The Role of Social Workers in Addressing Income Inequality and Poverty

Social workers are agents of the state rather than agents of those in need

Income inequality and poverty remain a major social policy in all countries across the globe. In an attempt to promote equality and alleviate poverty, social welfare policies have been developed. Along with the social welfare policies come the social workers with a primary role of promoting social policies that seek to correct the inequality, deprivation, oppression, and discrimination of the vulnerable and marginalised population groups (Gil 2013). Additionally, social workers are expected to make sure people in need equally access social resources, opportunities, and services as those that are not in need. However, social workers have neglected their role as agents of those in need and instead have become agents of the state.


First, social workers use eligibility criteria to determine the needy individuals that will benefit from the selective benefits and services that are reserved for the most vulnerable. From the moral lens, the vulnerable and marginalised people are in needing thus have the right to receive social assistance and relief (Lyngstad 2015). However, social workers have increasingly restricted access to these benefits and associated them with stigma with an aim of motivating the vulnerable to participate in the labour market. This has resulted to the non-deserving and worthy labels among the people in need. Those that are deemed non-deserving are not eligible to social assistance while those seen as worthy are given access to selective social benefits. Therefore, social workers through the eligibility criteria have failed to advocate for all the people in need as instead advocated for the state policies that seek to see more people in the labour market.

Second, social workers have embraced the notion that everyone can do something in the labour market and that a positive approach to life makes the difference. Although it is the role of the state to challenge citizens to enter the labour market, social workers have taken this role and as a result seek to empower those in need to participate in the labour market (Bond-Taylor 2015). The effect of this belief on the people in need is that they end up receiving more information than welfare for social workers. This is to the advantage of the state in that less money is spent on marginalised communities.

Third, social workers are keen on civil and political rights while ignoring the social rights of those in need. Civil rights are the rights of a person in law such as freedom to speech, political rights are the right to participate in democratic actions and election, and social rights are the freedom for every individual to enjoy a minimum standard of economic welfare and security (Jaysawal 2013). Social rights develop last in that they are based upon civil and political rights. This perception has diverted social workers’ attention to civil and political rights thus acting as agents of state rather than agents of the people in need.

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Therefore, the society is seen to have significant effects on the people while the vulnerable persons have little or no effect on the society. This has significantly shifted the attention of social workers from the people in need to the needs of the state.


Bond-Taylor, S., 2015. Dimensions of family empowerment in work with so-called ‘troubled’ families. Social Policy and Society, 14(3), pp.371-384.

Gil, D.G., 2013. Confronting injustice and oppression: Concepts and strategies for social workers. Columbia University Press.

Jaysawal, N., 2013. Civil society, democratic space, and social work. SAGE Open, 3(4), p.2158244013504934.

Lyngstad, R., 2015. Different welfare system—same values? How social work educators in Norway, Chile and Argentina comprehend core social work and social policy issues. Social Sciences, 4(1), pp.239-259.

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