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Discrimination

For the purpose of this essay, during the first part we will explore the meaning of discrimination and oppression within society. The importance of anti-discriminatory practice will be discussed followed by an introduction and explanation of the PCS model of analyses devised by Thompson (1993); this is used to highlight discrimination and oppression on three different levels. A specified group of service users will be focussed upon and by using the Thompson PCS model of analyses the different levels of discrimination and oppression they may experience within society will be explored. Finally possible ways of working in partnership and empowering these service users will be discussed. Due to the limited time and word count of this essay it is only possible to begin to touch on this subject, but the foundations for understanding oppression and discrimination with methods of a way forward to an anti-discriminatory practice will be present.

Discrimination

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We live in a supposedly equal society, however it is apparent that our society is only equal in theory, in reality divisions are created by the social status of individuals based on factors such as age, health, income, ethnicity, sexuality and gender. In any society there are differences between people and people are categorised within society by their differences, the three major ways society is divided are class, gender and race. There are however further sub divisions on the basis of other factors such as disability, age and sexual orientation. (Walsh et al, 2000)

It is of particular significance society attributes to these differences by defining people and their roles on the basis of differences that individual groups experience oppression and marginalisation, as the power, status and opportunities people have in society are affected by how society defines them. The roles and expectations society applies to different categories of people is absorbed on a cultural level within society,

creating common values about what is right, what is ‘normal’. This creates perceptions of social norms. In our society those most likely to achieve success are able bodied, white, middle class, heterosexual males they will therefore be the group who occupy the most powerful positions in society and as such reap the benefits and rewards of a capitalist society, monetary wealth and the benefits that it brings. This inherent bias in our society is apparent in the dominance of these white, middle class, males in the areas of politics, finance and the high ranks of the military. (Adams et al, 1998)

All groups defined, as outside the white, middle class, male will experience a corresponding lack of power and influence. Although there are innate differences

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between people at birth, it is our social structure that determines the distribution of power; influence and life chances can thus effect the development of people’s

potential abilities. On a personal level we internalise the common values and the concepts of social norms of our culture, our individual thoughts, feelings and actions reflect these values and norms. Discrimination is an accepted norm within society. It is a method used to identify differences, which can lead to unfair and unequal treatment. Thompson (1993, p31) states that: "this does not occur at random it follows a clear social pattern in terms of class, race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and so on." Recurring discrimination leads to oppression. Thompson (1998, p10) says this is: "inhuman or degrading treatment of individuals or groups; hardship and injustice brought about by the dominance of one group over another, the negative and demanding exercise of power. Oppression often involves disregarding the rights of an individual or group and is a denial of citizenship."

To fully comprehend discrimination and oppression within society on different levels and to truly begin to work toward an anti discriminatory practice Thompson introduced the PCS model. There are three levels to be observed these very often over lap and are embedded within each other.

Thompson (1993, p19) states that:

"P refers to the personal or psychological; it is the individual level thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions. It also refers to practice, individual workers interacting with individual clients, and prejudice, the inflexibility of mind, which stands in the way of fair and non – judgmental practice. C refers to the cultural level of shared ways of

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seeing, thinking and doing. It relates to the commonalities, values and patterns of thought and behaviour, an assumed consensus about what is right and what is normal;

It produces conformity to social norms, and comic humour acts as a vehicle for transmitting and reinforcing this culture. S refers to the structural level, the network of social divisions; it relates to the ways in which oppression and discrimination are institutionalised and thus ‘sewn in’ to the fabric of society. It denotes the wider level of social forces, the socio-political dimension of interlocking patterns of power and influence."

There are many groups within society that experience discrimination and oppression but for the purpose of this essay older people will be used as an example of service users, in which we will begin to identify different levels of discrimination and oppression they might face. To do this we will use the PCS model of analyses; it is worth noting here as each level is often embedded within the other. It is difficult to separate and individualise each one, but being aware of their existence and how they might interact with each other can only empower the individual practitioner. Using this model of analysis the individual practitioner can gain a clearer picture of the impact discrimination and oppression has on service users, in using this method the individual practitioner can begin to critically evaluate their own practice and values.

