Lea Caragata (University of British Columbia)


Topic: Lone Mothers’ Poverty as Public Shaming: Social Work’s Responsibility

Language: English 


Recent research investigated low-income lone mothers roles as citizens and their social engagement against a back drop of high levels of social inequality and a villifying public discourse. Given that ideas of citizenship are increasingly associated with one’s status as a taxpayer or consumer rather than as a political entitlement, this paper argues that social work must relentlessly challenge growing social and economic inequality but also acknowledge the ways these problems translate to the broader and more life-defining issues of citizenship and exclusion from the public realm.

More than 40 low-income single mothers from 3 Canadian cities participated in individual interviews and focus groups engaging in conversation on their roles as citizens, their social rights and social engagement. Findings included mothers’ identification of their sense of public worthiness diminishing reporting too, their children’s similar experiences. Furthermore, all family members experience material deprivations that severely circumscribe their ability to participate in social and community life.

While this paper reports on data from a Canadian study the issues taken up are relevant to the roles of social workers and social work educators more broadly. Recognizing ‘citizen’ as an already problematic concept for women, given historical exclusion and continuing marginalization, discussed are questions of women’s access to the public sphere and the meanings attached to ‘public’ and ‘private’ in contemporary western life. Gender rights and the broader contestation for increased social and economic equity and equal rights to a place in the public sphere, remain critical social work challenges. As a profession, we must take up a more avowedly political place.