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The aim of this essay is to discuss the role of the social worker addressing social exclusion and discrimination along with the impact it has on individuals, groups and communities. I will also discuss my understanding of anti-oppressive practice and ethical issues within the Welsh context, and the issues social workers will face daily throughout their profession.
To allow a social worker to carry out their roles and responsibilities they will need to understand the meaning of social work itself,
‘Social work is the purposeful and ethical application of personal skills in interpersonal relationships directed towards enhancing the personal and social functioning of an individual, family, group or neighbourhood, which necessarily involves using evidence obtained from practice to help create a social environment conducive to the wellbeing of all’ (Pierson 2010 p494/495).
A social worker needs to have knowledge and multiple skills to carry out their complex roles within society. One of those areas social workers will face within their professional role is social exclusion and discrimination. Social exclusion happens to a minority of people in society and those who suffer from social exclusion have different life experience and opportunities from other people.
‘Pierson (2002,p18) defines social exclusion as a process that deprives individuals and families, groups and neighbourhoods of the resources required for participation in the social, economic and political activity of society as a whole’.
There are many contributing factors that can cause someone to face social exclusion or discrimination, social workers will need have an understanding of people’s life experiences, using a holistic approach, be able to listen, communicate with all service users in an appropriate manner and work in partnership with service users so they do not discriminate. Social workers also need to be mindful that Wales is now a multi-ethnic society and will be challenged with ethical issues and their dilemmas, such as languages, religion and other areas. According to the Welsh statistics 2009 Wales have a population of 2,875,700 of which 29.800 are mixed race, 52,700 are Asian or Asian British, 18.600 are Black or Black British and 22,600 are of other ethnic groups (http://www.statswales.wales.gov.uk/TableViewer/tableView.aspx accessed 26th October 2012).
Those that are most at risk of social exclusion are children, older people, disabled, and unemployed, but the most significant factors are poverty and low income.
‘Those living in poverty are vulnerable in a number of different ways. We know that they are more at risk of poor health and poor educational attainment, have lower skills and aspirations, and are more likely to be low paid, unemployed and welfare-dependent’ (Huw Lewis AM 2010 p2).
Poverty is seen in different approaches, absolute, relative and consensual.
Thornes, P (2007 p77) defines absolute poverty as not having the very basic means to live adequately. Relative poverty as a measurement of poverty based on working out the income needed to attain the accepted standard of living in a society and consensual poverty as whether or not people can afford a series of items which most people, when questioned regards as necessities’.
‘Between 2005-2008 an average of 32% of children in Wales was living in relatively low-income households. There has been a general downward trend, but the two most recent figures show an increase on the previous years’.
Social workers will need to have an understanding of the impacts that social exclusion and discrimination can have upon a service user and their families. For this to happen social workers will need to be able to identify areas that cause social exclusion, be able to investigate and what actions will need to be taken to address it. The Welsh Government have put in place a number of policies, strategies and initiatives to fight against poverty and social exclusion which have impacted on those that live in Wales. These include Child Poverty Strategy for Wales, Flying start, Child tax credits, Winter fuel allowances, plus many more.
‘Over the past ten years in Wales, overall poverty has fallen by three percentage points, compared with two percentage points for the UK as a whole. However, the extent of poverty for all groups in Wales (apart from older people) is slightly higher than for the UK as a whole.’ (Huw Lewis AM, 2010).
Since social exclusion is a process we must be mindful that there could be hidden barriers involved which in turn will affect others areas of their lives, it will be like a domino effect. So in order for social workers to address social exclusion they need to have a holistic view of the service users, and consider any hidden barriers this will enable them to have an overall view of how the service user has lived up to date, what potentially triggered social exclusion and how to redress the situation. To enable good practice the social worker should be working in partnership with the service user where a trusting relationship can be built. Both sides will need to listen and engage with each other so needs can be identified and addressed, whist doing so social workers needs to be empowering the service user and practise in an anti-discriminatory way. Once the needs have been identified the social worker needs to understand how the impacts can affect the service users, their families and their lives. ‘Social welfare practitioners have a key role to play in terms of working directly with children, young people and families to help them improve their circumstances and mitigate the worst excesses of poverty and social exclusion.’ (Williams 2011).
People can become socially excluded and discriminated against through poverty, isolation, lack of life opportunities, lack of education, availability of resources such as health and public transport, employment, living environment, demography, social participation and economic resources. The effects upon a service user and their families can be devastating, it can lead to service users losing their dignity which can then lead to low self-esteem and lack of confidence. People can then feel powerless, and that their voice is not being heard and become disempowered. People who are in poverty are in a cycle of deprivation and once in this cycle find it very hard to get out of because of the domino effect. They may be in poverty due to low income or unemployment. Unemployment is a major risk factor for low income in Wales, that risk rising from 5% for a full-working family to over 60% for a workless one. Even when another adult in the family remains in work, the family’s risk of low income still rises to 25%. (www.jrf.org.uk/publications/monitoring-poverty-wales-2009 accessed 27th October 2012). Children who live within these household will also suffer the impacts of social exclusion and discrimination which have become a great concern for Governments.
‘Research confirms the negative outcomes for children associated with poverty, including poor health, low self-esteem, poor educational achievement and homelessness. Outcomes associated with child poverty are mortality, accidents mental illness, suicide, child abuse, teenage pregnancy, homelessness, low educational attainment, smoking and morbidity’ (Bradshore and Mayhem, 2005).
