The Role of Social Services in the Fight Against Poverty

October 27, 2019
Do you know what social services offer to the poor? Today, we'll explore a topic that's relevant in our increasingly unequal society.

The 2008 worldwide economic crisis further increased the gap between the rich and poor. The impact of the crisis marginalized thousands of people, putting them in precarious financial situations. The most vulnerable members of society felt the greatest impact, which led to a significant rise in demand for social services that fight against poverty.

In general, people relate poverty with low wages. Researchers often measure poverty by individual or household income. However, there are no universal or absolute criteria, only relative ones. These relative criteria take into account the time period and geographical area in question to analyze poverty and the average income level (Del Barrio, 2014).

It’s important to understand that the concept of poverty is multidimensional. There’s no single focus or affected area.

Two open hands outstretched asking for social services.

Poverty and marginalization

As we mentioned above, there’s no single definition or classification of poverty. There are many different ways to measure this phenomenon (Del Barrio 2014):

  • According to the type of information that you use to measure it. Objective or subjective.
  • Taking into account the reference used to establish the poverty threshold. Absolute or relative.
  • According to the time period of the object of study. Transversal (during a particular year) or long-term.
  • By the analysis based on the inability to access basic resources. Multidimensional privation.

For the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), poverty means the denial of options and opportunities to live a tolerable life. This program uses the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) as a reference for determining who’s living in poverty. The UN designed the MPI to reflect the effect and intensity of the deprivations that people suffer.

The term marginalization is similarly multi-dimensional. It affects individuals, groups of people, and geographic regions. Consequently, you can look at marginalization in terms of income, health, education, access to services, housing, and debt. Thus, according to Spicker, Alvares, and Gordon (2009) marginalization can lead to the following problems:

  • Homelessness.
  • Urban crises.
  • Ethnic tension.
  • An increase in long-term unemployment.
  • Persistently high poverty levels.

The role of social services in the fight against poverty

There’s no doubt that social services are a fundamental pillar of an integrated healthcare system. Professionals who work every day to assist people in need take the time to study every individual case. As a result, they understand the need for guidelines that can be adapted to each situation.

Although there are many services that simply help to improve or fix issues that arise, the idea isn’t to just put a Band-Aid on the problem.

That’s why it’s so important to avoid paternalism and focus on empowerment. Social services need to work with individuals and help them develop the abilities they need to face their everyday struggles. Education is the only way to make sure that poverty doesn’t become chronic.

Usually, individuals have to meet certain requirements in order to have access to existing services. Some of the available resources include:

  • Rent or mortgage assistance.
  • Food stamps.
  • Discounts or income-based assistance for utility bills.
  • Financial aid for people who meet certain income thresholds.
  • Non-contributive pensions.
  • Helping people to find employment.
  • Education.
  • Family resource planning and organization.

Thus, while money is extremely important for lifting people out of poverty, the priority should be working with individuals and families to come up with long-term solutions to their problems. Creating individualized projects with achievable goals is ultimately the best solution.

In conclusion, the goal of social services isn’t to create dependence; it’s to help create a society of free and autonomous people, capable of solving their problems and running their own lives.

Del Barrio, J.M., “Estructura Social y Desigualdades”. Universidad de Salamanca. Salamanca (2014)

Kliksberg, B. (1989). Cómo enfrentar la pobreza. Estrategias y.

Spicker, P., Álvares, L., & Gordon, S. (2009). Definiciones de pobreza: doce grupos de significados. Pobreza: Un glosario internacional, 291-306.

SÍNDIC DE GREUGES DE LA COMUNITAT VALENCIANA (2017). El papel de los servicios sociales generales en la lucha contra la pobreza y la exclusión social en los municipios valencianos durante la crisis.