(2003) 'On the Logic of 'New' Welfare Practice: An
Ethnographic Case Study of the 'New Welfare
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 1, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/8/1/allen.html>
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Received: 23/10/2002 Accepted: 27/2/2003 Published: 28/2/2003
1. Her career-long experiences of working across (as opposed to on one or other side of) welfare organizational boundaries meant that:
2. Her career-long experiences of working within the ambiguous space between (rather than being anchored within) welfare bureaucracies resulted in her developing a creative approach to her work. This was manifest in a 'learning orientation' that involved finding out about what was available - in the 'alternative' as well as 'official' welfare market - to meet her clients' needs. Thus, she rejected the 'boundary maintenance' practices that sociologists commonly identify as the defining characteristic of modern welfare professionalism (see Wilding, 1982).
- Her ways of working - especially communicating - were effortlessly familiar to her welfare professional others, who consequently regarded her as 'one of them'. This contrasts with the 'facework' element of her practice, which required her to 'put on' an energetic performance.
- She had become a 'welfare expert about welfare experts' (cf. Giddens, 1990) and therefore knew about, and was able to co-ordinate, a variety of welfare services to 'fit' her clients' needs. This buttressed the value that the probation clients placed on their relationship with the FSW.
What you would find would happen was the supported housing schemes [for ex-offenders] dumped on general needs [housing officers]. They [supported housing schemes] would say "we've got this person whose really desperate for a flat, and they're gonna be a really good tenant" and [housing officers] would re-house them and they would be a nightmare tenant. Housing Officer, Housing Association #1
Sometimes you're conscious that, because you're a probation member of staff, straight away you will get some [housing] organizations who are very wary .... It's apparent straight away that you've got this negativity and it's quite obvious that you aren't getting anywhere. Probation Officer #2
We would be doing it [housing referrals] once in a blue moon .... Your [floating] support worker is a specialist who goes through it daily, ... builds up contacts, takes time building trust .... What we're hoping with the [floating support worker] is that that personal contact bit is valuable .... [They] know staff in the housing department, meet with them regularly, and therefore have a trust, which we could never hope to have with our limited contacts. It's that personal contact. It's that trust bit .... [Housing officers will re-house] him (sic) on their [support worker's] word because they know them better .... There's better access [to housing]. There's quicker access [to housing]. And there's far more success. Probation Service Manager #1
Housing Officer, Housing Association #2: ... [The TSW] keeps in regular contact .... We meet regularly, every other month to discuss all the clients that she has, and any prospective new clients, and we discuss the best place to re-house them. And I mean, we speak regularly about issues, as regards the tenancy.
C.A: Whose idea was it to meet regularly?
Housing Officer: Well, Kathryn's, because we were just, like, sort of chatting, and issues came up, I'd ring up and say 'oh such and such a body, you know, I've had a complaint about visitors going to the flat', you know, so Kathryn thought we better, like .... Meet regularly and go through issues rather than just phone.
She doesn't give up on them without a fight, I know that, you know what I mean. I do know that .... She's actually like shown me some of her files .... And it's like, well, you know, 'I don't just give up on them lightly'. Housing Officer, Housing Association #2
They don't keep appointments .... [because] if you can't get them a roof over their head, you've let them down .... They think that you should be able to find them accommodation. So it often leads to a breakdown in trust and often, of course, the more upset they are the more likely they are to re-offend for financial gain or drugs or whatever in which case you lose them because they go back into prison .... [I]f you want to get anywhere with a client, especially young people, then you have to build up some sort of relationship and trust is part of that .... So I think if they come to probation with a problem and it's not resolved then they don't give a damn about the future of their probation. Probation Officer #5
... [offenders] would meet Kathryn in probation or in prison or where ever and she would say 'this is my service I can get you this flat and I can provide you with support' .... But, ... when she moved them into the flat that would break down very quickly because they had, they were getting what they wanted. .... So if people still have an element of chaos in the their lives, be it with alcohol or whatever ... where did Kathryn come in? Well she was the accommodation and when it was there it very quickly could break down, they wouldn't be there for appointments. FSW Line Manager
You can see she puts a lot of time in on the individual cases. She seems to take them to heart and she seems to be trying really hard, trying not just to dish me off with the first place that shows. She has an interest in my life .... and she's making every effort to find some place that's right .... She seems to be like trying to get to know you as a personal long-term commitment to getting you the right place to be .... She's not sitting there [saying] 'well, here you are, get that done and fill that out', and she's found two properties that have already come up ... and she discusses in depth each one, that one might not be right for me and [another] one was better. She explained why, you know .... I thought other [welfare professional] people were trying to, having their list, trying to get me off it. That was their prime motivation. I was another number there and then, you know, they'd get me off it any way they could .... She's got a totally different approach. Kevin
