International Journal of

Arts , Humanities & Social Science

ISSN 2693-2547 (Print) , ISSN 2693-2555 (Online)
PERCEPTIONS OF POVERTY: Exploring the attitudes of Sheffield Hallam University Social Work students to service-user poverty

Abstract

An understanding of poverty and its impact on service-users is essential for social workers to be able to act in an empowering, anti-oppressive way. Our actions are often influenced by our attitudes.  This qualitative study aims to identify the attitudes and causal attributions of poverty amongst social work students to provide a baseline indicator that might inform poverty education within SHU’s social work courses. To date, no UK investigations of this nature have been undertaken recently, leaving us with a profound lack of understanding of the knowledge and attitudes of student social workers toward poverty and its impact on people in the UK. The study design is multi-method, incorporating two data sources:  an on-line questionnaire (43 responses) and individual telephone interviews (6). Findings revealed that students enrolled on a BA Social Work degree were generally compassionate towards those experiencing poverty. They preferred structural causal explanations rather than individual; students also strongly held the government responsible and saw poverty as something impacted by political choices. However, poverty was understood to be absolute rather than relatively defined and a trend towards dissociating from and ‘othering’ those in poverty was discerned. The study recommends the inclusion of poverty-awareness in the values and ethics element of social work courses, to enable it to be incorporated into students’ anti-oppressive practice.