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Discussing The Definitions Of Social Work Social Work Essay

Social Work is very complex and therefore very difficult to define. Whilst one school of thought may see it as a means of empowering people and promoting social justice, others may also see it as an element of social control. Despite different views and interpretations, Social Work has played an important role in increasing the quality of life of many vulnerable people .One such group being older people. With improvement of health care provision, life expectancy increased and therefore increasing the number of aged people who were too old to fend or raise any income for themselves. With the fertility rates falling it was clear that there were fewer workers to support those who were no longer working.

In this essay I will choose the service user group aged 60 and above and I will look at the historical and political events that has influenced the kind of social work provision we have for older people today. I will write about some of the many issues that accompanies old age which makes is very easy for them to fall into a category which experiences discrimination and oppression on a personal, cultural and on a structural level. Finally I will discuss the insights that listening to the service users can provide and then will conclude.

Social Work in the UK could trace its roots back to the system under the Poor Law Act in 1601. As Crawford & Walker (2007) discuss, most of the communities then were Agro based and with crop failure the responsibility of old and vulnerable people was placed on the community in most cases the parish and a lot of them ended up in the Poor House. In 1908 based on Seebohm Rowntree’s report, the government passed the Old Age Pension Act in which people over 70 years were provided with some income if they were eligible. After the Second world war, Sir William Beveridge came up with the Beveridge report in 1942. As Glennerster (2007) discusses he recommended the idea of redistributing income equally through a social security system, which will protect and help people who needed support due to illness, lack of jobs or retirement. He also advocated for free health care for all. This report formed the basis of the principles which led to the formation of the welfare state which intended to improve the well being of its citizens, on the basis of right and to guarantee minimum standards of living. In 1948 the welfare state started the social services, the NHS was formed. Under part three of the National Health Service Act 1946, local authorities could make provision for accommodation to those who by reason of their age, infirmity or circumstances could not take care of them selves. The NHS was reconstructed in 1974 with health care issues being handled by the health service and social care issues being handled by social services. In 1979 Mrs. Margaret Thatcher came to power she introduced the idea to privatise the provision of health care. Therefore changes which reflected the Conservative political ideology at the time such as the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 were implemented. In 1997 a Labour government was elected and achieved success for three subsequent terms this has led to further development of agenda in health and social care. In 1998 The Better Government For Older People launched a 2 year programme which was a significant step in policy development in which it engaged older people as citizens in developing ways of shaping public services for the needs of the future. As Jansen and Law 2003 discuss in Warren (2007), the recommendations from this programme helped Government to promote better engagement with older people in planning and taking decisions and to combat age discrimination. The National Service Frame Work for older people was published in March 2001 in which it set out eight standards which would benefit older people. According to Means et. al 2003, emphasis was to be placed on Person Centred and Intermediate care where freedom of choice would be encouraged and intermediate care provided at home or in designated care settings. General hospital care where appropriate specialist care would be provided was also part of the frame work. Another important area was about measures to prevent strokes and falls by older people. Attention was to be focused on treatment and support for mental health and the promotion of health and active life in old age. The framework also aimed at rooting out age discrimination where age will no longer be used as a criterion for eligibility.

Talking about discrimination, older people unfortunately experience this most of the time. Discrimination “is the process (or set of processes) by which people allocated to particular social categories with an unequal distribution of rights, resources and opportunities and power…” Thompson (2003,p.82) The most popular form of discrimination with this group is Ageism which Thompson 1995 describes as arising from the tendency to see older people in unduly negative terms, to over emphasize the significance of physical and mental decline in old age. A by product of discrimination which older people suffer is oppression which Thompson (2001) explains to be the situation where a person or category of persons are degraded, denied their rights or oppressed because a dominant group has power over them.

Thompson 2006 proposes a model to understand the different yet interconnected levels on which discrimination operates. He called it the PCS model, the P being the personal level, C being the cultural level and the S being the structural (socio-political) level. On a personal level there is a lot of prejudice which goes on which leads to older people especially the ones with learning difficulties having their decisions taken for them. A lot of infantilization goes on with older women being sometimes referred to as girls. When men grow old, they are associated with qualities like distinguished, wise and experienced whilst women are associated with labels like worn out, menopausal, neurotic and unproductive.