Older people are an increasing group of service users that experience discrimination and oppression on all three levels of the PCS analyses described by Thompson. The Kings Fund reports, "that by 2021 the number of people aged over 60 will outnumber

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the number of people aged 20-39 for the first time, increasing strain on the system." (Ahmed, K, Failing care system creates ‘lost society’.

http://society.gaurdian.co.uk/socialcare/story/o%27C7890%2C504893%2C00.html, June 10th, 2001 [ accessed 31st October, 2002] )

Because of the increasing population of older people there aren’t enough resources and adequate provisions, thus meaning that older people are more susceptible to bad practice. With the lack of adequately trained professionals in the caring professions older people become more vulnerable. In modern society older people are negatively valued and are very often regarded as past it, they are accused of being a worthless drain on the national economic and social resources. These views can be seen on the three levels described by Thompson.

It would be an exaggeration to say that the problem faced by the older people in society is a universal one but it would be fair to say that society is mainly to some extent ageist, just as much as society can be accused of being racist and sexist. These exist on the structural level and as Thompson points out are ‘sewn in’ to the fabric of society. An Help the Aged Report says that: " Age discrimination was alive and well in the UK - discrimination that would be unthinkable if it were directed at any other group. From "Do Not Resuscitate" notices in hospitals to the compulsory retirement age." (Cited in Community Care, 2002, p31)

Ageism is a term used to describe the discrimination and oppression older people are subject to. Ageism means the process of systematic stereotyping or discrimination by

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the younger generation against people because they are old. Ageism is ‘unwarranted application of negative stereotypes to older people’.

On a structural level ageism is institutionalised, for example, social services assessment teams for older people are often unqualified staff. As the assessment process for older people is perceived as matching service to need, skills and methods of intervention are not the focus as with other user groups such as children. It is simply a question of service provision. The Community Care legislation on the structural level covers disability and infirmity in old age it does not consider varying needs and circumstances, such as abuse of older people. There are no statutory requirements in place as for children. (Thompson, 1993)

"Images of peoples worth are acted out in service provision. Work with older people is seen as straightforward. It can wait. Childcare is seen as complex and immediate. However both require the same social work skills, present the familiar social work dilemma and require handling of separations, placements and culture." (Preston-Shoot and Agass, 1990, cited in Thompson, 1993, p90)

On all three levels ageing is seen as negative, it is an accepted belief that when you reach a certain age you are regarded as past it, this belief is thus institutionalised. An example of this is through the use of comic humour and language, around a birthday

celebration, people will joke with each other and call each other names like ‘you old fogie’, thus implying being old is a problem. Of course no offence is meant to anybody ‘its only a joke’. At a cultural level jokes about old age and the use of

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negative language all serve to reinforce negative stereotypes about older people, which are in turn reflected in personal perceptions about old age. (Thompson, 1993)

There are many ageist assumptions made about older people, they are often seen as childlike. On a personal and structural level decisions are made for them without consultation, their rights are ignored. For example it may be the view of family members for what ever reason and that of professionals that the individual older person who is struggling to care for them self would be better off in a care home. For

the family on the personal and cultural level, some may believe that older people are better off in homes where they can be cared for and be less of a burden. For others

they may feel that older people are better off in their own homes at all costs and wouldn’t dream of letting anybody else assist with caring for their relative. Each situation if not handled appropriately has potential in becoming oppressing, not only for the older person but for the family and carers too. The professional may be affected unknowingly by their own personal prejudices and values, thus affecting their actions, which may also lead to further oppressing the older person rather than alleviating their situation. If the older person through different kinds of abuse, physical or mental illness isn’t in a position to make appropriate choices for there own welfare, the professional may have to follow the policies on law. They may find them in a position of legally having to perform crisis intervention, to protect the service user. This kind of situation could be perceived as oppressing, as the professional has full power; the older person, carers and family are disempowered, having no control.

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On a personal and cultural level older people are often perceived as lonely, this is an ageist assumption embedded in the structural level. Loneliness is not a symptom of old age. Many older people may live alone but this does not invariably equate to loneliness. Holding the view that older people are very often lonely leads the individual practitioner to making assumptions that invariably are discriminatory and oppressive. Assessment for services on this basis could mean some solutions to needs are not considered. (Thompson, 1993)

An exaggeration of the extent of illness in old age exists on all three levels; therefore if older people become ill their illness may be dismissed as being because of there age and as such they are not a priority when it comes to health

care provision. A GP because of the medical model may behave in such a way.

The medical model asserts that the professional is the expert and thus may miss other causative factors such as poverty, poor housing and the stress it causes.

