Social justice is a core part of the social work profession. Many people enter the social work profession because they have a strong commitment to making things better for people, communities and society, and they bring with them an already formed commitment to social justice (Gardner, 2006). Some organisations profess a commitment to social justice as part of their statement of philosophy or mission (Gardner, 2006) and this commitment can align with service users and community groups who may be pursuing social justice aims too (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2015, p. 38). This chapter explores the concept of social justice and examines its place in the ethics and theory of social work, including the kinds of things that a social justice approach to social work seeks to address. We will explore two main theories of social justice, those of philosophers John Rawls and Iris Marion Young. Each of these theories can contribute an understanding of the principles of fair and just distribution of resources and opportunities, as well as the many aspects of oppression and marginalisation that are at the root of so much injustice. Finally, we draw a comparison between social justice and fairness, and outline an example of how injustice and unfairness can deeply affect people’s well-being. The point we make here is that unfairness and injustice account for why people may experience distress and conflict, and negative effects on resilience and health overall (Siegrist, 2005).
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