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UN lauds social work’s global influence

A top United Nations official has called on social workers to collaborate with the UN on achieving the millennium development goals to cut world poverty.

UN under-secretary general for economic and social affairs Sha Zukang told social workers gathered from around the world in Hong Kong that there had been some progress towards the goals, which include halving world poverty by 2015 and driving up levels of education in developing countries.

But he also said that despite growing prosperity in some parts of the globe, in others poverty had actually deepened, leaving the targets, set in 2000, more remote than ever. Giving the keynote speech at the World Conference on Social Work and Social Development, Mr Sha said that deaths of children under five had fallen over the period from 12.5 million a year, but remained too high at 8.8 million, according to 2008 figures.

The rapidly expanding economies of China and India had brought significant benefits in poverty reduction, he said, but there had been a catastrophic rise in the numbers of people existing on less than a dollar a day in sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr Sha called on the three organisations mounting the World Conference, including the International Federation of Social Workers, to meet with the UN to discuss how best to tackle domestic violence associated with poverty.

He highlighted the role of social work in supporting individual, family and community resilience. “As a group of social workers and social development experts [you] are a truly special audience,” Mr Sha told the conference. “

You work with the poor, the voiceless, the disenfranchised. Too often you are not properly acknowledged. I wish to state, here and now, that the United Nations recognises your contributions, day by day, village by village, to achieving the lofty development goals established in UN conference rooms in New York.”

BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson, who is attending the conference, said the keynote address had been “quite inspirational,” underlining the fact that social work had better support from the UN than many national governments, including the UK’s.

“We can build a really strong alliance with the UN by working at national level to ensure that the worldwide definition of social work and the code of ethics are embraced and used within the UK,” Mr Dawson said. “World social work is making common cause in Hong Kong and we must make sure that we invest in that link with the UN as well as strengthening our voices at home.”