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This aim of this essay is to discuss the role of the social worker in addressing social exclusion and discrimination and the impact that such issues have on individuals, groups and communities. I am also going to demonstrate my understanding of anti-oppressive practice and ethical issues that social workers face, particularly in the Welsh context. Accordingly, ever since the late 1980’s there has been a rising understanding of the effect of oppression and discrimination on individuals, groups and communities (Thompson, 1997). More recently, anti-discriminatory practice has surfaced as a main focal point underpinning social work policy, theory and practice (Pierson, 2002). Hence, with the aim of carrying out their role constructively, social workers should develop and uphold an awareness of why anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice standpoints are vital and the approach that they can take when dealing with discrimination, oppression and social exclusion. Wales, like other nations, is merely an example of a multi-cultural society with various dissimilar aspects of diversity and personal experiences. Thus, gender, class, language, age, ethnic group, together with other social factors, collectively have an effect on a person’s social identity, experience, and awareness of the world that they inhabit (Williams, 2007). With this in mind, discussing the effects of discrimination and social exclusion, and tackling matters of oppression, may provoke numerous difficulties for social work practitioners. Nevertheless, valuable practice tools have been developed so as to challenge inequalities and endorse social inclusion (Thompson 1997; Pierson 2002).
Accordingly, it can be said that impartiality is fundamental to social equality. In this regard, persons and groups must believe that they are able to partake wholly in the community and be thought of as equal members. In situations where this is not the reality, individuals could be subjected to isolation, detachment, disadvantage and prejudice. In particular instances, this could cause generations of individuals living on the margins of society. Thus, the ideas of social exclusion and discrimination are very much in parallel. Societies lacking in equality where specific individuals or groups are discriminated against can cause exclusion. Similarly, social exclusion promotes inequality and discrimination (www.socialexclusion.gov.uk). The Social Exclusion Unit delineated social exclusion as what can occur when individuals, groups or communities experience a combination of concurrent difficulties such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime environments, bad health and family breakdown (www.socialexclusion.gov.uk). Likewise, discrimination emerges when a person or group is treated unfavourably, when compared with others in similar circumstances, because of their age, sexual orientation, disability, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, or gender. (Adams, Dominelli and Payne, 1998). Accordingly, it can be said that socially excluded individuals or groups are incapable of playing a full part in the community due to an array of difficulties they are confronted with, such as unemployment, lack of skills, ill-health or inequality. Frequently, specific individuals or groups are more likely to encounter these difficulties. As an example, individuals that suffer from a disability or mental ill health come across apprehension and intolerance from other persons, often derived from erroneous beliefs about such conditions. Such stigma could not only intensify individual distress but could also inhibit the person from seeking necessary assistance. Hence, such social exclusion and discrimination could obstruct access to services and resources such as housing, employment, parental rights, immigration, health care and access to justice (Sayce, 1998). These individuals or groups that are excluded from society have to conquer these obstacles to opportunities that other members of the community enjoy. It has been documented that Wales possesses some of the most disadvantaged communities throughout Europe (Williams, 2004). Moreover, the Assembly Government refers to regions of marked deprivation exemplified by dependence on benefits and a necessity for employment opportunities (National Assembly for Wales, 2009). In addition to inadequately salaried or lack of work, poor skills have also been noted as a vital cause of unemployment, economic inactivity and poverty for individuals, and in 2001, 20% of adults of working age in Wales had no qualifications (National Assembly for Wales, 2009). For 2008, the young adult (16-24) unemployment rates was 16%. Consequently, almost half of the individuals in Wales without work are under 25 (www.jrt.org.uk). Such lack of prospects underpins the probability of some individuals or groups being incapable of fully integrating into the community. Thus, those socially excluded can experience feelings of stress, poor health and isolation due to low living standards and limited access to services (National Assembly for Wales, 2009). Other members of society can encounter greater degrees of anxiety and reduced mobility due to reduced social unity and augmented concern for criminal activity (Pierson, 2002). Accordingly, the social worker has the crucial responsibility of making the quality of existence better for individuals, groups and communities and challenging the triggers of social exclusion and discrimination.
Hence the role and task of the social worker is complex. The role ranges across empowerment, counselling, advocacy, partnership, needs assessment, care management and social control (Scourfield, Holland and Young, 2008). Social work practitioners should be dedicated to human rights and equality and strive to encourage and support individuals, groups and communities that experience the damaging consequences of social injustice. Thus, ‘the social work profession promotes social change, problem-solving in human relationships, and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work’ (www.ifsw.org.uk). This indicates that social workers have a duty to confront discriminatory attitudes towards persons due to capability, age, ethnicity, gender, class, marital position, political beliefs, racial or other physical characteristics, or sexuality (www.ifsw.org.uk). Within their role, social workers should have a duty to work towards an inclusive society by confronting circumstances that promote social exclusion, oppression and/or hardship. Hence, Pierson (2002) has documented five extensive building blocks for social workers to employ in practice to effectively work with socially excluded individuals, groups and communities and ultimately promote social inclusion. The first building block encompasses the significance of concentrating on income and for the social worker to have a full understanding of the benefits system overall (Pierson, 2002: 42-47). The second building block encompasses the part played by networks jointly as a basis of reliable collective support for individuals, groups and communities and as a practical means for social workers (Pierson, 2002: 47-51). The third building block encompasses partnerships between citizens, groups, voluntary, private and religious organisations and statutory services where holistic, coherent action can be carried out on the ground (Pierson, 2002: 51-56). The fourth building block encompasses several advantages in developing elevated levels of service user and neighbourhood participation in the community. For example, legislation such as the Children Act 1989, the NHS and Community Care Act of 1990 and the Disabled Person’s Representation Act in 1996, ‘required local authorities to consult closely with users when they undertake assessments and devise care plans, and in the follow-up reviews of how those plans are actually unfolding’ (Pierson 2002: 57). Also, proposals by Government, for example Quality Protects, New Deal for Communities and the Best Value framework necessitate citizen involvement (Pierson, 2002:57). Finally, the fifth building block encompasses the importance of the whole community and assisting resident ability through neighbourhood improvements. For example, involvement in community activities, childcare, looking after neighbours, credit unions and neighbourhood watch (Pierson 2002: 65).
Moreover, in executing their role, social workers habitually face ethical issues when discovering challenging principles and obligations (Mattison, 2000). Hence, the principles or ethics of independence may be at variance with not only a responsibility of care, but also between the wellbeing for the person and the wellbeing of other members of society (Mattison, 2000). For this reason, it is crucial for social workers to carefully consider their own principles and practice. This is fundamental because even though frameworks like the professional code of ethics are made available to offer practical assistance, to a degree, using ones own discretion when making decisions is unavoidable (Mattison, 2000). Social workers must also confront ethical issues regarding confidentiality. Hence, social workers often make judgements as to whether it is deemed necessary to reveal confidential information to outside organisations without the individual’s permission so as to protect society or comply with legal judgements or legislation. A further ethical issue is professional paternalism or beneficence, which means that social workers may have to make judgements about whether to place restrictions on individuals that engage in self-harming conduct, for example substance misuse or rejecting certain services (Clark, 1998). Moreover, it seems crucial to use an anti-oppressive approach when dealing with ethical issues. Hence, various fundamental principles underpinning anti-oppressive practice in Wales have been documented by Elaine Davies (1994). These include the following: ‘a service user has the right to decide which language to use with the Social Worker; individuals are able to communicate more effectively and contentedly in their preferred language; high-quality practice means offering service users an actual choice over language use; an all-embracing service of excellence in Wales means a bilingual service; and refusing this right is a way of oppressing an individual’ (Davies, 1994: 60). In addition, particular sections of the Children Act 1989 place an obligation on agencies to take a child’s language into consideration when assessing and providing services (Davies, 1994). The characteristics of the Act are influential with importance placed on partnership and consultation. Thus, it is stated that it is unfeasible to converse productively without using the preferred language of the child and family and their racial, cultural, religious and linguistic background must be taken into account (Davies, 1994). Moreover, Article 30 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 is comparable to the Children Act and declares that ‘children who are members of an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority must not be deprived of the right to enjoy their culture, practice their religion, or use their language’ (cited in Welsh Assembly Government, 2004: 68). Therefore, every individual that converses in Welsh should be able to decide which language to use. Also, offering language choice provides the service user with appropriate power and an effective ability to speak. Effective social work practice also means undertaking assessments and providing services in the service users’ preferred language. Moreover, language appropriate provision should be considered under the scope of equal opportunities in the main, with the Welsh Language Act 1993 being a close comparative to other forms of legislation that advocate equality, such as, the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Human Rights Act 2000 (Scourfield, Holland and Young, 2008 ). Thus, it has been documented that language is not only a mode of communication; it is also a system by which an individual assembles their identity and their understanding of the world (Williams, 2007). Accordingly, social workers must strive to ‘identify and respect diversity and to challenge inequalities and hardship’ (cited in Welsh Assembly Government, 2004: 14).
