“the biggest challenge we face: the growing number of our fellow citizens who lack the means material and otherwise, to participate in economic, social, cultural and political life in Britain today…It is about more than poverty and unemployment. It is about being cut off from what the rest of us regard as normal life. It is called social exclusion…” (Mandelson, 1997, p.1)
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Social exclusion policies in Britain, France, Germany and The Netherlands emphasise the issue of unemployment. People, it is argued, are excluded primarily because of unemployment therefore society should focus on reintegration into the workforce as a means of extending social inclusion. (Sheppard 2006) This promotion of employment has been seen through the various New Deal initiatives, tax credits as an incentive to take up low paid employment and increased resources for childcare. However, Washington and Paylor (1998) suggest that social inclusion is a multi-dimensional disadvantage which dislocates people from the major social and occupational opportunities in society from citizenship, housing, adequate living standards and employment and Sheppard also points out that both here and elsewhere “unemployment has often been used as a practical and shorthand proxy for poverty and its effects.” (Sheppard, 2006, p.8)
As has been pointed out, in Britain employment is the route to ‘inclusion’ but as Hirsch (2006) argues poverty and social exclusion need to be tackled together. He goes on to suggest that poverty intersects with social exclusion due to labour market and social trends in Britain currently. This coupled with public policy has contributed to high poverty rates. To further this argument Hirsch further states that poverty can be looked at as an aspect of income inequality or it can be looked at in terms of exclusion. For example:
“People in poverty find it hard to participate in society because they lack resources to do so. Conversely, lack of participation exacerbates poverty, both directly (exclusion from paid work) and indirectly (exclusion from social networks enabling people to improve their lives).” (Hirsch, 2006, p.4)
This highlights aspects of poverty in terms of social exclusion. Particularly oppression and discrimination which are particular barriers preventing equal access to fundamental economic and social rights.
Davies (2008) suggests that since New Labour has come into power it has coupled policy with a ‘rights and responsibilities’ agenda. People experiencing poverty are increasingly expected to meet responsibilities in order to meet the criteria for claiming entitlements while equal emphasis is not given to protecting their rights. Dominelli (2002) also states that poor and marginalised groups like refugees and asylum seekers and many service users in the fields of mental health, substance abuse and child protection now receive much harsher and more conditional forms of treatment. This notion is upheld by Ducklow (2003) who suggests that government treats the majority of citizens by promoting individual responsibility, self-sufficiency and choice to promote a self-improving form of citizenship.
Davies (2008) goes onto state that the welfare reform Green Paper (DWP 2008) reinforces this approach by making entitlement to Jobseekers Allowance for some claimants conditional on carrying out unpaid relevant full-time work. Also the recent announcement to cut benefits of substance misusers’ who do not undertake treatment is also reinforcement. Accordingly such policy exacerbates social exclusion by limiting the people who live in poverty their access to fundamental rights. Participants in ATD Fourth World (2008) research project mentioned how the increased emphasis on responsibilities versus rights pushed people into illegality, either by making a false claim or taking cash-in-hand jobs as a means of survival. This evidence, states Davies (2008) illustrates how this leads to “people feeling marginalised by policy and decision-makers.” (Davies, 2008, p.8)
Considering these points and considering that social work is involves working with some of the most disadvantaged sections of the community it is clear that social workers must defend against oppression, discrimination and exploitation. Lister (1998) suggests that citizenship is an important value because it places emphasis on rights and social inclusion. She argues if the concept of citizenship is to be of value for the marginalised, the first step is to acknowledge its power as a force for exclusion. Lister further maintains that the extent to which social work services can be seen to invest in the life of local communities is important as it will represent a tool for the promotion of the active citizenship of marginalised individuals, groups and communities.
Sheppard (2006) proposes that the equality of citizenship rights is dependent on an implicit notion of the equality of value placed on humans in society. However, young people can find participation in society and achieving their rights as citizens more difficult. For example the Child Poverty in Scotland Report (2008) indicates that evidence from the Princes Trust Scotland suggests that the most vulnerable young people suffer from multiple forms of deprivation, that those young people who stand to gain the most from training courses experience the greatest difficulties in securing access and financial support.
