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Poverty, Social Exclusion and Discrimination in Wales

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Published: Tue, 14 Aug 2018

Wales is a diverse country with its own national identity, language and multicultural society, however Wales also has defined issues. Within the following assignment I plan to look at the impact of poverty, discrimination and social exclusion within Wales and the role of the social worker in addressing these issues. I will then explain the role of anti-oppressive practice in creating social inclusion.

To understand the impact of poverty, discrimination and social exclusion I need to explain what is meant by these issues. People often think of poverty and social exclusion as a financial issue which affects people who are unemployed living on benefits but in reality it encompasses a far wider range of individuals (The Bevan Foundation 2009). Definitions of poverty, discrimination and social exclusion vary but I think the definition given by European Commission covers the wide spectrum of issues. It states:

“People are said to be living in poverty if their income and resources are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living considered acceptable in the society in which they live. Because of their poverty they may experience multiple disadvantage through unemployment, low income, poor housing, inadequate health care and barriers to lifelong learning, culture, sport and recreation. They are often excluded and marginalised from participating in activities (economic, social and cultural) that are the norm for other people and their access to fundamental rights may be restricted.”

Wales is the poorest country within the United Kingdom, due to the closure of much of its industry causing high unemployment, cuts in public spending, benefit changes and an aging population, it is thought that 600,000 approximately quarter of population live in poverty, even areas which are considered to be affluent are not as rich as many parts of the rest of the United Kingdom (Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2013). The Bevan Foundation defines groups of people within Wales who experience poverty, discrimination and social exclusion, these are ethnic minority groups, women, disabled people, children and young people and older people of pension age.

The BBC news and save the children have states one in three children in Wales live in a home earning 60% lower than the average income across the United Kingdom which is £26000, as a result Wales has some of the poorest families who have stated they regularly go without food to ensure their children are able to eat and are finding it hard to purchase basis such as shoes and a warm winter coat. Some welsh parents on a low income have stated they are regularly stressed about money which impacts on their relationship with their children, this can have lasting effects on the child. Children who grow up poor are more likely to leave school without qualifications, have fewer life experiences, reduced aspiration, restricted ability to get a good job and can lead to lifelong problems with their physical, mental condition leading to shortened lives. Many of these families find themselves in the continual cycle of poverty and social exclusion, for example a child raised in poverty is more likely to leave school with low or no qualifications, which reduces employment opportunities available to them, which leads to low income which could lead to them living and bringing up their children in poverty and the cycle begins once again. These issues are then compounded by the discrimination of wider society who often view people living in poverty as ‘scroungers’ living off the state, this fed by the media reporting on people claiming large amounts of benefits and shows such as Benefits Street which the minority of people when the reality many people living in poverty are often working.

Poverty and social exclusion can be seen as an issue within large cities, there is a perception that only the rich live in rural areas, but these issues also affect Wales’s large rural areas. Pierson suggests exclusion within rural areas can be seen as an individual matter as people who currently living in poverty often live next door to someone whose home is their second or a multiple cars household, compared with people living in urban areas who live in socially deprived areas where their next door neighbour could be facing the same issues, taking this into account dealing with these issues could be harder to tackle. Pugh states it is often hard to recognising issues of social exclusion, poverty and discrimination within rural areas due to outsiders being unwelcome in smaller communities or due to the geographical areas of individuals. With the withdrawal or consolidation of services many services due to small amounts of people using them, many people are often left socially isolated. Pierson also suggests that people living in rural areas often face higher living expenses and they need to travel longer distances to purchases the basics. Young people living in poverty within rural areas often find themselves with low educational qualifications and a reduced or no opportunities for employment. Shucksmith suggests younger people and older people within rural areas often socialise more than in urban areas which can often influence their views on sexuality and social roles, this can cause discrimination or leave people unable to openly deal with l issues such as sexuality within the local community. Pugh states isolation within rural areas for people with mental health issues is often caused by peoples misunderstanding of their issues which can cause discrimination, people are often left not wanting to engage in communities where these views are present, this is often the views and experiences of homosexual men and women.

There is often an assumption within the care sector in Wales that most welsh speakers have the ability to speak English and therefore are able to receive services in English. As a result some areas of social care sector there is little or no provision for services delivered via the medium of welsh. Section one of the code of conduct ‘1.6 states respecting diversity and different cultures and value’ by not providing services for a service user in welsh the social worker is failing to meet the needs of the service user which could result in disempowerment. Welsh Government states in More than Just Words ‘Many service users are very vulnerable, so placing a responsibility on them to ask for services through the medium of Welsh is unfair. It is the responsibility of service providers to meet these care needs. Organisations are expected to mainstream Welsh language services as an integral element of service planning and delivery’.