To conclude, social work has the capacity to transform an individual’s existence for the better due to the breadth of the role and the variety of its resources. Considerable improvements have been made by altering the way in which services are made available in Welsh communities. For example, social services in local government strive to safeguard adults who are vulnerable or at risk, promote social inclusion and support persons to live independently where this is possible (Williams, 2007). A consequence of the All-Wales Strategy for Older People was the creation of the National Service Framework for Older People in Wales and the establishment of the position of Commissioner for Older People to counteract discrimination and oppression and eventually to promote opportunities (Williams, 2007). Such standards of practice have been intensified through the Care Council for Wales and the Care and Social Services inspectorate for Wales (Scourfield et al, 2008). Additionally, the unique role enables social work practitioners to diverge from more formal practice and have contact with individuals and groups in their own homes or communities, in order to work in partnership rather than enforce solutions to difficulties (Pierson, 2002). Hence, it has been disputed that ‘a unique quality of social work is found in the close attention it pays to individuals’ own understanding of their situation and to the informal processes by which client or user and social worker broker a solution’ (Jordan, 1987 cited in Pierson, 2002: XV). This distinctive practice approach presents numerous opportunities for social workers to address discrimination and exclusion, and ultimately promote equality and the inclusion of individuals and groups in society (Pierson, 2002).
Adams, R. , Dominelli, L. and Payne, M. (1998) Social Work: Themes, Issues and Critical Debates (Palgrave).
Care Council for Wales’ Code of Practice (available online at http://www.ccwales.org.uk).
Clark, C. (1998) ‘Self-determination and Paternalism in Community Care: Practice and Prospects’, British Journal of Social Work, 28, pp. 387-402.
Davies, E. (1994) ‘They all Speak Welsh Anyway’: Yr iaith Gymraeg ac ymarfer gwrth-orthrymol; the Welsh Language and Anti-oppressive Practice (Caerdydd: CCETSW).
Jordan, B. (1987) Rethinking Welfare (Oxford: Blackwell), cited in Pierson, J. (2002) Tackling Social Exclusion (Routledge).
Joseph Rountree Foundation (2009) ‘Monitoring poverty and social exclusion in Wales’ (available online at http://www.jrf.org.uk).
International Federation of Social Workers (available online at http://www.ifsw.org.uk).
Mattison, M. (2000) ‘Ethical Decision Making: The Person in the Process’, Social Work Vol.45 (3), pp.201-212.
National Assembly for Wales 2009 Third Annual Report on Social Exclusion in Wales. Cardiff: National Assembly for Wales.
Pierson, J. (2002) Tackling Social Exclusion (Routledge).
Sayce, L. , (1998) From Psychiatric Patient to Citizen (Basingstoke: Macmillan).
Scourfield, J. , Holland, S. and Young, C. (2008) ‘Social Work in Wales Since Democratic Devolution’, Australian Social Work, 61, pp. 42-56.
Social Exclusion Unit (available online at http://www.social exclusion.gov.uk).
Thompson, N. (1997) Anti-Discriminatory Practice (Macmillan Press LTD).
Welsh Assembly Government (2004) ‘Children and Young People: Rights to Action’ (available online at http://www.assemblywales.org).
Welsh Assembly Government (2007) ‘A Strategy for Social Services in Wales over the next Decade: Fulfilled Lives, Supportive Communities’ (available online at http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/documents/829/WAG).
Williams, C. , (2004) ‘Access to Justice and Social Inclusion: The Policy Changes in Wales’, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, 26(1) pp. 53-68.
Williams, C. (2007) Social Policy for Social Welfare Practice in a Devolved Wales (Venture Press).
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