Getting personal with poverty

By Genii Law

I am now close to the fourth quarter of my journey towards a social work qualification.  As I reflect upon the motivations that have brought me this far, I recall having conversations about why I wanted to get into this profession.  However, the exact reasons I gave to people temporarily elude me.

So, I delved further into the deepest recesses of my memory until I chanced upon an intense feeling, which precedes any notions I now have about the concept of social justice and human rights.   Then, the foggy imagery generated by that feeling is brought to the fore and I connect the dots.  I now remember a news broadcast from many years ago containing images of gaunt looking African children and adults with nothing to eat during the terrible famine of the 1980s.  I also recalled the intense sadness I felt then, as well as asking my mother what was happening.

This is the same feeling I get when I think about poverty now.  Thus, I reacted with utter incredulity when the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, recently stated that poverty is “to a large extent is also a state of mind” (Peck, 2017).  It almost beggars belief that a supposedly highly educated man such as he could have the gall to say something so callous.

I say almost because Carson is part of an out-of-touch administration that approved a $6 billion budget cut to his department, and shifted the responsibility of reducing poverty from his party’s wealthy benefactors to a poverty stricken workforce they have profited from.    This idiot also said that housing projects for poor people should not be too comfortable lest it encourages them to become too dependent on state welfare (Alcindor, 2017).  Perhaps, someone should tell Carson that “poverty is a human problem, not simply an economic one and it demands a human response.  With the focus on assistance coming from government programs and policies, compassion is often absent in the debate over how to help the poor.” (Haugen, 2015)

Social workers advocate at a local level for the destitute by ensuring they have access to resources such as healthcare, law enforcement and education (IFSW, 2017).  A study of social work students and their field supervisors overwhelmingly mentioned poverty as the most common issue in their practice, and led to clients having difficulties fulfilling their psychological and physical needs (Steen, Mann, Restivo, Mazany, & Chapple, 2016).

Successfully dealing with poverty at the grassroots could be helped along with the removal of red tape which only serves to restrict the invaluable time that social workers have with service users (Craig, 2002). Consequently, practitioners would be able to more efficiently fight for social justice on behalf of their clients.

One of the roles that practitioners can fulfil is in community development where job opportunities can be sought for residents via the promotion of local businesses and job training (IFSW, 2012).  Social workers can also adopt community practice to encourage people’s capability for positive change, as well as finding resources.  Unfair policies and social circumstances that exacerbate inequalities must be opposed by social workers to enable people to access the resources they deserve (IFSW, 2012).


Peck, J. (2017). Poverty? Oh, that’s just a ‘state of mind’ for the Trump administration. Retrieved from

Alcindor, Y. (2017). Don’t make housing for the poor too cozy, Carson warns. Retrieved from

Haugen, G. (2015). The hidden reason for poverty the world needs to address now. Retrieved from

IFSW. (2017). Poverty, a key issue for social justice. Retrieved from

Steen, J. A., Mann, M., Restivo, N., Mazany, S., & Chapple, R. (2017). Human rights: Its meaning and practice in social work field settings. Social Work, 62(1), 9-17.

Craig, G. (2002). Poverty, social work and social justice. British Journal of Social Work, 32(6), 669-682.

IFSW. (2012). Poverty eradication and the role for social workers. Retrieved from



About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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