“Rigid application of eligibility criteria for JSA and other benefits can work to the disadvantage of our clients and prevents them participating on Prince’s Trust courses as they can be faced with the withdrawal of benefits (the 16 hour rule). Sometimes we reluctantly have to advise young people that their interest would not be best served by participating on one of our courses as their principal means of support would be withdrawn.” (House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee, 2008, p.26)
Likewise, older people can be marginalised through a variety of reasons such as disability, poverty, dementia which can also make participation in society and achieving their rights as citizens more difficult. Sayce (1998) comments the equality of citizenship also emerges in the prejudice and stigma suffered through race, gender and mental health which can affect life opportunities, negatively affect their sense of identity and encourage low self-esteem. As Thompson (2005) points out to be a citizen means having social rights and being included in mainstream social life. In this respect, states Thompson, much social work practice plays “a pivotal role promoting…the citizenship status of particular individuals, families or groups who are otherwise prone to social exclusion.” (Thompson, 2005, p.124)
As far as accessing services are concerned Dowling (1999) suggests
“social exclusion is about a lack of knowledge of alternatives. It is about assuming officials know best and when a service is denied, accepting that nothing can be done.” (Dowling, 1999, p.254)
Families living in poverty often experience difficulties in accessing their rights to services. Davies (2008) argues they also face discrimination in the form of judgements from other people based on stereotypes of people living in poverty. Prejudices and pre-conceived ideas mean people experiencing poverty are at a disadvantage. An interesting point made by Davies is that stereotypes can lead to suggestions that if you live in poverty you are likely to neglect your family. ATD Fourth World (2006) states that many disadvantaged families live with the fear of their children being taken into care due to the intervention of local authority social services. They are worried about possible interference in their lives, about their control being undermined or about their privacy being invaded. Some also believe that services were either not relevant to their needs or they were so preoccupied and overwhelmed by their difficulties they did not have the freedom of mind to look for sources of support.
This is backed up by recent research by Canvin et al (2007) which showed that, for families in poverty encounters with public services were perceived to be associated with the risk of losing resources, being misunderstood and harshly judged or ultimately losing their children. As one participant put it:
“When you’re living in poverty, you don’t answer the knock at the door. It’s never good news: it’s either the debt collector, the housing officer, the police or the social worker.” (quoted in ATD Fourth World 2004)
Further to the point about accessing services Davies (2008) suggests that families often feel let down by the services that are meant to support them, with offers of support not delivered or initial help being retracted due to lack of resources. As Davies goes on to point out “this experience makes families experiencing poverty reluctant to use any form of services.” (Davies, 2008, p.9)
In view of the above it is realised the impact that social exclusion has on service users and it is known that the most common shared characteristic of those who use social work services is that they are poor. They are also likely to experience a range of other difficulties including mental health problems, violence and experience of the criminal justice system. (Ferguson 2007) Therefore the multi-dimensions of social exclusion epitomize inequality, disadvantage and marginalisation factors that have long been the context for social work practice. Sheppard (2006) encapsulates this by suggesting
“Social workers are seeking to present the ‘world’ of the marginalised to mainstream society and the values and perspectives of mainstream society to the marginalised.” (Sheppard, 2006, p.41)
One theory in this context is emancipatory practice. This approach in social work is concerned with oppression and discrimination. Thompson (2005) suggests the focus of this approach is
“To contribute to the empowerment of clients to help them overcome the disadvantages they experience as a result of their social location and negative attitudes towards them.” (Thompson, 2005, p.67)
Empowerment according to Croft and Beresford (1994) is a participative approach and valuable because people want and have a right to be involved in decisions and actions taken in relation to them. Their view of emancipatory practice is empowerment which involves challenging oppression and making it possible for people to take charge of their own matters. It gives control to people in defining their own needs and it equips people with personal resources to take power by developing their confidence, self-esteem, assertiveness, knowledge and skills. Payne (2005) by contrast suggests the use of empowerment created an idealistic and perhaps misleading objective for practice in a period when the role of social work agencies is increasingly limited to protection or service provision. Payne further adds that we should not mistake empowerment with enablement.
“Empowerment is not limited, as enablement is, to allowing or assisting people to take actions, but it is aimed at relinquishing and transferring to them the power to control their lives permanently.” (Payne, 2005, p.302)
Smale et al (2000) argues that this approach has an implicit agenda in that the client is empowered by restricting the power of the practioners and turning them into facilitators and that they as the client recognise that they themselves know best what they need and what should be done for them.
This notion of empowerment is embodied in the IFSW (International Federation of Social Workers) definition.
