Skip to content

Reflections on poverty and social justice – Northern Ireland

In March 2019, the Belfast Trust hosted a very well-attended event to raise awareness of the Anti-Poverty Practice Framework for all social work and social care staff across the Belfast Trust.

A key theme that emerged from the participant feedback related to the interactive nature of the event and a significant majority of participants reported that engaging with voluntary/community partners was both valuable and productive.

The majority of participants highlighted the need for more collaborative work and ways in which to connect with our community and voluntary partners in combating poverty and social inequalities.

It would be good to see inter-agency working between the Trust and voluntary sector as it is beneficial for both practitioners and clients.

The event ‘reaffirmed my social work values’.


One of our values is social justice, we need to start promoting this.

Speaking at the event, Pam Borland, Principal Social Worker, acknowledged that the rising cost of food, heating and rent means that many people are facing difficulties whether they are in work or not.

Participants made donations to a local foodbank and there was overwhelming good will and generosity.

There was plenty of discussion and much reflection about the existence of foodbanks, with many participants expressing their concern about the increasing normalisation of this fairly recent and unacceptable phenomena.

Gerry Largey, a Senior Social Worker and activist for the rights of children and families in his concluding remarks, provided a plethora of shocking statistics: We have one in four children currently living in poverty. And those children in the most deprived 10 per cent of small neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland (NI) are nearly six times more likely to be on the child protection register and four times more likely to be “looked after” than children in the least deprived areas. He challenged participants to reflect are we policing people who are in need, people in crisis, those who are the most disadvantaged, those suffering material hardship, suffering the horrors of poverty.

Key messages from the event

As a social work and social care workforce we need to:

  • regard the shocking statistics of poverty in our communities as an emergency, requiring immediate action – so it is no longer the ‘elephant in the room’ of social work practice
  • look at the current situation with sufficient analysis to establish the real causes and act in the pursuit of social justice
  • ensure that we seek out support from our managers, team members, professional bodies, trade unions, so that at the same time as building a service user’s confidence to speak out about their situation, we also feel empowered to speak out and challenge social injustice and oppression
  • learn more about the value of co-production as an approach and have more opportunities to co-produce and truly engage with people about what support and services should look like
  • engage with and make stronger connections with our voluntary and community partners and not just for reasons of referring for other support services but with a view to supporting and promoting community empowerment.

Find out more: Anti-Poverty Practice Framework

Contact: Patricia Burns, Learning and Development Co-Ordinator, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust