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Durham University

Policy, Professions and Communities Research Group


Publication details for Professor Sarah Banks

Banks, S. (2011). 'Ethics in an age of austerity: Social work and the evolving New Public Management. Journal of Social Intervention: Theory and Practice 20(2): 5-23.

Author(s) from Durham


This article examines the growth of interest in social work ethics in the context of neo-liberal policies and the growth of managerialism in public service professions. Taking the United Kingdom as an example, while drawing links with trends across Europe and other countries in the global
North, the article traces the development of the “New Public Management” (NPM) since the 1990s. NPM is characterized as stressing the importance of measurable outputs, targets and cost effectiveness in the provision of public services. The article considers the extent to which the growth of interest in ethics in social work is part of a progressive movement to offer a critique of NPM through emphasizing professional agency and social justice. Alternatively, the growth of interest in ethics can be viewed as part of the NPM, with a focus on ethics as regulation of professional conduct. The article concludes by emphasizing the importance of reclaiming professional ethics for social work, outlining a preliminary framework for a situated ethics of social justice.