ANZASW Statement: International Day for the Eradication of Poverty 2020

Tomorrow (Saturday 17 October 2020), is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The theme for this year, as set by the UN, is Acting Together to Achieve Social and Environmental Justice for All. This theme recognises the complex and multidimensional nature of poverty and that poverty and issues of social justice cannot be eradicated without the parallel recognition and rectification of environmental injustices.

ANZASW would like to acknowledge the work of social workers, both in Aotearoa and around the world, in fighting against poverty and assisting those who struggle with the ongoing effects of social injustices.

Earlier this week we were lucky enough to hear from former ANZASW President and life member Mike O’Brien on what the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty means for him this year.

Mike O’Brien is an Associate Professor in the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work at the University of Auckland. He began social work in the Child Welfare Division and worked subsequently at the North Canterbury Hospital Board before taking up an academic appointment at Massey University. He has written and researched extensively on social policy, social security, poverty and social services. He has served on a range of social service Boards and is currently a member of the Peter McKenzie project and a member of the Child Poverty Action Group management committee. In 2018 Mike was awarded the ONZM for his contribution to social work and social services.

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty – what does it mean for social workers in Aotearoa New Zealand?

One of my very early social work experiences as a young social worker was going to a family where the cupboards were completely empty – there was literally no food in the house for the family. It remains a vivid memory from front line work fifty or so years ago.

Poverty shapes lives and limits opportunities for too many people in Aotearoa. Improving those lives and increasing those opportunities is a core part of social work with children and families, with people with disabilities, with people with mental health struggles, with migrant and refugee communities, with people with addictions, with individuals and families facing housing difficulties, with offenders and the victims of crime. In its multiple dimensions, it is a core concern facing too many tangata whenua and their whānau.

Daily social work practice includes ensuring that service users are receiving all the assistance they need and the benefits to which they are entitled. Faced with what are often major issues for service users, social workers have a critical task in both providing a range of services and bringing hope and encouraging support as users go about their daily lives. Good social work practice requires providing users with the best possible engagement and relationships on a day to day basis. Social work emerged out of poverty and, unfortunately and unnecessarily, poverty continues to be a significant part of the lives of too many of those with whom we work.

Good daily practice is critical. That has to be backed up by social workers taking effective collective and collaborative action to challenge and change the systems and ideologies which continue to create and sustain poverty. That means drawing on and highlighting those daily experiences so that appropriate and effective action is taken to reduce both the level and experience of poverty. We need to expect and demand that those responsible for social and economic policy act in ways that will reduce the numbers living below the poverty line, numbers which are far too high in a country like Aotearoa. We have to be prepared to say very loudly “This is not good enough, it has to change and we expect you as a decision maker to do all in your power to make and sustain that change”.

Social work practice in response to poverty in 2020 has to have two integrated parts – providing the best possible service to those we work with AND being the best possible advocates for comprehensive system changes to reduce the levels of poverty. Anything else is incomplete practice.

ANZASW would like to again acknowledge and celebrate all social workers who continually work and advocate for the reduction of poverty and providing assistance and support to those who are affected by the poverty present within our communities.