the organization includes the enhancement of the highly qualitative organization having a steady financing infrastructure for the work of voluntary and public organizations that would help the public organizations to spend means more effectively (Billis, 2010).

Finally, Charity Commission is an independent non-governmental organization that regulates the activity of charitable organizations. Board members are elected by open voting and approved by the minister. The mission of the organization is to create the strong, effective charitable organizations and also increase the level of trust to the charitable organizations among the population (Ferguson & Woodward, 2009).

Social Work and Neoliberalism in the UK

Social work as a profession arose at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries (Halton et al., 2014). At this time, the first schools of social work appeared in the UK, the USA, France, Sweden and other countries. Social work originally arose as the means of help to the people in difficult life situations. Subsequently, the emergence of the concept “the welfare state” in the 1940-1960s became a special push for the distribution and development of this profession (Halton et al., 2014, p.12). The essence of this concept includes the provision of the social rights to all citizens equally. At the same time, the phenomenon involved understanding of the fact that even the best laws do not always “work” if they are not put into practice at the level of a certain person, taking into account their individual vital circumstances. Performance of this major task also became a primary activity of social workers (Billis, 2010).

At present, profession of a social worker became an integral part of public life in civilized countries. Neither the implementation of the programs of social development nor ensuring of social policy of the state are practiced without the activity of social workers. Specialists in the field of social work are widely used as experts in light of preparation of the legislation, decision-making by local governments, and justifications of the activity of public organizations (Almeida, 2011). According to Halton et al. (2014), the number of the representatives of this profession is big enough. In the UK, there are about 50 thousand social workers for the total number of the population of more than 50 million people (Halton et al., 2014, p. 35). In the 1990s, social work in the country had the toughest times. The growth of the number of the poor British people and a sharp reduction of the financial base were followed by the hostility and opposition to the sector from the side of the state (Kendall, 2010).

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Although the UK is included into the top of the most prosperous countries of the world, the social and economic conditions of its population are characterized by a sharp inequality. Many of the main characteristics of inequality remained noticeable within the whole century, despite the development of a wide network of the public social services. This phenomenon is especially noticeable in the major industrial centers in which big groups of the population live in the conditions of constant poverty and need (Carmel & Harlock, 2008, p. 170).

Poverty and social vulnerability are characteristic for the old industrial centers, such as the North of England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Prosperity is inherent only in London and the southern England with their quickly developing microeconomic based on the new high-tech industry and financial services. These distinctions leave a certain mark on the conditions in which social workers should work. For example, the social workers are occupied in internal areas or the centers of the cities in which unemployment makes 55%, living conditions and environment do not meet the standard, and crime rate and violence remain high (Kendall, 2010).

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Social work in the UK gained a strong development during the World War II and turned into an important sector of all social services. The field quickly developed from 1948 to 1975 (Ferguson, 2004). The law of 1970 on social services of the local authorities, aimed at the creation of agencies on social work in local authorities, became the top of its rise. For this period, the public expenditures by personal social services grew more than by 400% (Ferguson, 2004). As for the general fundamentals of the country’s policy, it is important to emphasize that since 1945, all governments considered social work as a social service focused at the poor and marginal sectors of society (Jenei & Kuti, 2008).

More than 90 % of the UK social workers are occupied in the public or social services of the local governments departments. The prevailing part of the other social workers is occupied in the voluntary sector, and only the extremely insignificant part in the private sector (Ferguson, 2004). The departments of social services compose the part of the UK government system financed by the central government and through the local taxation system. Their purpose is to render a full range of services, including the provision of housing, education, as well as personal social services to the population (Billis, 2010).

Due to the fact that the whole system of social work is based on the uniform legislation and financed from the government sources, there is a considerable share of uniformity in its work. Recently, social workers started to be guided by the work with various groups of population, such as children, elderly, and mentally defective people, to name a few. In the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher and her conservative government undertook the unprecedented campaign for the discredit of the whole system of the state charity and, in particular, social work (Kendall, 2010). The discredit of the basic principles of social democracy, decrease in a role of the state in the solution of the problems of struggle against poverty, attempts to solve all social problems, proceeded in England. Thatcher and her supporters of neo-conservatism tried “to tire out” the solution of the social problems in the frameworks of the family without the help of the state (Ferguson, 2004). The sharp reduction of the role of the state in solution of social problems, along with reduction of the social budget of the country, became the result of this policy. They strived for reduction of the general level of social expenses in the country. As a result, the number of poor people sharply increased.

The neoliberal turn in the UK started in the 1980s (Humpage, 2015). Its influence in the social sphere was expressed in the reduction of the expenses for the direct social security and system of social services, marketization of the field of social services, the emergence of the so-called “quasi-markets” and mixed economy of care among others. The processes of commodification came to the social work. The experts had to show the results and measure the occurring changes. The interventions limited by time became the synonym of effective practice (Humpage, 2015). The requirements of reporting, achievement of productivity, compliance to the standards compelled some managers, seeking to keep the creative professional social work and deceive the system ignoring the governmental instructions. A strong emphasis was placed on the management of culture of the organization instead of providing freedom to social workers in the definition of own professional culture. The professional reflexive supervision was replaced with a managerial supervision, while self-control with the requirements to be registered in the structures established by the state.

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The need to show productivity took away the experts from their primary functions in support of families and children. The attitude towards clients changed. The situation reminded the times of the Great Depression when people were divided into the worthy and unworthy. The use of standardization instruments led to assessment of the risk of the provided services (Ferguson & Woodward, 2009).

The neoliberal trends affected the social sphere of the UK greatly. The state in general seeks to replace the social loading to the third sector and learns to control expenses. This circumstance often leads to limitation of the social help for recipients. Neoliberalism constitutes a serious threat to the social work, undermining its bases: the technocratism destroys the creative activity based on the relations and reflection, while market beliefs are contrary to the egalitarian humanistic values of a profession.


Being the phenomenon of a civilized society, social work gains the consecutive development in all directions. Social work is more and more implemented by the third sector. The latter develops the technologies and seizes innovative approaches. The legislative base of the UK in the field of social services stimulates their development. In light of the new neoliberal economic situation, special attention is paid to the questions of optimization of social service and increase of its efficiency, using the evidence-based principles developed in management, organizational activity, and financial management, to name a few. Of course, the neoliberal model of social work in the UK is not the stiffened and final version of the solution of social problems. This framework has the potential for transformations for the purpose of adaptation to quickly changing social realities of Europe in the 21st century. However, social policy makers should be rather careful while applying the neoliberal methods in the UK practice of social services.



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