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Book reviews
Journal of Social Work
2017, Vol. 17(6) 749–758
! The Author(s) 2017
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John G McNutt and Richard Hoefer, Social welfare policy: Responding to a changing world.
Lyceum: Chicago IL, 2016; 340 pp. ISBN 9781933478753, $69.95 (pbk)
Reviewed by: Shauna MacKinnon, University of Winnipeg, Canada
DOI: 10.1177/1468017317715576
Social welfare policy: Responding to a changing world offers an accessible introduction to Social Welfare Policy. As described by the authors, it is a unique textbook,
situating social policy within the context of ‘‘three major forces . . . globalization,
the information economy and environmental threats’’. Although the book focuses
on social welfare policy in the US, the authors situate the American experience
within a global context.
A quick glance at the table of contents suggests an ambitious book. It begins
with an introductory chapter, making the case that understanding public policy
and the context in which it is shaped is essential for social workers regardless of
their chosen field of practice. This is a particularly useful chapter for first-year
social work students who all too often do not see policy and politics relevant to
social work practice.
The authors go on to provide a primer on the history of social welfare policy in
the US and the post-industrial global context within which social policy is evolving.
Although brief, a chapter titled Values, Ideology and Political Philosophy provides
students with a good introduction to political ideology and values. This is followed
by chapters on policy analysis and advocacy and a sampling of social welfare policy
areas including poverty and income maintenance, healthcare policy, child welfare,
criminal justice, housing and community development and aging.
I really wanted to like this book. I found the accessible writing style very suitable
for first-year social work students and I enjoyed the premise of examining social
policy in the global and environmental context. I liked the fact that the book
included a chapter on advocacy—although it seemed oddly placed in the middle
of the book, better suited as a final chapter I thought. I liked that the authors
included a chapter on values and ideology followed by a chapter on policy analysis.
I appreciated the inclusion of exercises and links to useful websites and resources.
But I was also disappointed. I would have preferred to have seen a more explicit
political economy analysis of social and economic conditions in the US and beyond
and the impact the prevalent economic model has had on public policy. I thought
that there were important connections to be made that were not. For example, the
chapter on policy analysis fails to discuss the political reality of policy development
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Journal of Social Work 17(6)
and this seemed disconnected to the previous chapter, which notes that ‘‘political
parties have the ability to create or destroy policies and programs designed to
improve peoples’ lives’’ (p. 111).While ‘‘evidence’’ provides policy analysts with a
useful tool to make their case, policy decisions are highly political and ideologically
influenced.
It can be argued that the most progressive social policies have resulted from
public outcry for social justice. While the importance of citizen engagement and the
policy advocacy role for social workers was touched upon in various chapters in the
book, the chapter on advocacy focused mainly on advocating within systems rather
than mobilizing for broader social change. Related to this, I was disappointed with
the limited critique of dominant economic theories that serve to perpetuate social,
economic and environmental injustice. Given the central role of economic policy in
public policy, it is unfortunate that the discipline of economics is painted as a
homogeneous field, when in fact a growing number of economists, although arguably a marginalized group, dispute many of the economic theories that have led to
an increasingly inequitable and unjust world. As such, in addition to providing an
introduction to political theories, it would be useful to introduce students to a
cohesive critique of neoliberalism. This would provide students with an analytical
framework to understand growing inequality and social, economic and environmental injustices referred to in the book as well as ideas about what might be done
to address them. For example, why is that ‘‘at one time, the federal tax rate for the
wealthiest group [in the US] was much higher’’ (p. 161) and what needs to happen
for current policy to change?
The main shortcoming of this book is that it tries to cover too much. But that is
not necessarily a bad thing when introducing social work students to social
policy—an area of study that many social work students know very little about
nor see a need to learn about. Because of its breadth and accessible style, Social
welfare policy: Responding to a changing world, could be a good base text for an
introductory social welfare policy course. I would suggest, however, that it would
need to be supplemented with other material that digs a bit deeper and make
connections between the important concepts introduced.
Robin Duschinsky, Sue Lampitt and Susan Bell, Sustaining social work: Between power and powerlessness. Palgrave Macmillan: London, 2016; 209 pp. ISBN 9781137403902, £19.99 (pbk)
Reviewed by: Stewart Collins, Bangor University, Wales and the Open University, Scotland
DOI: 10.1177/1468017317715575
There are many social work books that have a close focus on political, policy or
legal perspectives, on theory, particular theories or ‘service user groups’. This book
is not one of them. It considers the contradictions, complexities and tensions of
social work practice, drawing upon ideas from ‘social theory and across the social
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