Social workers continually addressing issues cause by social exclusion, discrimination and challenge them sensitively and constructively which is a fundamental part of their role. This is reflected in the code of practice written by the care council of Wales, throughout the code it states people must treat people as individuals and acknowledge peoples beliefs in cultures and values. The care worker must not:

5.5 Discriminate unlawfully or unjustifiably against service users, carers or colleagues

5.6 Condone any unlawful or unjustifiable discrimination by service users, carers or colleagues

Thompson states the social worker must understanding and recognise the significance of discrimination and oppression in service users’ lives and circumstances. Discrimination occurs on 3 levels (PSC) which are interlinked, P refers to personal or psychological, this looks at the individual’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions, thoughts about specific groups within society are often based on people’s individual experiences. C refers to someone’s culture which impacts on how people do, think or see things, culture can be very influential on what people see as the ‘norm’ within society. The final letter S refers to Structural levels this is social division and power within society. Honer states the social worker must also understand groups and individuals can face discrimination which can be very different and personal.

The role of the social worker is multifunctional dealing with poverty, social exclusion and discrimination with emphasise on a holistic, citizen centred support which empowers people to take control of their lives while promoting social change (International Federation of social workers). Thompson sees empowerment on three different levels Personal, cultural, structural, I think this can also been seen with Dominelli as they state empowerment can be carries out on two levels. The micro level is the work the social worker carries out with the service user enabling them to take control of their lives, and the macro level is the work the social worker carries out within the wider community and challenging social policy by bring issues to the attention of relevant authorities or pressure groups, increasing the social and political power of groups which are oppressed. Unfortunately this can be lost within current targeted directed practice. People are encouraged to achieve their full potential and promotes coping strategies to ensure people succeed.

Pierson states when working with service users who are socially excluded, there are 5 building blocks required, maximising income and securing basic resources for service users and their families. The social worker needs to have a good understanding of the current benefits systems and keep up to date with any changes. Strengthening social supports and networks, working in partnership with agencies and local organisations, creating channels of effective participation for service users, local residents and their organisations. Focusing on neighbourhood and community level practice. Dominelli suggests creating power in oppressed groups by bring together people are oppressed by the same issues e.g. single mothers, and giving them the power to speak up together.

Social workers have a responsibility of the law. The Equality Act 2010, The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Human Rights Act 1998 are pieces of legislation which a social worker is able to use to address issues of discrimination, including disability, sex, race and religion when services are withheld.

Dominelli suggests oppression involves something which divides people into dominant or superior group and subordinate or inferior ones, this can result in the views and contribution of the oppressed being seen as invalid and the movements of the oppressed are often controlled by the dominate party.

To address oppression the social worker must work in an anti-oppression way which rejects oppression and the way in which it disables individuals. Anti-oppressive practice holds the view each individual, group or community are diverse, equal and able to achieve their full potential and create social inclusion. To achieve social inclusion the social worker must work in partnership alongside the service user, family, local community and with organisations who are able to provide support, address highlighted needs from a clear assessment process in a holistic manner to empower them using strength based practise. The social worker also needs to create a clear plan with agreed objectives and time scales within a person centred framework with regular reviews.

Dalrymple and Burke 2006 state:

Anti-oppressive practice is based on the belief that social work should make a difference so that those who have been oppressed may regain control of their lives and re-establish their right to be full and active members of society.

While promoting anti-oppressive practice it is important the social workers do not become accepting of any issues they continually deal with as there is a risk of seeing these issues as the norm when dealing with issues over a long period of time. Thompson also states the social worker must be aware of the power which can be held within the role and do not use this inappropriately when dealing with individuals who can be seen as being disadvantaged by their lack of power. The social worker must also ensure they do not reinforce any stereotypes or discriminatory roles such as people with a disability are unable to make choices for themselves or all women are responsible for childcare.

As can be seen there are issues which affect Wales, as part of it role the welsh Government has created specific strategies to deal with the economic and social issues which affect Wales, such as The Welsh Government document Tackling Poverty Action Plan 2012-2016 which outlines how the Assembly aim to tackle the issue of poverty. The plan has 3 main areas prevention, helping people into work and Mitigating the impact of poverty. It is the role of the social worker to implement some parts of these strategies and instigate social change by empowering service users. The role of social work within Wales is continually evolving due to changes in Government policy and social change, with the promise of further powers for the Welsh Government the future holds possible further changes to the role.


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