• Monalisa Stephano
  • Nina Lærke Christensen
4. term, Social Work, Master (Master Programme)

Early 2020, the spread of COVID-19 became a global public health emergency. On March 11, the Danish primary minster announced an extensive lock-down of the public sector to prevent the spread of the disease. This lock-down had tremendous consequences for the Danish cash benefit program. The active employment program was temporarily suspended and cash benefit recipients no longer had to be available for the job centers. This had sudden and comprehensive impact on the social work. Brutalization is a term used for describing when for example employees lose their professional convictions. This may occur in circumstances where it is no longer feasible to perform a job in a self- satisfactory manner. Thus, in this Master's thesis we set out to investigate whether brutalization can become a strategy for social works in the work with job- and activity-ready cash benefit recipients as a consequence of the drastic changes under COVID-19. Furthermore, we aim at examining how this potentially can affect the co-operation between social workers and cash benefit recipients.

We ascribed our study a Hermeneutic approach in the data analysis. This allowed us to assess the social workers’ and their managers’ view in combination with our own pre-understanding based on theories and existing research literature. Our study was based on psychologist Dorthe Birkmose’s definition of the term, brutalization, on Michael Lipsky’s theory on cross-pressure and defence mechanisms, as well as theories by Goffman. We conducted seven semi-structured qualitative interviews with two managers and five social workers originating from two Danish job centers. These interviews compose this study’s empirical data and are applied in the analyses and conclusions to answer our questions.

Analysis and conclusion
Our results suggest that the most critical changes in social work under COVID-19, according to the social workers, are: suspension of employment effort, voluntariness, 225-hours rule, working at home, and alternative forms of contact. Furthermore, a major focus is on cooperation with the cash benefit recipients in relation to these changes. Whether brutalization, as a consequence, becomes a strategy depends on how individual social workers experience powerlessness and difficult working conditions, during the changes. Our results suggest that the changes ‘suspension of employment effort’ and ‘alternative forms of contact’ are those factors that induce the most clear signs of brutalization. These
are also the changes that affect the co-operation between social workers and cash benefit recipients the most. We furthermore find that that the sudden and comprehensive changes do not have any major impact on whether brutalization becomes a strategy while working with job-ready cash benefit recipients. Thus, it does effect the co-operation with this specific group. In contrast, there are indications of that brutalization can become a strategy while working with activity-ready cash benefit recipients above 30 years. Thus, our results suggest that the changes under COVID-19 can both induce nearness and distance, which can affect the co-operation between social works and cash benefit recipients both positively and negatively.

Our results suggest that brutalization among social works may occur as consequence of the comprehensive and sudden changes imposed by the suspension of the employment program under COVID-19. This may lead to an undesirable practice that does not contribute to fulfilling the primary goal, which is ordinary work for all citizens. We speculate that this type of brutalization may also occur among social workers during other major changes, such as implementation of new employment laws in general. This can potentially have a negative impact on how quickly cash benefit recipients get an employment, and it is therefore highly relevant to investigate further.

Keywords: brutalization, cash benefit recipients, COVID-19, law suspension, social work
Publication date2021
Number of pages87
ID: 413418900