I remember a lecturer on the social work course who was fond of saying " The rich and powerful have their own accountant but its the poor and those on benefits who most need them ". Her point was the rich employed an accountant to reduce the tax they pay even though they could afford to pay it. The benefits system is as complicated as the tax system but the poor have to rely on free advice on welfare rights and debt management because they have no money.
Another of her sayings was "it's expensive being poor". The richer you are the easier it is to borrow money and the better the interest rate. When the bank and credit card companies won't lend to you the Pay Day loan companies and pawn brokers are all that's left. You need some spare cash to stock up the freezer with this weeks special offers other wise its round to the corner shop to buy todays tea and pay extra for the convenience.
The vast majority of social work is with those on benefits and low incomes. Yes there are the middle class affluent and articulate parents of those with a learning disability but a few specialisms aside we work with the poor. Yet the reason for this lecturer's comments was in response to those on the course who reflected a view within the profession that welfare rights and debt management advice were not part of "proper" social work. They took the view that clients with money problems should be referred to the Citizen's Rights Bureau (CRB) or local welfare rights centre.
Social work is often on the back foot defending itself from an unsympathetic media and a sceptical public so perhaps it is not surprising that social workers should want to define themselves as "professional" not Jack of all trades masters of non.
Budget cuts to the voluntary sector have reduced the amount and accessibility of free financial advice. Cuts to benefits for disabled people, the growth in food banks, changes to housing benefit and an increase in the homeless, particularly amongst young people, are evidence of increased poverty. And yet in most people's mind a financial assessment is not about checking someone is getting all they are entitled to but establishing how much they will have to contrive to their care costs!
Not everyone who is poor needs a social worker but everyone who has a social worker needs financial advice.