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Within this essay I will attempt to examine what is meant by the term social exclusion, its issues and causes and how it links with poverty. I will also identify groups that face social exclusion, their experiences, the affects it has on them and the role of the social worker in overcoming this. I will touch upon the media and legislation and the part they play in social exclusion. Finally I will endeavour to define anti-oppressive practice, the role of the social worker regarding it and how it can lead to social inclusion.
Social exclusion is defined by Pierson as the act by which certain people are excluded from partaking in activities within the society of which they should be part of. This includes individuals, families, groups and whole neighbourhoods. Predominantly, this is a result of poverty, however, other influences can consist of discrimination and lack of educational attainment. Those who are socially excluded are unable to participate in the activities, services and opportunities that most of a society are able to take advantage of (Pierson, 2010).
It has been recognised within this definition that poverty can be a factor within the causes of social exclusion and many writers on the subject of social exclusion and poverty, including government, will pair these two together. Other causes include unemployment, lack of social networks, geographical location and limited access to services. These are all interlinked, with poverty being a theme throughout. People who face social exclusion can be locked within this deprivation cycle making it difficult to escape (Pierson, 2010). However, Pierson notes that these causes of social exclusion are also the keys to overcoming it as he discusses the “five building blocks for tackling social exclusion” (2010, p.48). These building blocks which comprise of maximising income, strengthening social networks, building partnerships, creating effective participation and community-level practice, should be used by social workers who are working with those who are socially excluded to support them into becoming participative members of a society (Pierson, 2010).
It is worth noting that anyone could face social exclusion at some point of their life, although those who are most likely endure it consist of ethnic minorities; as they make up a small proportion of the population, people living in poverty; to illustrate this, in 2011/12 15% of the population of Wales were living in relative low income (ONS, 2014), the unemployed; although it has been highlighted in the press that many people are in poverty despite being in employment (Gander, 2013), those with a long-term illness, those in the lower social classes in accordance with The Registrar General’s Classification of Social Classes, the disabled, those with low educational attainment, the homeless and the elderly, to name but a few (Trevithick, 2005). These marginalised individuals or groups face discrimination and often have a stigma attached to them. If I concentrate on ethnic minorities, in particular immigrants, this group and the individuals within it face a stereotype which becomes a barrier that keeps them socially excluded. This stigma is based on ideas of racism. The media also play a part in this with headlines suggesting immigrants are taking away jobs from the British labour force, which in turn only fuels racist feelings and further stigmatises individuals (Paton, 2013).
One priority for the social worker when dealing with social exclusion would be to promote positive change for those they are working with, to do this it is important that they understand what is going on for individuals and appreciate why it is happening, this is essential if a difference is to be made (Trevithick, 2005). Change can be made at an individual level, in the work that social workers do directly with people, empowering these individuals to make a positive difference to their lives and therefore enabling them to become socially inclusive. Social workers may also tackle social exclusion at a higher level by promoting the rights of individuals on a wider societal platform, this could be, for example speaking with other agencies and local authorities to get changes made to public transport to enable individuals or groups with mobility issues to access this service where they had not previously been able to (Wilson et al, 2008). According to Pierson (2010) social workers are in the best position of all the health and care professionals to tackle social exclusion and achieve social justice due to the knowledge and skills they have, which have been gained not only from their education but also from their experiences in practice around dealing with the complex issues at all levels of society (Pierson, 2010). It states within the Code of Practice laid out by the Care Council for Wales, who oversee social work within Wales, that “as a social care worker, you must protect the rights and promote the interests of service users and carers” (CCW, 2011), it is therefore clear that overcoming social exclusion and challenging stigma is an expected aspect within the role of the social worker.
The British Association for Social Workers defines social work as a profession that is about people. It is about improving outcomes for individuals and families by working with them and supporting them, advocating for them and signposting them to services. They will work with other agencies including education and health to ensure that service users are offered the best service available (BASW, 2014).
It is the impression of Williams that in Wales, social workers can be the voice of the service users and their families, speaking up alongside them ensuring that their interests are heard. From reading the policy document Fulfilled Lives, Supportive Communities (WAG, 2007) she understands that social workers should be “actively involved” (p.191) in the influencing of policy making at both national and local levels (Williams, 2011). This power can be used by social workers to impact on discrimination, poverty and social exclusion.
