Neoliberal Beliefs, Managerialism and Welfare Ethics

Project: Research project

Project Details


Social work values and ethics (which focus on the promotion of human rights and social justice) have been hailed as the cornerstone of the social work profession. However, these values and ethics are believed to have been jeopardized by the global drift towards the dominant political–economic ideology, namely neoliberalism, through the implementation of managerialism and new public management in social welfare services for the last few decades (Ferguson, 2008; Flynn, 2000). First, market competition has transformed the welfare service sector, challenging the traditional set of agreed-upon values inherent in the social work profession (Banks, 2014). In addition, in a managerial culture of short-term contracts, flexibility, and mobility, individuals are configured as autonomous self- concerned strategists (Heins & Bennett, 2016) who may compromise social work values.

Despite the vast literature on the predicament and impact of neoliberalism, there has been little empirical analysis of the actual situations and ethical dilemmas faced by social workers, how they handle these dilemmas, and the specific factors contributing to ethical decision-making (Taylor, 2006; Wallace & Pease, 2011). In addition, no quantitative studies have examined the global situation. Furthermore, as the professional code of ethics published by various accreditation bodies for social workers around the world is expected to safeguard the professional conduct of social workers (Rostain, 2010), can it offset the effect of managerialism in the provision of social services?

The proposed study will fill this research gap by examining the level of influence of neoliberal values, through managerialism, in social service delivery and the role of the code of ethics as safeguards. Using Hong Kong as the case study, this study will adopt a quasi- experimental mixed methods design. The main aim will be to identify and analyse the interaction between the various factors that shape the ethical judgments of social workers during their professional decision-making process when faced with ethical dilemmas based on the features of neoliberal managerialism. A Delphi study will first be conducted to (1) identify relevant ethical dilemmas facing social workers and the factors that influence their ethical judgments and decisions; and (2) generate a set of vignettes. Adopting Rossi’s (1974) factorial survey method, a survey based on a questionnaire containing all of the vignettes generated in this proposed project will be conducted via an online platform with at least 900 participants. Multilevel (logistic) regression analysis will be conducted to model the factors guiding their ethical judgments.
Effective start/end date1/01/23 → …


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