Social work and poverty : attitudes and actions
This study has investigated to what extent social workers' attitudes to poverty have been translated into actions. Factors which have affected social workers' ability to turn attitudes into actions have included: the restructuring of welfare, which has involved social service cutbacks and financially restrictive social security policies; and social workers' subjective norms and behavioural controls. The study also includes a consideration of the ways in which social workers aid social service users with financial difficulties - through welfare rights advice and/or advocacy or direct cash payments. It is suggested that social workers are increasingly being expected to collude with the DSS' functions of income maintenance and therefore their role as welfare rights advocates/advisers can be compromised. However social service users' increasing poverty indicate that social work help with financial and material needs may be an important part of the social work task from a consumer's perspective, both in training and in work. Social work students had more positive attitudes than social workers towards dealing with poverty in practice, and were critical of the social control functions of social workers in relation to income maintenance. However, they were not similarly subject to the controls and norms of social work institutions. The poverty awareness programme created as a result of the fieldwork findings, allows social workers and social work students to be more aware of conflicts between attitudes and actions, and fulfils students' needs for an understanding of poverty that integrates theory and practice. Some social service users constructed their financial problems differently from the way social workers perceived them. However users were generally grateful for any financial help or advice they received, but tended to find such help stigmatising. Some users had turned to welfare rights agencies for further financial advice where such agencies were available. Further research would need to evaluate: the effectiveness of poverty awareness programmes; the changing role of the social worker in relation to poverty in a developing social care market; and whether social security policies continue to put additional financial pressure on social service users and hence affect the role of the social worker in relation to financial need.