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SOCIOLOGY HELPS SOCIAL WORKERS TO UNDERSTAND PERSONAL TROUBLES AS PUBIC ISSUES. CRITICALLY ANNALYSE ONE PUBLIC ISSUE RELEVANT TO SOCIAL WORK, IN RELATION TO A THEORY COVERED IN THE MODULE
This essay focuses on unemployment as a social problem which can be defined as by the International; Labour Organisation, (ILO,2015, p.1) , “all persons of working age who were: a) without work during the reference period, i.e. were not in paid employment or self-employment; b) currently available for work, i.e. were available for paid employment or self-employment during the reference period; and c) seeking work, i.e. had taken specific steps in a specified recent period to seek paid employment or self-employment”. It then offers a definition of terms and provides a brief understanding of how social workers support the unemployed followed by an understanding of political ideology. From this point on it provides a critical analysis of a theoretical understanding of how alienation theory can help social workers to understand unemployment as a public issue and the different problems and the economic barriers Lone parents experience in relation to, a lack of affordable child care, mental health and housing, as a result of living in a capitalist society. It then offers a critical discussion of how alienation theory can inform social work practice when supporting unemployed LPs through such difficulties.
Sociology can be defined as a discipline, seeking to provide social workers with an explanation and understanding of different social phenomenon through a broad range of competing theoretical perspectives, which can help social workers to reflect upon both the lived experiences of citizens and the interplay between such individuals, social work practice and the wider social structures of society. (Oak, 2009, Howe,1992). However, not only is theoretical knowledge important, as a skill, emphasis has been placed on social workers developing a sociological imagination, which essentially enables them to make the distinction between personal troubles and public issues. According to Mills, (1959), unemployment can be viewed as a personal trouble because of the impact it has on unemployed lone parents (ULPs) and those direct relations they have with others, which he referred to as the “personal troubles of milieu”. This therefore becomes a private matter because the individual’s values are felt to be under threat. However, a personal trouble can
transpire into a public issue when unemployment becomes a national problem, affecting thousands of ULPs, resulting from the processes of organisations and institutions in society, which Mills (1959, p.8) referred to as the “public issues of social structure”. This therefore becomes a public matter, due to the public values under threat.
Mills, (1959), stresses that social workers must be able to understand the connection between individual problems; ‘personal troubles’ and the ‘public issues of social structure’, such as unemployment, so that they can look beyond ULPs circumstances, their lived experiences and view their situation from a new perspective. That is, rather than holding individuals personally accountable for their own moral failings, as Cree (2010, p.1). suggests, it can prompt social workers to challenge their own personal values and critically examine informed by social theory instead of their own “common-sense assumptions” and “attitudes”, Therefore, social workers are more likely to see a person trouble such as unemployment as a public issues and understand it as rooted in the wider social structures of society and beyondULPs control. The term` `lone parent’’ as stated by (speak,2000, p.34), refers to” anyone raising a child outside of a cohabiting relationship, which include both older and younger lone parents, those who are divorced, separated, widowed or never married, and those who have never cohabited”.
It is found by Briar, K. (1983, p.213), that unemployment can lead to lone parents experiencing catastrophic economic, social and psychological problems. With this in mind, It can be argued that ULPs are some of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups of individuals in society, making their welfare a major concern for the social work profession Therefore, as suggested by McClelland, (1993:29), social workers in their daily practice support ULPs, through difficulties such as, severe financial hardship and poverty, debt, homelessness and housing stress, family tensions and breakdown, shame and stigma, social isolation, crime, erosion of self-esteem, the atrophy of work skills and ill-health, all of which can contribute to a loss of control over their lives.
Although unemployment is not a new problem it was identified by Beveridge as one of the five giant evils, which he referred to as idleness, meaning involuntary unemployment, ref as well as other problems such as poverty and health that plagued society as a result of a poor economy. In this period there was a consensus where the government introduced different strategies to meet people’s needs. This was based on the Beveridge’s recommendations that the government should as a matter of priority, apply the powers invested in them to intervene and eradicate such evils. (Beveridge, 1942, cited in Cunningham & Cunningham, 2017, p.69) However, the strategies still had a strand of the capitalist principle of individualism because people where means tested to qualify for welfare support, centred on “a strict eligibility criteria and incentives to work to deter dysfunctional patterns of behaviour”. (Cunningham & Cunningham, 2017, p.99) It can be argued that welfare policies are informed by ideological perspective such as the capitalist principles of individualism. This is evident in individualistic strategies introduced in response to lone parent’s needs, such as the new deal and in work incentives. For example, New Labour have encouraged unemployed lone parents to acquire education through training instead of overlooking structural problems such as a lack of employment opportunities. The current government has continued with similar individualistic polices where they have introduced ULPs to go to work.
