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Neoliberalism and austerity have led to a growing inequality gap and increasing levels of poverty and social harm. In this short form book, part of the Critical and Radical Debates in Social Work series, Chris Jones and Tony Novak look at consequences of poverty and inequality and the challenge they pose to the engaged social work academic and practitioner. There are many studies of poverty that look at competing definitions (and some of the consequences) of poverty in modern society. Here the authors argue that, especially for a profession with a claimed commitment to values based on equality, social justice and meeting human need, poverty and immiserisation impose a requirement on social workers to speak out and not to collude with social policies that make the plight of the impoverished even harder and their lives even worse.

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We are living in turbulent times. Across the globe, regimes have been toppled and people in unprecedented numbers are taking to the streets in protest as austerity politics sweeps away their jobs and their incomes. The notion that individual debt-fuelled consumerism could provide both the economic drive and the social glue for a rampant capitalism unchallenged in the globe has proved to be disastrous. In the midst of one of the most serious crises of global capitalism, a crisis that is both economic and political, even the most cautious analysts have to face up to the fact that something new is happening in the world. The poor are stirring and rising against their punishment for an economic crisis not of their making; they are angry because the perpetrators are left free and untouched; they are increasingly sickened by the extraordinary disparities in wealth and income; they are insulted by the conspicuous greed and consumption of the rich as their own living standards and well-being decline, and they have had enough of being ignored.

Such stirrings are necessary. Because as well as ‘impoverishing the many’ capitalism is also plundering the earth’s resources with no regard for the human and environmental carnage it brings in its wake. The clock is ticking for the human race. It is a time for clear thinking, strong words and action. It is time for social workers – both academics and practitioners – to speak out and act against the human destruction we are now witnessing.

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We are living in turbulent times. Across the globe, regimes have been toppled and people in unprecedented numbers are taking to the streets in protest as austerity politics sweeps away their jobs and their incomes. The notion that individual debt-fuelled consumerism could provide both the economic drive and the social glue for a rampant capitalism unchallenged in the globe has proved to be disastrous. In the midst of one of the most serious crises of global capitalism, a crisis that is both economic and political, even the most cautious analysts have to face up to the fact that something new is happening in the world. The poor are stirring and rising against their punishment for an economic crisis not of their making; they are angry because the perpetrators are left free and untouched; they are increasingly sickened by the extraordinary disparities in wealth and income; they are insulted by the conspicuous greed and consumption of the rich as their own living standards and well-being decline, and they have had enough of being ignored.

Such stirrings are necessary. Because as well as ‘impoverishing the many’ capitalism is also plundering the earth’s resources with no regard for the human and environmental carnage it brings in its wake. The clock is ticking for the human race. It is a time for clear thinking, strong words and action. It is time for social workers – both academics and practitioners – to speak out and act against the human destruction we are now witnessing.

The scale of hardship that has been dealt out in recent years cannot be underestimated, both nationally and globally.

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It is gratifying to see that all the respondents broadly endorsed our principal arguments and demands. All of them, from their varying societies and countries, describe the terror and damage of unbridled neoliberalism and its devastation of lives and well-being, especially among the most downtrodden and vulnerable. They all note similar patterns and social and economic trends, as what Schram rightly calls disposable populations grow in size, inequalities between the wealthiest and the rest widen and deepen, and as the state responses to welfare, crime and protest become ever more authoritarian and disciplinary. In general terms, in many of the core capitalist societies, such as the US, the UK and Canada, the overall trajectory of the state today is more concerned with minimising costs, social control, management and discipline, rather than seeking to ameliorate the problems of poverty and unemployment. The extraordinary increases in incarceration and surveillance of the population provide stark examples both of the contemporary neoliberal state’s orientation to its own people and the mining of corporate profits on the backs of the most disadvantaged. For the poorest, the agents of social control and the gatekeepers of declining resources are now as likely to wear the outfits of a private corporation as they are the uniforms of the police or the prison service. The concept of contradiction has been a long-held tenet of critical welfare state analysis, and in this book Abramowitz classically sets out the manner in which the state’s welfare measures are simultaneously good and bad for people.

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