Social work has its roots in the attempts of society at large to deal with the problem of poverty and inequality. Social work is linked with the idea of charity work. Even before the rise of modern European states, the church was providing social services and these were often funded, at least in part, from grants from the Empire. By 580 AD the church had a system for circulating consumables to the poor, monasteries also often served as comprehensive social service agencies, acting as hospitals, homes for the aged, orphanages, travelers aid stations. During the Middle Ages, the Christian church had vast influence on European society and charity was considered to be a responsibility and this charity was in the form of direct relief, as opposed to trying to change the root causes of poverty. As there was no effective bureaucracy below city government that was capable of large scale charitable activities and it was not until the emergence of industrialization and urbanization that the informal helping systems of the church and family began to be replaced by social welfare services. The practice and profession of social work has a modern and scientific origin. The first was individual casework, a strategy pioneered by the Charity Organisation Society in the mid-19th century, the second was social administration, which included various forms of poverty relief. Statewide poverty relief could be said to have its roots in the English Poor Laws of the 17th century and this approach was developed originally by the settlement house movement. This was accompanied by an easily defined movement, the development of institutions to deal with the entire range of social problems. All had their most rapid growth during the century, and laid the foundational basis for modern social work. Because poverty was the focus of early social work, it was intricately linked with the idea of charity work. With the decline of feudalism in 16th century England, the indigent poor came to be seen as a direct threat to the social order. As they were not associated to a particular feudal manor. Early legislation was concerned with vagrants and making the able-bodied work, the first complete code of poor relief was made in the Act for the Relief of the Poor 1597 and some provision for the deserving poor was eventually made in the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601. It created a system administered at parish level, paid for by levying local rates on rate payers. Relief for those too ill or old to work, the impotent poor, was in the form of a payment or items of food or clothing also known as outdoor relief. Some aged people might be accommodated in parish alms houses, though these were usually private charitable institutions, meanwhile, able-bodied beggars who had refused work were often placed in Houses of Correction or even subjected to beatings to mend their attitudes
Image: Burying Plague Victims of Tournai
Social work involves ameliorating social problems such as poverty and homelessness.