I think it's everything, because if you try to stick somebody, put them in a place where they're going to be happy, you're trying to sort their life, their life experience and what they are as a person, then it [the right housing] is the single most important thing. Middle class people talk about it as the single most important thing they will ever buy is a house .... That's the big choice that they make, is where they're gonna live. It's just as big for us, where we're gonna be as far as, you know, what our daily life is gonna be like, how we're gonna react, what our mental health is gonna be like. Trying to match that up with the limited resources they have in a caring way, and trying to know the people you're trying to fit in, as opposed to just sitting with numbers on a list and trying to get rid of them. It's a totally different way of looking at it. Kevin
She actually took me to Bay Street in her own car and she helped me with the television in her own car and fetched me here with it you know. That's the sort of person she is. And nothing seems to be too much for her. Les
She is me support worker and she's really helpful but she's like a friend as well. You know what I mean. Deirdre
I enjoy her coming over, but she's been part of me life over 12 months and, don't take me wrong, but she's like a friend as well as a support worker, you know what I mean. She's become a friend as well as on a professional level. Norris
We just have a good chat, a friendly chat. She'll come in here and she'll say 'get that kettle on'. I'll put the kettle on and knock it off but she has to make her own half the time. Oh, we have a bloody good time when she does. Brilliant .... I mean if you take the piss out of them, you know, you're losing good friends. So, you're always there [for appointments]. You don't let them down. Curly
I don't understand [the benefits system]. There's that many forms, I just go haywire with them. And then with being on disability, I'm on that DLA [Disability Living Allowance] and Kathryn, quick thinking Kathryn like, said 'social security owes you more money'. I said 'why?' She said 'cos you're on the middle rate. So she got onto them and that, and she was right and they owe me an extra £39 a week. And she got all that through and everything. And I wouldn't have known nothing about it .... By the time I'd paid me bills and me food there was a tenner left for a fortnight for meself. But with going on DLA it's gone up a bit so I manage a lot better. It's an extra £39 a week. So that I'm now having £45 a week over, but before that I only had £5 a week over. Deirdre
[There are] two modes of acquisition of [welfare] culture. Total, early, imperceptible learning, ... from the earliest days of [the career] and extended by a scholastic learning which presupposes and completes it, differs from belated, methodical learning .... It [the habitus] confers the self-certainty which accompanies the certainty of possessing cultural legitimacy, and the ease which is the touchstone of excellence .... The competence of the 'connoisseur', an unconscious mastery of the instruments of appropriation which derives from slow familiarization and is the basis of familiarity with [welfare services], is an 'art', a practical mastery which, like an art of thinking or an art of living, cannot be transmitted solely by precept or prescription .... [S]urrendering himself to the work, [the welfare intermediary] can internalize its principles of construction, without these ever being brought to his consciousness and formulated or formulable as such; and this is what makes all the difference between the theory [of practice] and the experience of the connoisseur Bourdieu, 1984: 66
... awareness of the range of [solutions] open to them, the frequent lack of anchoring in terms of a specific locale or community [of welfare professions], coupled with the self-consciousness of the autodidact, who always wishes to become more than he/she is, leads to a refusal to be classified, with the injunction to resist fixed codes as [welfare] is conceived as essentially open-ended .... [She] makes available to [her clients] the ... inner riches previously reserved for intellectuals' Featherstone, 1990: 44
I'm thinking 'how can I possibly keep him in touch with his children? Email! Right. I don't know anything about email, but I know you can do it and I know it's cheap'. So I said to Kevin 'leave it with me. I'll go away and find out'. I'm phoning around directory enquiries and Internet cafés and managed to track one down in Leeds, there weren't any in Leigh. Eventually, I found that you can do it free in the library. Kevin adores libraries. His be all and end all is libraries, so what could be better? I've asked Michelle, 'could you help me out and set up the email address, so Kevin and I can go out and learn to use the internet?' FSW
... a friend of hers can sort me out with a free email address .... She'll take me down to use the library herself, show me how to log on to the internet, and there's a good chance I'll be able to establish some email contact at least with my elder son who's 14 and lives on the internet .... That came out of me just talking to her, explaining my situation, what's bothering me, really bothering, and she thought this out and didn't leave it all with me.
Kathryn seems more intelligent to me, than the people in SUPPORTED HOUSING SCHEME #2 .... [the people in SUPPORTED HOUSING SCHEME #2 are] really nice people and all, but Kathryn just seems to be a whole lot more intelligent, more intuitive, more creative than they are.
2The nature of 'trust' is contested in the sociological literature. I don't want to engage in the debate about the nature of trust in this paper because it would distract from the main argument of the paper. For the purposes of this paper, then, I simply employ Giddens (1990: 85) understanding of "trustworthiness [as] associated with friendship and intimacy", and which social actors draw upon to 'go on' when they lack the 'predictive confidence' to assess the practical consequences of doing so.
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