Journal Article

Accountability to Welfare Service Users: Challenges and Responses of Service Providers

Terry Tse Fong Leung

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 38, issue 3, pages 531-545
Published in print April 2008 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online November 2006 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Accountability to Welfare Service Users: Challenges and Responses of Service Providers

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Influenced by the consumerist sentiment in New Public Management, the last decades have witnessed a revival of the call for accountability to service users in the public service sector. As an act of accountability, social care and health care professionals are increasingly obliged to involve their service users in the service planning and monitoring process. Despite the popularity of this accountability and user involvement rhetoric, critics have, however, been skeptical of the prevailing user involvement initiatives as an effective measure of accountability to service users (Barnes and Wistow, 1994a, 1994b; Bowl, 1996; Peck et al., 2002; Rea, 2004). Based on a study of user involvement in the welfare sector of Hong Kong, this paper argues that the discourse of accountability to the service users can be a source of unrest for welfare professionals, in the manifestation of accountability as a power relationship. Their ensuing response is to accommodate the ensuing challenge arising from the demand for accountability to service users by manoeuvring the accountability discourse. It is the contention of this paper that the institutional inclusion of welfare service users into a discursive space is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the realization of a mandate of accountability to welfare service users.

Keywords: accountability; user involvement; managerialism; social work professionalism

Journal Article.  6211 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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