Revolutions and revolutionaries: Social work in the UK from the industrial revolution to industry 4.0

Giddings, Lindsay (2024). Revolutions and revolutionaries: Social work in the UK from the industrial revolution to industry 4.0. In: 13th European Conference for Social Work Research, 17-19 Apr 2024, Vilnius, Lithuania.


Social work in the UK arguably traces its roots back to the medical social workers, known as almoners, who began working in the late 19th century, or to Octavia Hill and her methods of supporting the families she collected social housing rents from. Their roles were borne out of the societal changes that occurred because of the industrial revolution, which changed the way that people lived and worked in the UK. Now, as we begin to explore and understand the innovations of industry 4.0, social work is in a position to influence change rather than allowing industry 4.0 to lead us.

This poster will offer an introductory insight into the ways in which the industrial revolutions and social work as a profession have been inextricably linked, with a particular focus on exploring ways that social work can use the innovations of industry 4.0 to benefit its workforce and, critically, the people with whom they work. As educators from one of the largest distance-learning Higher Education Institutes in the world, we are in a unique position to situate ourselves at the forefront of the utilisation of the advances of industry 4.0 in social work education. This includes teaching social work online, using the internet to support research with people with lived experiences of using social work services, and consideration of using simulation within social work education (Simpson, Haider and Giddings, 2023).

The poster will chart the development of the social work profession in the UK through the lens of the four industrial revolutions: the industrial revolution, technological revolution, digital revolution and industry 4.0. The poster will conclude with a look forward to how social work and social work education can utilise innovations that are emerging in industry 4.0, but with an important reminder for all social work professionals, that impacts upon the profession and the people with whom we work – “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention” (Simon, 1971, cited by Schwab, 2017). Therefore, one of the main aims of the poster is to highlight the growth of the profession and the future direction of travel, but with a word of caution for practitioners.

This poster closely aligns with the overarching theme of the conference, and specifically fits within the subtheme of social work history and identity as a profession and discipline.

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