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Introducing social work: a starter kit
Introducing social work: a starter kit

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1.5 The impact of poverty on people’s lives

Some people are more able to withstand the impact of poverty than are others. This can often be linked with individual resilience, enhanced and sustained by informal support networks. But poor housing, poor nutrition, high local crime rates, childcare costs and overcrowding can take their toll on even the most resilient of individuals and families.

Activity 1 Work, work, work

Watch this video where Renée describes the pressures on her working situation. Clearly Renée has many skills and is very resourceful, but her situation appears very fragile.

List some of the risk factors of individual and structural forces that potentially could prove very concerning for Renée. List these risks factors under two headings: ‘Individual’, and ‘Structural’.

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It is difficult to absolutely separate the individual influences and risks from the structural influences and risks. However, some possible suggestions are listed here:


  • Risks if there are health problems for the children’s grandmother.
  • Risks if there are health problems for Renée.
  • Possibly having electricity and/or gas disconnected for non-payment.
  • Working patterns for Renee mean that she has to use taxis to take her daughter to nursery, and she is already in arrears for these payments.
  • Restricted social life outside of the family home, for Renee and for the children.


  • Risks of further changes to the benefits system at a societal level, that may have a negative impact for Renee and her children.
  • Risks of increases in nursery charges because of the commercial basis of nursery provision – it’s like ‘a mortgage’.
  • After school clubs are expensive, especially when there is more than one child in a family. These are not included as mainstream provision educationally.
  • Possibly because Renee is working, there is no financial help for school lunches or school uniforms.
  • Lack of additional home-based educational materials such as books, and Renee is also concerned about the funding of longer-term education of her children.
  • The demands on the support services for families living in a large city such as London.

‘Social problems’ such as crime and large prison populations, violence, drug abuse and obesity are more prevalent in societies characterised by high levels of economic inequality.