However, according the Marxist theory these kinds of policies can be seen to serve the capitalist needs of profit making, a notion supported by
In addition, ULPs are not always in a position to be able to enter the world of work as
per such Neo-Liberal ideological principles, as arguably they may face a number of
barriers to entering the labour market, (Graham,2014, p.9) most likely due to disadvantage and inequality. These include factors such as lack of affordable, child care, the types and availability of work, Low wages and benefits issues and working hours, which may lead to mental health issues and poor housing, and in turn alienation. According to Marx, alienation stems from the economic infrastructure of society, (Shantz & Truss,2012, p.2530; Jones Bradbury & Le Boutillier,2017. p.45) Therefore, alienation theory can be applied to help social
workers understand unemployment as a public issue.
Alienation can be taken to mean as suggested by (Layder, 2006 p.44). as “several
related psychological conditions that afflict individuals and groups who have little
control over their living conditions, working lives and future prospectus”. Marx
proposes that the “labour process” may alienate ULPs from the “product of their
labour”, from oneself “, their fellow human beings”, and that of “human nature”.
According to Marx, society is based on a social division between two classes in a
capitalist society where the proletariat face structured social inequality, such as
differences in income, resources,power and status within society. (Corletta 1988
p.700; Ferguson & Lavallette, 2004, P.301) Such inequalities are maintained by those
in powerful positions via institutions and social processes”, (Naidoo and Will 2008,
cited in Warwick-Booth, 2013. P .19. Firstly, the proletariat, such as ULPs who are
employed on the basis of waged labour, (Kreckel, 1980, p.528) who lose all control
over a vital aspect of their life and the conditions in which they work. Secondly, the
Bourgeoisie who own the means of production, exploit and oppress the proletariat by
paying them minimal wages in order to maximise their profit and by subjecting them to
work demands and adverse working conditions regardless of the physical or
psychological impact it has on them. (Jones,Bradbury & Le Boutillier, (2017, p.42).
It can be argued that LPs may be alienated from the product of their labour due to a
shift in the availability from full-time work topart time work, low skilled capsulised
labour and zero-hour contracts, who often pay the legal minimum wage, like those in
local shops, bars, offices and cleaning companies (Keith & Schafer,1982, p.240),
which offer little income or job security. However, such job opportunities are most
likely to be occupied by older LPs due to their previous work experience, which places
teenage LPs at an unfair disadvantage who may lack the education and skills
necessary to secure such paid work (Speak, 2002). Thus, with little employment and
financial security LPs may struggle to provide for necessities like food, clothing and
shelter (Jones,Bradbury & Le Boutillier, 2017, p.44) and because of working in such
insecure jobs their employment prospects are uncertain because it can be ceased
without warning. This may lead to LPs applying for welfare benefits for financial
assistance. However, payments are not instant and due to unemployment benefits
cuts and other benefits caps which have tightened the conditions with regard to
entitlement, make it difficult to obtain funds and as such as standing (2008, p.21)
argues, that this may be “a form of ‘contractualisation’ which is turning LPs status into
something closer to labour in-unemployment. Evidence suggests that when LPs
experience a sudden reduction in income this may lead to them facing a ‘crisis’ which
could lead to them facing mental health issue due to stress, anxiety of depression as
a result of worrying about money and being able to afford to pay their bills and food.
Such factors as argued by (Keith & Schafer,1982, p.240) may leadto them seeking
assistance from food banks to sustain their needs. According to Lambie Munford et
al., (2014, p.1420), the two leading causes for food assistance relate to job loss or
problems with social security payments. This delay in payments as suggested by
Lambie-Munford et al., (2014, p.1420) may result from LPs still be treated as a
homogenous group when applying for benefits. Even though they are provided with
personal advisor’s LPs are still stigmatised by policy makers who fail to appreciate the
different circumstances, needs and abilities of the subgroups of LPs who are
expected to take up work in any industry irrespective of their skills which may lead to
LPs being alienated from their fellow human beings.
As suggested by Marx LPs may be alienated from their fellow human beings as the capitalist separate LPs from other workers through their tendency to divide and rule. This consequently places LPs in stark competition with other workers to compete for jobs, pay or performance-related bonuses, rather than as found by faucher (2018, p.63) “as, encouraging collaboration” as they see their fellow colleagues as noted by Swain (2012, p,703), as hostile competitors as opposed to cooperative partners. The problem with this relates to the neo-liberal ideological economic principles of casualisation of labour and zero-hour contracts as previously mentioned, as being deemed to offer the benefits of flexibility and convenience to ULPs and rewarding them on merit, whilst at the same time it devalues workplace solidarity (faucher, 2018, p.63). Also, through such work ethics that promote and encourage labour force division both in the work place and through temporary job opportunities, only exacerbates the plight of ULPs as this permits the capitalist to be able to continue to exploit them. In addition, LPs are at the disposal of their employers who can be hire and fire them at a minute’s notice subject to the needs and demands for temporary labour, all in the name of profit. Furthermore, Marx stresses that this form of alienation can have both psychical and practical consequences for LPs which can create a barrier and division between the house’s that LPs can afford, when they see the quality and types of dwellings they are forced to live in, which creates a divide between themselves and the capitalists. (faucher, 2018, p.63 This in turn can lead to LPs becoming alienated from themselves as they struggle to meet their housing needs.