On a cultural level, the productivity minded society has little or no use for older people. They are seen as past their best, no longer productive, burden on the state and a drain on state resources. There is a lot of assumption in the society about older people being confused and dependent and this leads to a lot of uncalled for jokes and cartoons about them. They are often seen as a homogenous group which leads to stereotyping, lack of respect and having their situations viewed through the lens of a dominant culture whilst overlooking the fact that we live in a multi ethnic society and there may be differences in situations according to different individuals. Most of the literature about old age is from a medical perspective making old age seem like a disease and this has an impact on self image and self esteem.

Dominelli 1992 also discusses the colour blind approach which sees all older people as being the same therefore having the same needs and the same problems.

On a structural level, much emphasis is placed on child protection in a way that is not seen with adult protection. K. Brown 2007 argues that even in the employment sector age is an accepted form of discrimination, in which a job offer can be given to a person because they are younger. It is often assumed that the greater the age the higher the incidence of illness. Even when they are really sick it is dismissed with the comment ‘what do you expect at your age?’ In practice one cannot afford to remain neutral since that will only help in amplifying the situation. Therefore social workers have the legal, professional and moral imperative to practice in a way which challenges these negative tendencies. Such practice is known as Anti discriminatory practice which Braye and Shoot 1995 calls practice which challenges inequalities within a legal frame work and Anti Oppressive practice which he also calls practice that seeks to change the power structures that create social injustice at a personal, cultural and social level. To practice in such a way is to avoid Ageist language, stop grouping people according to their age and age should only be referred to when necessary. Also age should be recognized for what it is, as a continuous progress of growth. Social workers should also avoid restrictions of chronological age and older people should not be excluded from jobs because of their age. As Jansen and Law 2003 discuss in Warren 2007 that in a bid to minimize these negative tendencies the National Service Framework For Older People (DoH 2001b) included a requirement that older people be involved as partners in the development process rather than simply being consulted. This will help to get first hand information in implementing the policies that affect the service users.

The term Service user is mostly used to refer to the older people and other vulnerable people who make use of the services and resources provided by the state.

Service user imput is very important in the practice of every social worker because it offers a creative narrative and also gives first hand information about many practical issues including disability, health and real life situations which demand creative responses. Barnes (2002) discussed in Warren (2007) that service users stressed the need for social workers to understand what their lives were really like and not to make any assumptions or judgements about what they think their wants or needs are. The quality of the relationship that social workers have with their service users also plays an important part in affecting a change. Barnes (2002) explains in Warren (2007) that most service users want a social worker who is physically and emotionally available and supportive. Most of the older people I work with often say they feel comfortable with workers who are encouraging, reassuring and have respect for them. In the Service user workshop we had on the course the service users also expressed that they also valued any social worker who is committed to their independence and is patient and attentive to their problems. They also valued warmth punctuality and reliability. In my interactions with most of the older people I work with, I realise that Service user imput also challenges a lot of stereotypes which we assume as knowledge. It also builds trust between the social worker and the service user and creates a good relationship which leads to social inclusion on the service users part. It improves the quality of the service and its provision. It also encourages self sufficiency, confidence and self esteem on the part of the service user. Warren (2007) suggests that when service users are valued, they make a lot of contribution which can bring a lot of benefits to organisations that provide services. Insights from service users are an important resource for social work training. Warren (2007) also states that seeing service users as contributors, informers and educators goes a long way to challenge any stereotype which is seen as knowledge. Contributions from service users also go a long way in improving the provision and quality of service.

Since the introduction of social work, social workers have contributed significantly in the lives of older people. They have filled in the gap left by families, communities and even the social structure. With the formation of the NHS and the privatization of health care provision a lot of progress was made where the quality of life of older people are concerned. With the introduction of the NSF for older people freedom of choice was encouraged and most issues of discrimination have been addressed whilst others are still being worked on with measures like including service users in the educational curriculum to use their imputs to educate upcoming social workers. As Warren 2007 states “such inclusion and involvement of service users through all stages of the process is a welcome development. It provides opportunities for true engagement and has potential for real change.”(Warren 2007;p.43). Social workers have in most times protected vulnerable people from oppression and abuse. Finally Social Work has helped to promote changes in the social system on behalf of those with least power.

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