Disability Wales states that people with a disability are often disadvantaged because of society’s perceptions. When a person with a disability does not access a service this may be seen by mainstream society as a result of their impairment rather than the need for environmental changes. However many people with disabilities feel that although their bodies have an impairment it is societal barriers that cause them problems. Examples of this include badly designed buildings with no ramps or lifts and lack of accessible parking which are the problem for a person in a wheelchair, rather than the wheelchair being the problem. This hypothetical badly designed building may not only be the place of potential employment but could also be the job centre that this individual needs to access to enquire about work or the benefits office where they can find out about financial entitlements. These examples can mean the difference between a person with a disability gaining employment, escaping poverty and becoming socially inclusive and a person continuing to be socially excluded (Disability Wales, 2014). Research produced by Class (Centre for Labour and Social Studies) in association with Red Pepper dispels the myth that many people would rather claim disability benefits than work. The reality is that employers are less willing to employ a disabled person in spite of anti-discrimination legislation put in place by government which expects employers to make reasonable adjustments to their premises to accommodate people with disabilities (Class, 2013). In 2013 the UK government fronted an initiative to get more disabled people into mainstream employment through the Access to Work scheme (GOV, 2013). This initiative saw the closure of the few remaining Remploy factories, who employed mainly disabled people, with the view of supporting them into mainstream jobs rather than segregate these individuals from society. Despite the intentions of this scheme to encourage disabled individuals to become socially inclusive, an article from BBC news suggests that there are currently 30% fewer people with disabilities in employment now compared with when the factories were still in use, further excluding them from society (Fox, 2013). However, government statistics show that there has been a recent increase in the number of people finding employment through the Access to Work scheme suggesting progress is being made (GOV, 2014). The role of the social worker within this example would be to challenge the barriers faced when getting people with disabilities into employment and working with individuals to overcome them. Often, this may include liaising with family members and other agencies to ensure the best outcomes possible. In tackling social exclusion, the social worker would also need to work at a wider level, challenging services and legislation that may be oppressing these individuals and groups (Horner, 2006).
Oppression occurs due to disproportions of power resulting in dominant groups within society holding control over others leading to the creation of institutions, parliament for example. Dominant groups typically consist of white, wealthy, able-bodied males. These institutions go on to promote the interests of the dominant group, providing them with power. Those who do not have control or power therefore find difficulty in making their opinions and values heard, this can lead to oppression (Pierson, 2010).
The purpose of the social worker when embracing anti-oppressive practice (AOP) is to work holistically with an individual, understanding their circumstances and values, the distinctiveness of their situation and their self-determination whilst also challenging the effects society has on this person. The effects of oppression de-value not only the individual but other individuals within the same marginalised group. Looking again at the example of people with disabilities, the social worker should recognise that all disabled people face oppression however each individual within that group will experience that oppression differently (Horner, 2006). This allows practitioners to embrace individualisation which not only sees the individual but also sees that person on a wider platform encompassing their socio-political situation (Thomson, 2005). Placing themselves in the position of the individual allows the social worker to empathise with them, from here social workers are able to understand their values and promote the rights of the individuals. Social workers should also be mindful of how they approach people, what level of understanding the service user has and adapt to this, being aware of the language they use for example (Horner, 2006)
AOP has no permanent definition, rather a fluid meaning that changes in reflection to social, political, historical and economic factors facing the reality of the service user (Dalrymple et al, 2006).
Pierson finds that although AOP is valuable within social work practice, it is also faced with boundaries. He believes that it fails to recognise the importance of poverty within the realms of social injustice for individuals and that AOP ignores the power that neighbourhood can hold in tackling social exclusion by encouraging community participation from individuals. It is seen however as an institution that has one voice speaking for a whole community (Pierson, 2010).
Using an ecological approach, looking holistically at an individual by mapping out their connections with their society, neighbourhood and family, it is possible for the practitioner to understand how they have reached social exclusion and potentially oppression. This approach will highlight areas that need addressing which may have been missed and can aid practitioners into supporting service users into social inclusion (Pierson, 2010).
This assignment has determined what is meant by social exclusion. It is evident that socially excluded individuals and groups face great difficulty in attempting to overcome it. Discrimination and social attitudes play a part in this although I have found poverty to be the main barrier. The role of the social worker is therefore a vital component, by empowering individuals and challenging legislation and services it can be possible to tackle social exclusion. This should be done at both individual and wider societal levels. What is also apparent is that although social exclusion and oppression are closely linked they may also undermine one another. I have also acknowledged that legislation that is put in place to overcome oppression can sometimes have the opposite effect, this was found when examining the governments initiative to get more disabled people into mainstream employment. As well as anti-oppressive practice, a multi-agency and ecological approach is needed for social workers to address and overcome social exclusion, which according to the Code of Conduct set out by Care Council for Wales is an expected role within social work practice.
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