Beyond Legalism in Turbulent Times: Re-grounding UK Social Work in a Richer International Human Rights Perspective

María Inés Martínez Herrero, Jack Nicholls

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Human rights have always been intrinsically woven into social work, but in the UK, often in a way that is either vague or wholly legalistic. In this article, we make a case for embedding a broader and richer concept of human rights in UK social work practice and education. We contrast the international social work perspective on human rights with that of UK professional codes and suggest that the narrow and uninterrogated conceptualisation of human rights in the UK may be acting as a barrier to UK social workers fully understanding and engaging with broader human rights agendas of the sort found in international practice. We argue for the merits of regrounding UK social work in this broader human rights concept, in which radical and emancipatory approaches can be underpinned by a common and unifying rights-orientated perspective. We make this argument, initially, in the context of the Human Rights Act 1998 remaining in UK law, which we see as entirely necessary for the protection of human rights in social work in the country, but insufficient for a broader, richer concept. We also, however, consider a scenario in which the Act is replaced by a British Bill of Rights and argue that such a development would present a further urgent need for embedding a broader human rights concept in UK social work. We close by setting out some of what such a concept might involve.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-85
JournalJournal of Human Rights and Social Work
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


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