People who are unemployed also face the stigma of society, being classed as lazy and scroungers, so in turn are being discriminated against. We should be mindful that there are people who are claiming benefits due to ill health, being a lone parent with no social network available, been made redundant or the fact is there simply isn’t any jobs available. Although the Government have implemented initiatives such as Free swimming, free Breakfast Clubs Schemes Free School Lunch (eligibility criteria must be met) in a number of schools, Genesis Wales and Child Poverty Expert Groups. There are people also being excluded due to the area in which they live, especially if in rural areas where the transport is less scarce, health provision is harder to access and resources are less available.
‘Poor public transport networks in rural areas results in higher levels of car ownership. Consequently, poorer households are likely to spend a higher proportion of their income on transport than urban counterparts, and access to private transport remain a problem for many people’. (Williams, 2011).
Older people can become excluded due to isolation which could have a knock on effect to loneliness or health issues such as depression, they may not have family around or been moved into a residential home. Activities such as day centres or community activities may be hard to access or lack of transportation maybe an issue. Low income is rising in older people, despite initiatives such as Winter Fuel Allowances, concessions on TV Licences and public transport and Pension Credit ‘according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), 26 per cent of people of pensionable ages in Wales were on low income households in 1996/97 compared to 18 per cent in 2008/09’ (Francis, 2010 p59). Poor housing also causes social exclusion for people in society as its impact can have an impact on someone’s life. ‘living in poor quality housing impacts significantly on quality of life, e.g. by contributing to poor physical and mental health, increasing spent on keeping warm ect’.(Stirling, 2010). Overcrowding, inadequate heating, dampness within the home can also cause health issues for service users. Debt/credit also plays a big part in social exclusion, anyone who is in poverty will be faced with financial problems and again like a domino effect people borrow from one to pay another. And those who borrow are likely to borrow off high interest rate lenders because they have not got a good credit score, which in turn gets them deeper into debt and more difficult to get out of. Those who have a disability also face exclusion and high risk of poverty, they are discriminated against through lack of employment, shops, building, schools and transport still have restricted access,
Part of a social workers role is use an anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory approach when working with service users, this means considering their experiences, who the service users are as a person, such as their gender, if they have a disability, their race, and values. The way we communicate with service users is vital, engaging and working in partnership. We must focus on people’s strengths as well as weaknesses and empower service users to have choices, knowledge and encourage decision making whenever appropriate.
‘The more people become involved in determining their own destiny, the higher will be their self-esteem. They grow in confidence. And when group members learn that knowledge is power, they demand to know, to be kept informed, to be given information’ (Howe, 2009 p149).
To work in an anti-oppressive way we must work in an ethical way, we must respect and value service users whilst ensuring we protect the vulnerable. As social workers we should be treating each service user as an individual with individual personal and social needs working in an empowering way so they can develop their own potentials. Social workers must be open and honest with service users to gain trust and relationships, this will enable both parties to work in partnership. Social workers will come across barriers they must be competent in overcoming, for example, language, we must allow any service user to use their preferred language, and this could be Welsh or any other language. If you cannot speak the language yourself then find an alternative way to communicate such as through a translator. Other barriers may include demography, available resources, religion…………..
From all the above information we can see social exclusion, discrimination and poverty can play a part in many lives of people living in Wales. Even though Welsh Government has implemented policies and initiatives to eradicate these issues, people in Wales are still suffering the effects and impacts
. ‘Despite both the UK and Welsh governments’ commitments to the eradication of child poverty and support for this aim across all political parties and a range of policies and programmes to achieve this goal, statistically, child poverty in Wales remains stubbornly high. In order to meet the Welsh Government’s target or eradicating child poverty by 2020, the rate of child poverty in Wales would have to fall four times as fast over the next 10 years as it has over the last 10 (New Policy Institute, 2011).(Williams, 2010).
Overall I personally don’t think we can eliminate social exclusion and discrimination because whatever Governments gives, they always take back in other areas. Here is just one example, ‘LOW income families in Wales face losing an average £74 a year in support to pay their council tax bills, a study warned yesterday. Cuts of 10% will be passed on to claimants when the UK Government transfers responsibility for council tax benefit to the Welsh Government from 2013. The support is more widely claimed than any other means-tested benefit with 328,000 recipients in Wales. The move will slash the benefit by more than £24m across Wales’. (www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/2012/06/22/low-income-families-in-wales-face-74-council-tax-benefit-cut-says-report-55578-31235972/ acessed 27th October 2012). I also feel society can play a big part to exclusion, many are still ignorant to diversity and can, directly and indirectly, discriminate certain groups of society.
Howe, D. (2009) A Brief Introduction to Social Work Theory, Basingstoke: Palgrave
Lewis, H, (2010) Poverty and Social Exclusion in Wales, Blaenau Gwent, Bevenfoundation
Pierson, J and Thomas, M. (2010) Dictionary of Social Work, Berkshire: Open University Press McGraw-Hill
Walker, H. (2008) Studying for Your Social Degree, Exeter: Learning Matters
Williams, C. (2011) Social Policy for Social Welfare Practice in a Devolved Wales (2e). Birmingham: BASW British Association of Social Workers LTD
(www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/2012/06/22/low-income-families-in-wales-face-74-council-tax-benefit-cut-says-report-55578-31235972/ accessed 27th October 2012).
(www.jrf.org.uk/publications/monitoring-poverty-wales-2009 accessed 27th October 2012).
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