PREVENT, safeguarding and the common-sensing of social work in the United Kingdom

David McKendrick, Jo Finch


INTRODUCTION: The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (2015) passed in the United Kingdom (UK) made it mandatory for social workers, as well as a wide range of caring professionals, to work within the PREVENT policy, originally introduced in 2002, as one strand of the UK’s overall counter-terrorism policy.

METHOD: The paper offers a theoretical account of how complex issues, like terrorism, that understandably impact on the safety and security of countries, are reduced to a series of assertions, claims and panics that centre on the notion of common sense.

IMPLICATIONS: We theorise the concept of common sense and argue that such rhetorical devices have become part of the narrative that surrounds the PREVENT agenda in the UK, which co-opts social workers (and other public servants) into an increasingly securitised environment within the state. In other words, the appeal to common sense stifles critical debate, makes it hard to raise concerns and positions debates in a binary manner. We use the example of how there has been a decisive linking of traditional safeguarding social work practice with counter-terrorism activity.

CONCLUSIONS: We posit that linkages such as this serve to advance a more closed society, resulting in a “chilling” of free speech, an increase in surveillance and the unchecked advancement of a neoliberal political agenda which promotes economic considerations over issues of social justice. This we argue, has implications for not only the UK, but for other countries where social workers are increasingly being tasked with counter-terrorism activities.


safeguarding; counter-terrorism; social work; PREVENT

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