Home Sociology Social Change and Social Work
The campaigns that preceded the passing of the two laws in Slovenia were based on the argument that it was necessary to prevent cheating rather than to prevent poverty. The representatives of the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs and the Minister himself spoke of a high percentage of cheaters, believed to be between 18 and 20 per cent.14 Such figures would indicate that one-fifth of Slovenians applying for cash benefits were accused of cheating. The government was thus promoting the opinion that the majority of cash benefit recipients were criminals, and in this way, the government sought consensus for the curbing of social rights. It is necessary to emphasize that there is no evidence that social assistance has been abused: the percentages have been made up, making the fraud
14 The transcription of the 24th extraordinary session of the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia, 25 May, 2010. narrative a fictional one. No statistics on errors or on fraud actually exist. Data from the UK and Ireland show that abuses amount to no more than 1–2 per cent.
In Slovenia, the system of welfare cash benefits has twice undergone radical changes in the past six years.15 A consequence of these changes is evident in increasing dependence of people on the market and the circumstances dictated by it, because with the curbing of social rights people's subsistence becomes fully dependent on their ability to find paid work. The employers and the state as well as people living off cash benefits are all aware of this. Having work does not necessarily mean that one has satisfactory employment, or at least not the kind of employment that could save one from poverty. Employers will hire a certain number of workers practically for nothing, since work obligations also apply to the recipients of cash benefits. The diminishing of the redistributive power of the state influences not only the relationships between workers and capital owners but also the relationships between the state and capital owners. The so-called lean state, private-public partnership and other similar privatization strategies make the state increasingly dependent on capital, because it no longer has the power to regulate. Some of these effects are already evident in the current crisis. This crisis is actually the best possible excuse for structural reform and institutional adjustments, which constitute the politics of the European Union rather than of individual member states, given that the implementation of the Lisbon strategy is coordinated by the European Commission. The case of Slovenia is not unique in Eastern Europe. Similar measures have been implemented in Western European countries, for example in the UK, Ireland and Sweden. The measures aimed against welfare fraud can be found in France (Murard 2002), Austria and Finland (Fuchs 2009), Greece (Matsaganis 2011), Sweden (Lundström 2011) and the UK (Connor 2007). Recently, I and my colleagues have been able to observe the effect of these changes on social work. The effect is corroborated by many in-depth studies that use empirical examples. The conclusion is clear: the pressures to perform surveillance and use disciplinary practices in social work have been increasing.
Lorenz (2005, 93) argues that
these changes are not merely a regime change in social policy but that they are essentially about a re-ordering of social relationships and attempt to model them on neo-liberal ideas. In view of these pressures it is understandable that social workers often try to ignore those changes and withdraw into a private world of therapeutic relationships in which the methods they trained in are made to be still valid, or they simply go along with new service delivery designs without asking too many questions.
15 The current government has already announced the third reform (in June 2013), which should eliminate several shortcomings of the previous one that had been implemented a year and a half earlier. Reflections on the impact of new social policies on social work are needed. Satka et al. (2007, 131) write that in Finland control-focused orientation in social work with children and young people has been on the increase. However, this is not characteristic of Finland only, but is part of the processes that Lorenz placed into a broader, global context. At a time when poverty in the majority of European countries has been increasing and the social situation of individuals is deteriorating, people need greater support. What they receive, however, is greater control. Such a trend is unsettling, because such an attitude revives old and outdated practices of social work that were focused on adapting people to the social system rather than creating an environment that is acceptable and equal for all regardless of their lifestyles, life situations or other personal characteristics.
The case of Slovenia shows that social work cannot ignore or avoid the changes in concepts that have become the salient features of the social policy determining the development of social services. However, it would be erroneous to suppose that there are no solutions to the crisis. By recognizing the problem and developing an ethical approach toward the community and individuals, social workers defy the use of practices that are detrimental to social work users. Resistance can take various forms. One is a micro-level resistance that takes place within a social worker's personal relationship with a service user and implies a rejection of all types of control and disciplining. Another is community-level resistance, which implies that a community is organized in such a way that it is capable of accepting differences and supporting its members. Finally, there is macro-level resistance. It involves active intervention into social policies through protests and opposition. The latter has recently been seen in many European countries, particularly Greece where the practices of radical social work have been revived (Ioakimidis and Teloni 2013, 44–6).
It is difficult to predict how the paradigmatic changes within the welfare state will affect social work in the future. Resistance is accompanied by the development of education programmes and social services that are fully adapted to new concepts (Marthinsen and Skjefstat 2010). What is therefore most important at the moment is reflection, theorizing and active participation in the developments. Engagement is needed both on the academic level, through research, writings, theorizing, and on the level of everyday life, through pragmatic work aimed against oppressive practices. We live in unsettling and hazardous times, so what is important is not to remain aloof, distant or neutral.
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