These powerful words by Dr John Falzon, CEO of The Australian Council of Social Services, reminds us that poverty, inequality and disadvantage are structural, moral and political issues, inasmuch as they point to suffering and hardship. Poverty is a problem because it is linked to deprivation and exclusion, and poverty is typically a marker of unacceptable levels of inequality that requires action (Alcock, 2006). Further, entrenched poverty is something that arises out of a deficient social and economic system, because even within wealthy and prosperous nations, poverty may be created and sustained through various social and economic policies and ideologies (Alcock, 2006). Hence, poverty is a moral and political issue. It is a moral issue because it is bound up within judgements about poverty being wrong and something undesirable, and it is political because of the way that the social and economic order in prosperous nations actually creates the conditions for poverty to grow. Social work has a long tradition of working with poverty and disadvantage in case practice, group work, community development and social activism. In fact, what has historically set social work apart from other helping professions is its focus on addressing both the conditions and consequences of various forms of social, political, economic and other disadvantage. The terms poverty and disadvantage, however commonplace they may be, are not without complications. The chapter will explain what poverty means and give an overview of the extent, scope and theories of poverty.
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