Social work and poverty: an exploration of social workers’ attitudes and understanding
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AbstractThe context of this study is the dilemma that most service users of social interventions and practice are poor and yet poverty is marginalised within social work practice. The study therefore set out to explore social work practitioners’ understanding of poverty, attitudes towards poverty and social work and poverty relationship. A qualitative methodology was adopted, involving five focus group discussions and twenty-eight semi-structured interviews within three Local Authorities referred to as research sites. This was more than the originally anticipated sample. A narrative literature review undertaken concluded that social work definitions are contested and this, coupled with regulation of social work, limits social work effectiveness in addressing poverty as it is not one of its major remits. The review identified that poverty is a significant issue affecting most service users and associated with most social problems involved in social work interventions and practice. The review discovered that social work practice pathologizes poverty and generally attributes causation of poverty to service users’ lack of capacity to take advantage of opportunities within the market and provided by the state and a lack of motivation to overcome their problems at the expense of structural factors that either cause or exacerbate poverty. This resonates with individualistic social work frameworks which are risk-averse, reactive, punitive, authoritative, and ineffective given the scale and impact of poverty which seems to be increasing. This is aggravated by the neo-liberal socio-political environment and managerialist social work environment characterised by low morale, high caseloads, paucity of much needed resource for social work interventions. The literature review established that social workers’ attitudes towards poor service users are largely ambivalent and negative. The research data reveals that poverty is a significant and prevalent issue amongst most service users and associated with most social problems handled by social workers. Research participants expressed that there is no shared understanding of poverty, that definition of poverty is important in how it is understood and influencing how poverty is addressed. It emerged that poverty is marginalised in social work education and practice. Research data revealed that poverty is taken as background music and normal. It emerged that poverty is not viewed as a risk factor on its own. Participants revealed that social work lacks capacity, knowledge, and skills to address poverty. Social work education and training does not equip social workers with functional knowledge and skills to address poverty in practice. The research revealed social work professionals’ attitudes are generally negative, stereotypical, and judgemental towards service users. Government policies aggravate service users’ experiences and circumstances. The participants expressed an understanding that thresholds of social work interventions are high and therefore act as barriers. Participants expressed that poverty is an uncomfortable subject to discuss with service users given stigmatisation associated with being poor. This therefore results in service users hiding their financial struggles. It emerged that service users who are poor are discriminated against and punished to experiencing poverty and that this goes against main social work values. The findings echo findings undertaken by many academics and researchers in social work poverty and therefore add to the body of knowledge in social work and poverty The study recommends that that consideration should be made that poverty is taught as a main course in social work education and as a post-graduate course for social work in practice. It is also recommended that social work should promote poverty discourse at the policy level with a view to influencing structural change. It is also recommended that adequate funding be provided for poverty practice, family support and early intervention and prevention. It is also recommended that that government policies that impact negatively on service users be evaluated. Service users should play an integral role in all these recommendations.
CitationNyamtowo, M. (2020) 'Social Work and Poverty: An Exploration of Social Workers’ Attitudes and Understanding'. Professional Doctorate thesis. University of Bedfordshire.
PublisherUniversity of Bedfordshire
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted to the University of Bedfordshire in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Professional Doctorate thesis.
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