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To what extent are EITHER children OR people with disabilities OR older people OR people with illnesses socially excluded?’ Social exclusion is a blend of multi-dimensional and mutually reinforcing processes of deprivation associated with a progressive dissociation from social milieus, resulting in the isolation of individuals and groups from the main-stream of opportunities society has to offer” (Vleminckx and Berghman, 2001, p6)
In this piece of work I am going to discuss the notion of social exclusion using the service user group of people with learning disabilities to give examples of social exclusion and to show what the Government is doing to tackle social exclusion.
The quote above is a complex description of the term ‘social exclusion’, and perhaps a simpler explanation would be the definition given by BMJ Journals (2001) which defines social exclusion as ‘the inability of our society to keep all groups and individuals within reach of what we expect as a society and the tendency to push vulnerable and difficult individuals into the least popular places’ (p1).
Exclusion is linked to a person’s identity, and the identity of a person that has been excluded becomes oppressed, which in turn leads to the person finding it difficult to control their own life, and which inevitably leads to further exclusion from society (Dominelli, 2002).
It is also important to realise that when discussing exclusion you must also need to take into account the Government initiatives on inclusion, as these initiatives are proactive rather than reactive, which means they react to the problem instead of trying to prevent the problem before it arises (Thompson, 2001). The report, Inclusion through Innovation: Tackling Social Exclusion Through New Technologies is a good example of how exclusion and inclusion are linked together (www.socialexclusionunit.gov.uk, 2006). This report explores the improvement of the quality of life for the most excluded groups in society by using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to meet their complex needs (www.socialexclusionunit.gov.uk, 2006).
The Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion, that was published by the EU in 2005, tells us how a well designed social protection system not only leads to good economic development but helps to combat the problem of social exclusion (www.europa.eu.int, 2006).
A significant piece of legislation that affects the whole population is the Human Rights Act 1998, and Mind (2006) makes us aware that there are articles within this Act that are specific to people with learning disabilities; these articles include the right to life, prohibition of inhumane or degrading treatment, prohibition of discrimination and the right to education. Whilst this piece of legislation is in place, our society should not be facing the problem of social exclusion, let alone having to produce and implement more initiatives in a bid to control the problem (Mind, 2006).
“People with learning disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups in society, and the Government is committed to improving their life chances”
The Government in various ways is dealing with social exclusion, although this is difficult because social exclusion comes in many different forms. Despite this, the Government is dedicated to tackling these problems, although ‘many initiatives come late in the process, addressing consequences rather than causes’ (www.mind.org.uk, 2006, p1). Mind (2006) also informs us that in our society it is the learning disabled that are amongst the most isolated groups.
Thompson (2001) tells us that disabled people have never had priority status in social work, and this particular area has often been given very little attention on training courses for this profession. This in itself can be seen as discriminatory and leads to what is now known as disablism (Thompson, 2001). Thompson (2001) describes disablism as ‘referring to the combination of social forces, cultural values and personal prejudices which marginalizes disabled people, portrays them in as negative light and thus oppresses them. This combination encapsulates a powerful ideology which has the effect of denying disabled people full participation in mainstream social life’ (p112).
When discussing the exclusion of learning disabled people from society it is important to take into account the medical model of the disability and the social model of the disability; the medical model of disability looks at the person and their difficulties in terms of their condition and looks to ‘repair’ the person, whereas in contrast the social model of the disability looks towards the society being disabling as society is not making enough provisions to enabled the disabled person to lead what we consider to be a normal life (Thompson, 2001).
There is an important link between social exclusion and poverty; because of benefit rules people with learning disabilities are effectively unable to gain employment which means that they have to rely on benefits to survive, which rules out the chance of them ever owning their own home which is a common goal for much of the nation (Davies, 2002). Although education is becoming increasingly available for people with learning disabilities, especially opportunities for further education, the reality is that there are still no jobs available for people that are learning disabled, and inevitably this group of people end up re-entering education again as there are no other opportunities for them (Davies, 2002).
People with learning disabilities often struggle to find relationships; if they are still living with their parents they very rarely spend time with other people of the same age, and those who have left their parents home tend to have only a small social group of people with similar disabilities to their own (Davies, 2002). Because of the protectiveness of parents of children with learning disabilities their children become very dependant on them so when they get older they find it difficult to cope on their own which in turn leads to further segregation for society (Davies, 2002).
Another aspect that excludes people with learning disabilities is that they have a lack of information of the range of services that they are entitled to, from health to housing, although Mencap has produced a picture bank of information to help resolve this problem. The picture bank is a range of visual explanations that can be accessed by people with learning disabilities (www.mencap.org.uk/html/accessibility/accessibility.asp, 2006), and has also helped the Guardian newspaper to publish a news stories with easy to read words and pictures.
Watt (2001) tells us that it is in the past 20 years that society has become immensely unequal in the UK, where some people have done extremely well and others have not. It appears that the Government has recognized the issues surrounding social exclusion for many years, but their proposed solutions are small for the problems that apply to the whole of society (Watt, 2001).
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (2006) emphasizes the fact that people who have become socially excluded often become part of a vicious cycle of related problems which include unemployment, low incomes, poor housing, bad health and family breakdown, and its focus is to prevent this from happening in the future by fighting the problem now. The Social Exclusion Unit repeatedly tells us that it is critical to implement early preventative action, and children and young people are ‘especially vulnerable to the effects of social exclusion’ (www.socialexclusionunit.gov.uk, 2006, p1).
“Valuing People” (Department of Health, 2001)
The white paper called ‘Valuing People: a new strategy for Learning Disability for the 21st Century’ was published by the Government on 20th March 2001, and was a key turning point for people with learning disabilities, and not only addressed their needs, but proposed a way of trying to make their lives better (www.mind.org.uk, 2006). Four of the key principles in this white paper were civil rights, independence, choice and inclusion – things that people born without disabilities take for granted (www.mind.org.uk, 2006). The main aim of ‘Valuing People’ was to give people with learning disabilities a chance to have ‘a real say in where they live, what work they should do and who looks after them’ (Department of Health, 2001a). Valuing People sets out proposals from the Government to improve the life chances and opportunities for people with learning disabilities and their families, and looks towards collaboration between different agencies in order to achieve this (Niace, 2003).
“Nothing about us without us” (Department of Health, 2001b)
This report was published by the Department of Health regarding the rights of people who have learning disabilities, and the report says that a person with learning difficulties cannot have their lives discussed without them being present so that they are involved in making the decisions about their life (Department of Health, 2001). The report also says that if decisions are being made that could affect people with learning disabilities then there must be people present that have learning disabilities (Department of Health, 2001).
A report called Hidden Lives was published by the charity Turning Point, in which they examined how effective legislation had been in tackling social exclusion (Batty, 2004). The results of the report were quite alarming, with many service users claiming that improvement had been very slow, and the charity fear that people with learning disabilities are facing social exclusion forever (Batty, 2004).
“The solution to social exclusion lies not in myriad attempts ro repair society at points of breakdown, but in persuading relatively affluent groups that social inclusion is worth paying for” (Watt, 2001)
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