The concept ‘service user’ refers to an individual who is a user of welfare services and is used among professionals in social work and within social policy. It is also a commonly used concept in social work education and thus a familiar term among social work students.
The service user concept refers to an individual who is a user of welfare services. The concept is used among professionals in social work and within social policy. It is also a commonly used concept in social work education and thus a familiar term among social work students.
Concepts used to refer to users of welfare services are under continuous debate and depend on context and who is defining who. Professionals and lecturers in social work focus on the individual and its need of social services. Depending on context and types of services provided, terms like client, patient, and customer are also used in social work education and practice to define individuals within the social work target groups.
Persons labelled as service users within social work or representatives from the service users’ organisations sometimes disavow being labelled as ‘service users’, ‘clients’, or ‘patients. Within service user organisations, members are commonly referred to as ‘people who/with… ’ or as a ‘person with … ´ The use of such terms pinpoints that the individual’s entire identity is not attributed as a user of welfare services. After all, every person has several identity-creating roles such as: parent, professional affiliation, nationality, religious affiliation, etc.
It is important to acknowledge that the service user concept (or equivalent) is not universally used, and that the concept can contribute to stigma, especially if a person’s entire identity is attributed as a user of welfare services. Therefore, as teachers and professionals, we must carefully consider if we want to label individuals within the social work target groups. To get around the problem of reducing personal identity and to define persons as users of welfare services, one can emphasize that a service user is first and foremost a person like everyone else and secondly the subject of different types of social services by using more precise terms such as assistance users, children placed in foster care, etc.