Arguably LPs may be alienated from oneself because they do not have the same
access to services as their employed counterparts. It has been identified in the
literature, that there is according to central housing policy a “so called lack of
affordable housing”, that affect both the private, rental and owner-occupied sphere,
which has been on the rise since the 1960’s. (Hilber, 2015, p.3). With LPs either being
unemployed or in temporary low pad. Low skilled work this means that they are
unable to afford their rent which may lead to them becoming homeless. It could be
argued that this lack of affordable housing stems from the period when Thatcher was
in power which resulted in most of the council houses being sold off as part of the
conservative manifesto, through the introduction of the right to buy scheme.
(Beckett,2015). Also, through successive governments they have failed to build
enough affordable housing to cater for LPs needs. The conservative government
however, tried to combat this shortage of housing by introducing the right to by
scheme in attempt in attempt to tackle the housing crisis. (Hilber, 2015, p.2). It could
be argued this has not helped LPs and the government have come far enough to
tackle such issues. In addition, due to LPs insecurity due to being unemployment or in
temporary work as well as changes to the current benefit system, LPs are in a
worse position than ever before. If LPs parents do become homeless, they may be
deemed intentionally homeless which may contribute to their health and wellbeing
impacted, which in turn may result in psychosocial alienation. (Swain, (2012, p.725)
According to (Seeman,1959. p.789), LPs maybe subjected to psychosocial alienation
with reference to isolation, as a consequence of being discriminated and labelled by
the media who declare the unemployed as being “welfare dependant sponging off the
state”. This form of discrimination and isolation most probably arose from the
underlying principles of capitalism who fail to consider the structural issues relating to
a lack of suitable and affordable housing. This perception of the unemployed is further
encouraged by different political parties to justify a reduction in welfare benefits, such
as that by David Cameron who announced that welfare benefits were “sky-rocketing,
while generations languish on the dole dependency”, (Ian Mulheirn, New
Statesman,15 March 2013, cited in Isaacs, 2015, p.125), which in turn can prevent
Lone parents for paying for their housing needs and in turn facing possible eviction,
making them intentionally homeless. Spiker. This may lead to isolation from others as
they are forced to take up temporary accommodation in unfamiliar places miles away
from their families when this support is needed the most.
By discussing alienation theory, it has drawn attention to how LPs may experience
economic alienation and psychosocial alienation, as a result of disadvantage and
inequality in a capitalist society, through their experiences of unemployment and other
associated factors. However, Social workers can also experience alienation as a
result of care management approaches being introduced (Jones,2001), is likely to
result of a loss of control over the content of their work (Harris,1998). In a study
involving social workers, it has been demonstrated that that the extent in which social
workers experience alienation can be dependent on a numerous factor. For example,
as expressed by one social worker “I feel that that my values are different from my
departments” (Balloch, et al, 1995, p..87) others have expressed stress and
unhappiness and being over burdened by paperwork, which can lead to emotional
and physical exhaustion and sickness, as a result of work demands and in some
cases, serious health problems (Jones,2001, p.551).It has also been found that this
extended into social workers personal and social lives, as some spoke about being
“wrung out”. Such factors as highlighted by Jones, (2001, p. 5551) were mainly a
result of the agencies in which they work and not the interactions they had with
clients. Through such experiences it can be suggested that in order for social workers
to be able to support LPs with the after effects of unemployment that leads to
alienation, social workers must be able to manage their own sources of alienation and
seek support and advise from other professions or develop emotional resilience, and
social work values, in line with HCPC. (HCPC 2017, Trevithick 2012,).
Furthermore, the understanding of such challenges experienced by unemployed LPs
as a result of alienation, will help social workers to identify different support strategies
through the use of different theories whilst seeking to avoid contributing to the
negative consequences and experiences that LPs have already been subjected to.
Social workers can achieve this through dealing with LPs by drawing on a range of
skills such as active listening skills, effective communication and objectivity and
treating LPs with dignity and respect. Social workers should endeavour to inform their
practice through theory and within the legal framework. Also, by ensuring that ULPs
are supported to deal with their problems by supporting autonomy and by
encouraging them to identify ways that can deal with their problems and supporting
them through the availability of resources. For example, social workers can support
ULPs through by supporting them to make applications for housing benefits as a well
as helping them to understand their legal rights. In addition, social workers can also
help LPs access other support services such as mental health, charity organisations
through signposting that can support them financially.
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Your Bibliography: Christian, H. (2019). UK Housing and Planning Policies: the evidence from economic research. Retrieved from http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/EA033.pdf
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