ABSTRACT

Social work with older people is sometimes seen as epitomising what is wrong with current social work more generally, namely responses to needs that evoke Lipsky’s telling reference to ‘people processing’ (1980: xvi). We meet social workers and social work students who feel that working with older people has turned them into just such people-processors. They are frustrated by the bureaucratic and instrumental nature of much of the work they undertake with older people, or rather, as it so often seems, on behalf of older people, as a common complaint is the amount of time they have to spend sitting at a computer keyboard, tapping in information required by care management software, in order to ensure that older people receive ‘care packages’ on the basis of their assessments. In contrast to Lipsky’s description of people at the front line of public services as ‘street-level bureaucrats’ with considerable day-to-day discretion, these social workers feel that they have become ‘screen-level bureaucrats’ (Bovens and Zouridis 2002), working within the narrow constraints imposed by eligibility criteria and anchored to their workstations for many hours at a time. Working with older people can, then, appear to be at the cutting edge of the ‘McDonaldization’ (Ritzer 2000) of social work, shaped by its principles of efficiency, predictability, calculability and control by non-human technology. In this vein, Lloyd provides a roll call of the strands in contemporary social work with older people that can have a negative impact on access to services and may result in organisational perspectives dominating assessments of and responses to needs:

• the inadequacy of resources and restrictions on their use; • contradictions in the policy framework within which practice is located; • insecurity associated with the privatisation and marketisation of services; • the development of care management; • the standardisation of practice and the imposition of procedural rules.