Journal Article

Social Work, New Public Management and the Language of ‘Service User’

Kristin Heffernan

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 36, issue 1, pages 139-147
Published in print January 2006 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online October 2005 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Social Work, New Public Management and the Language of ‘Service User’

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The purpose of this paper is to offer insight into the possible consequences of language developed at the political level by an authoritative body for the purpose of designing social policy that is then adapted as discourse in social care. The focus is on the UK government’s policy toward the language of ‘service user’ in the context of New Public Management (NPM). It begins with a brief introduction on the importance of language. Next, it outlines the move towards NPM and changes that have facilitated the shift from ‘client’ to ‘service user’, presenting some of the implications these changes have had on social work in Britain. Finally, it details the possible detrimental effects of labelling language, and discusses research from other countries on preferred terms of reference for individuals who use health and social care services.

Keywords: Social work; language; service user

Journal Article.  3516 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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