Low-income women's encounters with social services: Negotiation over power, knowledge and respectability

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Social work literature has paid increased attention to relations between those living in poverty and social service workers. Numerous studies have reported inconsistencies between clients' and social workers' perceptions of the adequacy of support. Relatively little attention has been paid, however, to clients' voices, and seldom are they treated as experts in their own lives. This qualitative study examines the perceptions of women living in poverty in terms of their encounters with social services, focusing on their felt experience. Based on in-depth interviews of fifty breadwinning Jewish Israeli mothers, the analysis reveals four central mechanisms of social exclusion within the encounters between social service workers and their clients, which deprive the women of the opportunity to own power, knowledge and respectability: closing doors; humiliation, shame and stigma; accusation and criticism; and invisibility. To a considerably lesser extent, the analysis also points to mechanisms of social inclusion: visibility, dignity and respect. The paper discusses the implications of these findings in terms of how encounters between women living in poverty and the social services could facilitate social inclusion and respectability, as well as poverty alleviation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1554-1571
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.


  • Low-income women
  • Poverty
  • Respectability
  • Social inclusion
  • Social services

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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