Elderly women are a further oppressed group, especially those who are unmarried as they are more likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts, owing to their restricted access to benefits and occupational pensions that exist on the structural level. Loneliness and poverty may particularly affect older women from ethnic minorities. Who are contrary to wildly held expectations on the cultural and personal level, do not always live with their families. They face the triple impact of sexism, ageism and racism. Services for older people are geared to the white majority in terms of language, culture, and diet and so on.

There is a power imbalance in the client/social worker relationship with elements of

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both care and control, as such our dealings with clients can either reinforce the oppression the client experiences or by recognising their marginalised position in society. Using the values of an anti-oppressive practice, advocacy, working in partnership and encouraging client participation in decision making, empower the client to increase control over their lives by addressing the social divisions and structural inequalities which cause oppression. Empowerment helps the client see that they have the potential for finding solutions to solving their own problems. To take need into account is essential. The aim of social work intervention is empowerment, not adjustment. (Thompson, 1998)

Our rapidly growing older population has led to resources being limited, which makes older people particularly vulnerable to bad practice, which could potentially

increase the oppression of older people. In working with older people, steps taken must be against the tendency in society to demean, marginalize or disempower older

people. Older people are a group of varied ages, sexes and classes, yet they are labelled as one group on the basis of the end of worker status. (Thompson, 1993)

The social worker must work in a way that challenges the oppression resulting from institutional ageism. Social workers should bear in mind in assessment wider issues, rather than simply service provision and ensure that assessment is not based on the ageist assumptions outlined above. In assessments, needs should not be focused on without paying attention to strengths, otherwise older people are presented as a problem. The assessment process should ensure older people are active participants and be aware that protection should not be at the expense of the rights of older people

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to make decisions and take responsibility for their own action; particularly when assessing risk. Social work with older people should focus on empowerment and how to develop personal power, using advocacy or providing access to resources. To promote dignity and enhance self-esteem. (Thompson, 1993)

" It must be emphasised that care of the elderly is certainly not just a matter of giving them pensions and providing services for them. It involves the creation of a society in which older people are enabled to live as they wish, in which they are enabled to retain positive and satisfying roles in which their self-esteem receives the kind of boosts and reinforcements which as human beings they acquire their happiness and health." (Williamson, 1979, cited in Thompson, p93)

As a social worker, to avoid stereotyping on the basis of the ideology of our culture which justifies the oppression of certain groups on the basis of what is normal and abnormal, it is necessary to reject and challenge assumptions by our own thinking and

understand the discrimination and oppression a client experiences culturally. In working in partnership the potential for further oppressing the service user is lessened.

Working in partnership means involvement of the service user, family or multi - disciplinary teams, the medical model, the professional being the expert is not used. (Thompson, 1998)

There are six core competencies in social work, which are essential for working in partnership, they are: communicate and engage, promote and enable, access and plan, intervene and provide services, work in organisations, develop professional

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competence. The social worker must understand and practice these competencies if they are to work in partnership towards an anti-discriminatory practice. (O’Hagan, 2001)

In conclusion perhaps the main barrier to implementing anti-oppressive values in social work with clients is the institutionalised nature of oppression within our society. Which has a negative impact on the level of resources available to many workers within statutory agencies, which is at odds with responding to need in the sensitive and flexible way an empowering practice requires. To pursue the interests

of clients and carers within severe resource constraints demands a personal commitment to the values of anti-oppressive practice and the desire to advocate on behalf of those in need. (Hugman & Smith, 1995)

Existing social workers may or may not use the PCS model of analyses, but do have a personal responsibility to themselves, other professionals and service users to work in an anti-discriminatory way. The PCS model of analyses is very useful as it provides the individual practitioner with the appropriate tools to identify discrimination and oppression on the different levels within society. This will increase their awareness

and enable them to be in a position to enlighten individuals of their oppression; this being done on the personal level which will impact on the structural level.

"If the principles of anti-oppressive practice are to move the practitioners thinking beyond agency policy and practices and to make a difference, then they need to invest time and energy in the application of those principles, enabling them to systematically

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analyse situations and think through the action that needs to be taken. Anti-oppressive practice then moves beyond description of the nature of oppression to dynamic and creative ways of working." (Burke, 1998, p238)

Social work practice should mean anti-discriminatory practice, which should directly challenge negative stereotypes and assumptions. Social work should help the service users to understand some of the causative factors involved. Giving service users the knowledge and enabling skills to deal with their oppression it can help to dilute the power imbalance of worker client man and woman.

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