“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 the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.” (IFSW 2000)
As Asquith et al (2005) point out that although the IFSW statement is general it particularly promotes change, identifies the importance of social justice and rights and working with disempowered members of society. Social work from this perspective as Asquith et al suggests, is about assisting, supporting and enabling certain sections of the community. They go on to add that for this reason, one constant in the history of social work has been its concern with those who suffer from the negative effects of social inequalities. As Ferraro (2003) indicates social work is really concerned with freeing the poor and the marginal underclass from subordination and exclusion.
Considering this in Changing Lives (Scottish Executive 2006) Statham et al (2005) identified three main functions that define what social workers do. They intervene between the state and the citizen, maximise the capacity of people using services and contribute to policies and practice that support social and personal well-being.
To maximise these functions Payne (2005) describes three different approaches to social work which he argues “is one paradigm of social work, socially constructed in the discourse between the three views” (Payne, 2005, p.13) The first approach is reflexive-therapeutic (therapeutic helping). This approach seeks the promotion of the best possible well-being and self-fulfilment for individuals, groups and communities in society. It is a process of mutual influence through which service users gain power over their personal feelings and way of life. Payne suggests this view expresses in social work the social democratic political philosophy – economic and social development go together to achieve individual and social improvement.
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Secondly is socialist-collectivist (emancipatory or transformational) view. This sees social work as seeking cooperation and mutual support in society so that the most oppressed and disadvantaged people can gain power over their own lives. Payne (2005) states that value statements about social work, such as codes of ethics, represent this objective by proposing social justice as an important value. Politically this view expresses the socialist political philosophy – planned economics and social provision promote equality and social justice.
Thirdly is the individualist-reformist (maintenance or social order) view. This is termed as the maintenance approach in that social work is seen as maintaining the social order and maintaining people during periods of difficulties. This view expresses the liberal or rational economic political philosophy – that a free market economy supported by rule of law is the best way of organising societies.
In Changing Lives (2006) it is interesting to note that it refers to the development of therapeutic relationships.
“…the quality of the therapeutic relationship between social worker and individual or family is critical to achieving successful outcomes…The therapeutic approach and the working alliance that goes with it are key elements in developing a personalised approach to helping those with the most complex needs gain control of their lives and find acceptable solutions to their problems. Crucially, this is as important in compulsory aspects of services as it is in those actively sought by service users.” (Scottish Executive, 2006, p.27)
Thompson (2005) also expresses the notion of theoretical paradigms. Thompson suggests social work need a grasp of a range of theoretical perspectives and the ability to draw on these when required. For example the systems theory according to Thompson is a more sociological approach in which social work situations are understood as a series of interlocking social systems e.g. the family system and neighbourhood and community systems. It is the task of the social worker to understand the interactions of such systems and the problems that arise so that the patter of systems can be altered and the problems resolved.
One method of this theory is the community needs profiling approach. Green (2000) argues that community needs profiling should be seen as
“an umbrella term for an approach which attempts to gain information about a community, particularly its needs, and to use this as the basis for change and community development” (Green, 2000, p. 290)
He suggests that potential outcomes for social workers undertaking their own community needs profiling would give a good ‘baseline information’ such as the extent of poverty within the area, types of housing tenure, unemployment levels and the distribution of poverty in any given locality of the area. Green further states that from this information it might also be possible to identify from agency workloads whether there is a particular neighbourhood that is receiving a disproportionate level of social work intervention and that by locating this information may further highlight possible links between individual, family and community poverty and referral and contact with social work agencies.
Green suggests that from this information a more critical awareness of the social, economic and material context to working with poor individuals and families such as at the structural level whereby it gives an understanding of inequalities such as poverty and how they are reinforced. Secondly at the organisational level, the role of social work agencies and social workers in providing resources and services to tackle user need can be explored and lastly, at the interactional/psychosocial level, it aims to locate individual user problems within their structural context.
Community needs profiling outcomes for social work agencies purposes would be its contribution to policies, service provision, evaluation of services and practioners interventions. Green (2000) furthers this by suggesting that organisational benefits would include policies grounded in service user and community needs based on local research findings and social work intervention models and strategies compatible with people’s needs and more evidence-based.
In conclusion the role social work can have in responding to social exclusion is the principles of partnership and user involvement. As Lister (1998) points out they underpin a relationship in which users are perceived and treated as equal citizens.
“…user-involvement represents a more active form of social citizenship in which welfare state users are constructed as active participants rather than simply the passive bearers of rights or recipients of services.” (Lister, 1998, p.15)
Further to this if the marginalised feel that the actions and attitudes of the social workers themselves are participatory and inclusive, that their views are listened to then there should be a successful role for social work in relation to social exclusion.
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