Book Review: On a Glasgow estate with the Good Samaritan: 'A New Deal for Social Welfare' - Bob Holman; Lion, 5.99

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The Independent Online
THE MARKET rules. Bob Holman agrees, but thinks it shouldn't. Here is a book which states why market values destroy services that are important for the poor. Holman palpably resists market value per se. He is one of the few writers on the left with the moral authority to do so.

At one time he was Professor of Social Administration at Bath University. He gave up that post to join the Children's Society as a community worker on Glasgow's Easterhouse housing estate. There he has worked ever since, living with his family on a standard of living that is not out of line with his neighbours and friends.

The way he lives his life has given a new focus to his writings. Not so long ago he produced a life of George Lansbury. One can see the affinity. As a cabinet minister, Lansbury continued to live in the East End of London. There were no barriers between him, his constituents and the wider Labour Movement.

Holman's writings have been focused in another sense. Who better to question the salaries paid to top social-work practitioners, as this group drapes itself in all the magnificence of a profession? More important, who better to criticise the marketisation of social work than someone whose life is shaped in antithesis to the profit principle, customer through-put and the rest of the new jargon of the public sector?

Holman is in search of values that can be pitched against the New Right, which, he accepts, has ably communicated its values to the electorate. Against the free market's claim to be the best way to nurture freedom and efficiency, Holman places 'mutuality'.

He sets a limited agenda in order to examine the relationship between mutuality and social work. But Holman clearly believes that his attack on the 'contract' culture has much more of a universal relevance. He is unable to explain mutuality other than through his Christian commitment. He cites the parable of the Good Samaritan - not as Thatcher did, merely arguing that it was only because he had money that he was able to help, but to explain what the term neighbour means.

It is by putting this neighbour principle into action that we arrive at mutuality. It involves the recognition of mutual obligations and results in a more equitable sharing of resources and responsibilities.

Holman's initial question relates to who should run the personal social services. 'I do not see how these ends can be attained with a culture and system dominated by market mechanisms in which the ruling motive is private profit and whose management is geared to the winning or granting of tenders.'

That is a sweeping condemnation. Does Holman make out a general case against the market? It is not one that persuades me. I believe that there is currently no overall alternative to a market economy. The task for radicals with the voters is to define what are the unacceptable faces of the market - its inability to produce full employment, its gross inequalities in income, for example - and eradicate them. Then to define the areas where the market cannot deliver a public service.

Holman brilliantly suggests that social work is one. There are clearly others. And there is the question of how individuals can collectively organise within a market framework. The next task is to facilitate such collective action, as well as to mobilise support to eradicate aspects of the market system. The left has the duty of drawing a new boundary line between market and non-market provision.

In all these tasks the role of prophet and seer is crucial in raising morale and helping to mobilise support. In this respect, Holman is in every sense the true heir to Tawney. Lucky old Easterhouse and lucky old Labour Party to have him on their side.