Journal of Social Policy


At risk of prevention*

David Billis


The first part of this article explores the ways in which the term ‘prevention’ is utilized in the field of the personal social services. The conclusion is reached that, unlike its legitimate use in the physical world, the term is intellectually confused when applied to social services. In Part Two it is argued that this confusion has unanticipated and damaging consequences. It leads to an unfair deal for clients, to confusion and status differentials for staff, and an increase in the social control apparatus of public agencies. It is suggested that the abandonment of ‘pseudo-prevention’ may lead to the clarification and explication of more defensible boundaries based on the analysis of problems rather than the attainment of ideal states.


* I would like to acknowledge comments received from my colleagues Jimmy Algie, Anthea Hey, David Marsland and Ralph Rowbottom.

† Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Organisation and Social Studies, Brunel University.