Although social work has been assigned a pivotal role in the fight against poverty, it is also criticised for adjusting to the retrenchment of the welfare state and its weakening concern in issues of social justice. Hence, critical questions concerning its positioning towards the tension between securing and changing the underlying assumptions of the social order are pertinent. We theorise this issue while drawing on the work of Nancy Fraser, who advocates a politics of redistribution, recognition and representation, and identifies affirmative and transformative ways of dealing with injustices. Based on this theory, our central argument is that social work often tries to escape or ignore the complex nature of its engagement in the fight against poverty by sliding into one-sided affirmative or transformative anti-poverty strategies. We argue that social work should attempt to embrace reflexively the inherent tensions in which it is caught when dealing with the problem of poverty, rather than try to find ways to escape from these tensions and ambiguities. From this stance, a role for social work might be the creation of cultural forums in which public debate about the problem of poverty is stimulated.