How well does social work education in Aotearoa New Zealand prepare social workers to work with people claiming welfare benefits and what could be done better?


  • Alastair Russell University of Auckland
  • Charon Lessing Auckland University of Technology


social work education, welfare benefit advocacy, welfare benefit scenarios, neoliberalism, poverty aware paradigm, solidarity


INTRODUCTION: In Aotearoa New Zealand these people have eligibility for a range of welfare benefit entitlements. The Aotearoa New Zealand welfare benefit system has been subject to neoliberal reform and is judgmental, monocultural, punitive and complex. Without advocacy support people are unlikely to access all of their welfare benefit entitlements. It is therefore essential that social workers are highly knowledgeable about the welfare benefit system. This article summarises initial exploratory research that asked the question – how well does social work education in Aotearoa New Zealand prepare social workers to work with people claiming welfare benefits?

RESEARCH METHODS: The research used reflexive thematic analysis. The flexibility of this method allowed for a constructionist epistemology, a critical theoretical perspective and a critical ethnographic methodology. Eight semi-structured interviews were conducted with recent social work graduates. Each interview included realistic welfare benefit advocacy scenarios.

FINDINGS: The data strongly indicated social work education curricula does not adequately address welfare benefit issues. Consequently social workers are unlikely to competently support people to access all their benefit entitlements. Furthermore, there is a significant gap in the literature regarding this issue. A poverty-aware paradigm and use of realistic welfare benefit advocacy scenarios within social work education is recommended.


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How to Cite

Russell, A., & Lessing, C. (2024). How well does social work education in Aotearoa New Zealand prepare social workers to work with people claiming welfare benefits and what could be done better?. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 36(1), 60–74. Retrieved from



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