Poverty is the Big Issue

Published on Barefoor Social Worker /radical.org, by Hilary Searing, not dated but more and more valuable.

There is no evidence that this government’s anti-poverty strategy is having any effect in reducing relative poverty in the UK. A recent report, Poverty and wealth across Britain 1968 to 2005, confirms what many social workers already know – that while the very poor may have been lifted out of extreme poverty there has been a continuing rise in poverty defined as ‘breadline poverty’. The report draws attention to the problem of social segregation and shows that poverty is ‘clustering’ as the wealthy flee to the outskirts of cities. It also shows that the gap between rich and poor is currently the highest it has been in 40 years. 

Poverty and inequality seem to be an intrinsic part of modern capitalism. This Labour government, by continuing the neoliberal, modernising agenda of the previous government, regards poverty and inequality as the inevitable price to be paid to maintain competitiveness in the global economy. The fact that wealth inequality has continued to grow since Labour came to power has caused public outrage. The study Public attitudes to economic inequality reports that most people think the present level of income inequality is too large and that those on higher incomes are very overpaid.

Children’s life chances are strongly affected by the circumstances of their parents. The social class a child is born into is a major determinant of their life chances. In a very unequal society the rich are better placed to protect their positions and promote their children’s careers while the poor face unfair barriers to their advancement.

The links between poverty and ill health are well known. Poverty and illness together make people much more vulnerable and needy at all stages of their lives, and even more so in old age. Inequalities between social classes in the incidence of chronic illness and mental illness and in life expectancy are also well documented. The working class poor with health problems are a particularly vulnerable group.

Social work may endorse anti-oppressive ideas but class inequalities, which give rise to and perpetuate income inequalities, remain as wide as ever. Clearly, anti-oppressive practice is at its weakest when it comes to the issue of class. Moral judgements about worth and deservedness permeate social work practice and unthinking class assumptions may influence the provision of services. For example, social work assessments are likely to include considerations of how well poor clients are dealing with their poverty. Furthermore, when social work decisions are challenged the more powerful and articulate middle classes are more likely to be successful in getting the services they need than the less powerful working classes.

The government assumes that social workers can deal with poverty without tackling the underlying causes. It continuously repeats the mantra of education as a panacea for all poverty and inequality and expects social workers to encourage children and adults to regard education as the main route out of poverty. The traditional social work role of striving to raise household incomes and improve housing conditions is disregarded by government. Social workers must resist the notion that poverty can be tackled by apolitical social work solutions. They have a responsibility to work towards structural change to resolve the issues their clients face which are caused by inequalities of income and wealth. It is not enough to simply resolve individual issues as they arise … (full text).

Links:

Grain Chain.com (a bakery concern in UK);

Le pire ennemi du profit est-il le plein emploi? dans le blog Autorisons-nous à penser, par Luigi Chiavarini, Samedi 10 juin 2006;

Les agriculteurs africains sont perdants.

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