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Book review: Social work and the COVID-19 pandemic

Posted: January 02 2022

Social Work student & staff projects, Social Work

Interested in Social Work and want to learn more about the subject? The book reviews written by our Social Work students and staff help you identify the best literature to advance your learning.

This week:

  • Title: Social work and the COVID-19 pandemic: International insights
  • Editors: M. Lavalette, V. Ioakimidis and I. Ferguson
  • ISBN 978-1447360360
  • Publication: Bristol: Policy Press, 2020, 167 pages
  • Reviewed by: Natalia Phillips, MA Social Work student
  • First published at the Journal of Social Work: https://doi.org/10.1177/14680173211061786

The year 2020 has brought a series of major international crises in a form of climate emergency, human rights violations, and the global pandemic of a novel coronavirus. These interlinked global emergencies accentuate the division and alienation of the most disadvantaged in society caused by modern capitalism (Golightley & Holloway, 2020). In addition to that, the governments’ biopolitics surrounding Covid-19 revolves around the prioritisation of “economy” and neglect of the Health and Social Care services (Ioakimidis & Maglajlic, 2020). Structural racism prevails and those who require state support are the ones left helpless and suffering the most in these unprecedented times.

Social Work and the Covid-19 Pandemic, edited by Michael Lavalette, Vasilios Ioakimidis and Iain Ferguson is a collection of collaborative work of many academics, social work practitioners and activists. Following the success of the webinars run by the Social Work Action Network and International Federation of Social Workers that discussed the impact of Covid-19 on social work, the shared knowledge and ideas were subsequently assembled in the form of a book. Its aims are to present and provide an overview of the challenges social work faces in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic and to shape the understanding of what role social work could, and should, play in such critical times.

The collection is divided into three well-structured sections. The first section provides crucial background information about the biological, environmental, and economic factors that underpin the very core of the crisis we are undergoing. The extinction of certain species, the unavailability of certain foods and the distorted relationship between humans and nature create optimal conditions for the formation and transmission of the so called “crowd diseases” (Spinney, 2017). The combination of poverty, overcrowded working and living conditions and the proximity of people enable the virus to spread at an inevitably fast pace and, consequently, has an astonishingly damaging impact on the lives of the most disadvantaged. Social work, as it involves bringing support to the most marginalized, has been impacted by questionable policies of many governments whose priorities have not been aligned with those in need.

In the first part of the collection, the contributors emphasize social work's urgent action against deeply rooted, perpetual societal inequality. They highlight that the current crisis is a crucial moment which could lead to a much fairer social order. In their eyes, the time has come for social work, as an important frontline profession, and the state to re-discuss the socio-political dynamics and the value of the current form of democracy and find new ways to break down the ubiquitous inequalities that penetrate societies worldwide.

What really stands out is the second section of the collection. It provides generous and touching accounts of the international responses across the world. From the inconsistent and thoughtless responses to Coronavirus in the United States to the active sharing of knowledge and experience of social work professionals in Chile or the “popular social work” action in Greece, it is evident that the worldwide responses to this crisis vary according to the government's approach in each country and the local culture and local level of solidarity. A good example of the latter is the heart-warming response of South Korean social workers who, to support live-in service users, quarantined alongside them in residential centers.

The last section of the collection focuses on the worldwide social divisions and inequalities that have expanded during the pandemic. The contributors emphasize the role of social workers as the activists for change, and highlight that neoliberal social work, based on a business-like delivery of help and services, has failed. The isolation, poverty and social division has intensified the discrimination of minority groups, multiplied the cases of domestic violence, reinforced women's oppression and generated mental health problems in many people. Therefore, there is a tremendous need to return to “collective” approaches in social work, where both communities and social workers commit to acting together to implement change and fight marginalization in society. Hence, a close engagement with movements such as Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion is essential. The authors stress that there must be no return to “business as usual” because it would mean going back to growing austerity and inequality.

The strength of the collection lies in its structure and language which makes it accessible to all readers. The wealth of examples of contemporary societal problems offered by the contributors, together with the impact of the Covid pandemic, paint a vivid and informative picture of the world we live in. Whilst the contributors prioritize their attention to the difficulties social workers face across the world, they also draw on the beauty of humanity and solidarity that have been at the core of many communities. Social Work and the Covid-19 pandemic provides an excellent understanding of the complex world of politics and societal and, ultimately, human dilemmas.

From a more structural perspective, a table cumulating numerical country-specific and worldwide data and names of involved organizations would be an advantage to this collection. It would enable the reader to locate and compare the most important information without having to continuously search for it in the text. Nevertheless, the collection is inspiring and motivating; it enhances reflection on the meaning and importance of life, in its purest sense, during the challenging time of a worldwide-spread pandemic.

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