How Well Does Social Work Education Prepare Social Workers to Work with People Claiming Welfare Benefits and What Could Be Done Better?

Russell, Alastair
Lessing, Charon
Hammond, Kay
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Master of Philosophy
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A foundational purpose of the social work profession is the pursuit of social justice. From its beginnings social workers have worked with people living in poverty and experiencing injustice and social workers continue to do so. In Aotearoa New Zealand these people have eligibility for a range of welfare benefit entitlements. The Aotearoa New Zealand welfare benefit system has been subject to neoliberal reform and is judgmental, monocultural, punitive and complex. Without advocacy support people are unlikely to access all of their welfare benefit entitlements. It is therefore essential that social workers are highly knowledgeable about the welfare benefit system.

This research is an initial exploration of the role of social work education in preparing social workers to work with people claiming welfare benefit entitlements. It asks the question - how well does social work education prepare social workers to work with people claiming welfare benefits and what could be done better?

The researcher's positionality is seen as a resource. The research uses an epistemology of constructionism and a critical theoretical perspective. The methodology is based upon a critical ethnography that includes a political, social justice focus with an ethical obligation to bring about social change. A reflexive thematic analysis is used as it has the necessary flexibility to incorporate these components of research design. Eight semi-structured interviews of 'recent' social work graduates including the use of welfare benefit advocacy scenarios provide the research data along with a literature review, history of Aotearoa New Zealand's welfare benefit system and the implications of the professionalisation of social work.

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